Editor's Blog

Musical meeting points - from the conference hall to the concert hall

Martin CullingfordMon 18th June 2018

Gramophone's Editor introduces the July issue

Each year, around this time, members of the Gramophone team head to the Classical:NEXT conference in Rotterdam. The conference – partly trade fair, partly a series of talks and performances – is an excellent opportunity to take stock of trends, of the challenges facing the music world and how they’re being surmounted, and to talk to so many of the innovative indie labels about their plans. This year, 1300 delegates from 48 countries gathered and the overall impression, I’m delighted to report, was one of positivity and optimism. I covered some of the reasons for this optimism last month, following reports from record industry trade bodies about the growth in digital and streaming revenue. Many people I spoke to had good stories to share which backed up some of those statistics. There was also, as we predicted at the start of this year, much talk about smart speakers, which will play on demand whatever you ask; there’s clearly a strong desire to perfect that technology.

But another theme that cropped up several times was something else we’ve explored in our pages, and that’s the mingling of music at meeting points. Meeting points of genre, or of traditions, or of technology. During the conference I saw a showcase by pianist Belle Chen in which light, sampled sound and scent were employed to enrich an already evocative experience (Belle Chen writes about her work here); another in which music for the African kora was transcribed brilliantly for guitar by Derek Gripper.

It’s a theme which can also be found in the new issue of Gramophone. Our cover story explores percussion music: is there another instrument family for which the relationship between classical music and other traditions is closer? When so much is about the beat – in both senses – it renders divisions based on matters such as key and notation much less relevant. As the feature’s headline puts it, percussion is about ‘listening to the world’. And if one of its leading soloists – Martin Grubinger – can appear on the stage of both Carnegie Hall and the Eurovision Song Contest, and feel perfectly at home on each, then percussion has clearly found a way of reaching out to audiences far and wide.

The notion of musics meeting is also an idea explored in this month’s My Music by folk singer Sam Lee, a questing artist who through his song collecting work walks in a path pioneered by the likes of Percy Grainger and Ralph Vaughan Williams in understanding and absorbing other traditions. But he also puts beautifully a further point about rethinking the musical experience, and that’s the issue of how artists interact with audiences and talk to them about the music they’re about to hear – something both the showcase artists mentioned earlier did well. Audiences want to hear stories, he suggests. People new to classical music don’t want to know about, and are not going to be engaged by, complex musical analysis (not initially, at least), a point too often forgotten. What they want to know, suggests Lee, is: ‘Why is that musician in love with this music, why have they devoted their life to making it?’ Ultimately, one hopes, that will come across in the power of the performance of course – but a few anecdotes first can’t do any harm.

martin.cullingford@markallengroup.com

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