Tuesday, 4 August 2009

First rate nonsense from Charles Hazelwood

I've never much cared for Charles Hazelwood: his rather over the top presentational style on TV broadcasts he's fronted is not to my taste. Doubtless, he'd suggest I'm just the kind of stuffy classical music fan he wants to sweep away. If so, I think he'd be wrong, and not only about that.

If you haven't had a good laugh in a while, or suffer from low blood pressure, you might like to check out his piece in yesterday's Guardian. It's extremely impressive, though sadly not for the right reasons.

Let's begin at the beginning. Apparently, his wife was recently, and quite correctly, taken to task for whispering to their son throughout a concert. Quite right too. Last night I was at the Queen's Hall for a superb concert by Jacques Loussier. A few rows in front of me was a young lad who couldn't have been more than six or seven, and didn't make a sound. My mother likes to tell of being taken to hear a pianist play when she was very young and being made to wait outside by my grandmother during the second half because hadn't sat still. She does now, and so too do my bothers and I, under that threat.I wasn't whispered to in concerts but seem to have picked up a reasonable knowledge or and love for classical music over the years. It's not unreasonable and it's not difficult either.

Still, since Hazelwood obviously doesn't mind a bit of talking, I'm tempted to suggest we all go to his next concert and do so loudly enough so it disrupts his chain of thought and see how he likes it. Actually, I'm not serious, I wouldn't want to stoop to his level.


But that's only the set up for him to expound his main theme, which is shameless self promotion, I'm sorry, that he wants to open up classical music (by the Grauniad giving him a column to plug his latest endeavour). His chosen medium: an outdoor concert. Something never before done. Well, never with first rate orchestras and conductors like Rattle (except, of course, he has) or great orchestras like the Concertgebouw (except, and you've probably seen this coming, they have too). I could go on and list many more examples, but since those are the only two Hazelwood gave and they're wrong, I don't see the need.

Even if those contradictions, and many more besides, didn't exist, to imply, as he does, that he is the man to change this, to bring the first rate conductor and musicians to the open air concerts is surely a stretch. I don't like dividing up orchestras or musicians into first, second and third rate. However, if I did, I don't think I'd put Hazelwood in the upper bracket and I don't believe I know anyone else who would either.

If you're thinking he couldn't get much wronger, you'd be mistaken. He has, perhaps, saved the best for last. He takes Alfred Brendel, a musician with, frankly, more talent than Hazelwood can dream about, to task for having "described performance as a sacred communion between the artist and the composer" and thus ignoring the audience.

I don't know about him, but I've been lucky enough to be in the audience of a Brendel concert several times: they have been some of the great concert going experiences of my life. Contrast with, say, Roger Norrington's infuriating habit of turning to the audience and grinning, when his attention is needed elsewhere, and I know which I find more engaging and involving. I'd defy you to find many people who'd rather go hear Hazelwood than Brendel. Of course, I'm a 'stuffy' classical concert regular, but at that Glasgow Brendel recital I was joined by two people who definitely weren't, and they didn't find his manner a problem.

He closes:

Concerts used to be much more of a free-for-all, with the world and his wife (and children) enjoying the music in joyful disarray, at some remove from today's formality. Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten that great music can be rude and visceral; we have put conductors on pedestals, and turned our audiences into passive subjects. I'd like to get back to something more – well, fun.


I expect I speak for many when I say: well, Charles, off you go then. We're not stopping you. Have fun now, and don't hurry back. You won't be missed. Leave the rest of us to enjoy the wonders of the concert hall amid behaviour that's simply well mannered.

I'd just add one further point. I'd like to post a comment on the Guardian website noting some of the inaccuracies in his article. There's just one problem: I can't. The Guardian is very selective about what you can post comments on, and this beyond criticism. However, should Mr Hazelwood find anything to quibble with here, or actual be able to justify his nonsense, he's most welcome to avail himself of the comments box below. We have free speech here! I eagerly await his reply. After all, I know how eager he is for a conversation with the audience!

1 comment:

  1. Well said. One of my least favourite people involved in classical music. I always found it hilarious in one of the recent classical reality shows (Classical Star?) when he was described as "having conducted some of the greatest orchestras in the world". No offence to the BBC Concert Orchestra but I don't think we're likely to be seeing him in front of the Concertgebouw, Berlin Phil or Chicago any time soon (let alone the SCO!). It is preposterous how he talks about needing the greatest conductors such as Rattle to go out into the fields and then suggests that he is solving this by doing it himself. Anyway I could rant for a long time on this so I will stop now but thanks for bringing this to my attention and showing me that someone else agrees with my views on him.

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