The youth orchestra is a wonderful project and Dudamel deserves praise for his support and for getting them involved in such a high-profile performance. I'm sure the kids had a ball. Here is the promotional video:Dudamel moves in a world in which meeting Chris Martin of Coldplay, and striking up a friendship with him, is not remarkable; and this meeting gave rise to the idea of getting YOLA involved in this year’s halftime show at the Super Bowl. If YOLA and Dudamel were attempting to make classical music cool for young people, this invitation clinched it. Three days ago, the Los Angeles Philharmonic released a video of the young musicians practicing for and talking about the halftime show, and every single kid had such a huge, infectious smile on his or her face that the venture was already a winner before the show even started.Classical music’s vaunted elitism is tissue-paper thin: The field is always almost pitiably hungry for validation from the pop world, while appearing to disdain it. But if the field is really eager to win over young audiences, this is the way to do it. As one girl put it in the L.A. Philharmonic video, other kids were now going to think taking part in YOLA was really cool.
Now I, out of morbid curiosity, actually watched the Super Bowl halftime show and I barely noticed the participation of these young musicians. I noticed they were there, but I didn't notice them as playing classical music as such. Here, have a listen/look for yourself (I can't embed, so just follow the link):
I'm not a football fan and so the whole thing to me seemed like a parody of something or other. Did you see the kids? There they are, right at the beginning. Chris Martin of Coldplay runs right past them in the first 30 seconds. There is a line of them, head-bopping and playing brightly colored string instruments, leading to the stage. Mind you, you can't really hear what they are playing (just chordal accompaniment anyway), but you can't hear the words Chris Martin (or anyone else) is singing either.
Yes, there they are, two wings on either side of the stage, then they get to move in to provide a visual backdrop to the performance by Chris Martin.
OK, now let's talk about this. Here is Anne Midgette's take on it:
Given the street cred, it probably hardly mattered that the musical component of that involvement was minimal. The young players danced out on stage with Chris Martin at the start of the show, brandishing violins and a few cellos ornately decorated with flags and flowers in the ’70s spirit of the enterprise. By the final set they had abandoned their instruments altogether and were simply singing and clapping along with everyone else — with Dudamel standing behind and between Beyoncé and Martin, looking like just one of the crowd and yet managing to be right at the center of the action. For those who had hoped for a great blow for classical music in the form of Beethoven or Shostakovich, it may not have seemed like much; but for anyone eager to see classical music take its place on the same playing field as other art forms in our society, it was a signal, and delightful, satisfaction.Is she right? Speaking as one of those vaunted elitists, no, I don't think so. I think that if I had been part of this group, after getting over the initial thrill I would have been asking what we were playing and how it would be staged and so on. If I had known that this was the final result I would have said thanks but no thanks. Yes, really. I turned down lots of gigs like this in my time. My two basic criteria were a) to get paid and b) to be actually playing classical music.
Here is why this is bad street cred, not good street cred: a group of young classical musicians were invited to be mere stage props at a big sports event at which they played not one note of classical music, but just comped background to a rather dull pop group. That's not street cred, that's an insult to classical music.
Let's look at what Anne Midgette said. She accuses classical music of "vaunted elitism" which means vain boasting. Is this just a stock phrase required by political correctness at the Washington Post? Because if she believes it, it is a strange attitude for someone whose job description is to write about classical music. Does she not consider herself part of the classical music world? Is she pitiably hungry for validation from the pop music world? That is sad!
The whole piece, while seeming to be a positive tribute to a wonderful triumph by some young musicians, is, at a second glance, a kind of subtle smear of classical music. This whole sentence is representative:
For those who had hoped for a great blow for classical music in the form of Beethoven or Shostakovich, it may not have seemed like much; but for anyone eager to see classical music take its place on the same playing field as other art forms in our society, it was a signal, and delightful, satisfaction.Ah yes, if we could just get away from those dead white men Beethoven and Shostakovich and take our place on the playing field next to Coldplay, Bruno Mars and Beyoncé, then finally we pathetic classical musicians could find validation. Setting aside for the moment whether the Super Bowl halftime show has anything whatsoever to do with art in any form, let me say this to those who have this kind of attitude about classical music: