Thursday, July 14, 2011

Another Kind of Instrument?

An old saying in the acting profession is never go on stage with an animal or a child as they will steal the show every time. This is prompted by this Norman Lebrecht post. That was prompted by the presence of 11-year-old Jackie Evancho at the number one and number 10 spots on the Billboard Classical chart. I imagine that the quickest way to get a reputation as a mean-spirited curmudgeon would be to dump on an 11-year-old singer who is also cute and blond. I'm not going to do it! I'll leave that to Mr. Lebrecht. But I think we have here the confluence of three different things: first, classical music is under such dire financial pressures these days that the biz will do anything to sell records. I remember saying years ago that there are lots of people in classical music who would love to sell out--but nobody's buying! So that is why there is very little actual 'classical' music in the top ten list. Il Volo's "O sole Mio" is performed exactly like a pop song. Milos Karadaglic is certainly a fine guitarist, but his very expertly promoted album consists of just the traditional warhorses. What, I believe, the English critics used to call "rent-a-program". The only one in the top ten that is a solid example of the real thing is a new recording by Lynn Harrell of the Shostakovich First Cello Concerto along with the 9th Symphony. Another factor is that the culture has become so visual that you almost have to be cute and blond to launch a career. But it is the third factor that is the most interesting: what listeners want to buy has changed. Judging by the chart, most people want light, sentimental, easy listening, with perhaps some over the top vocal histrionics. Looking at numbers 11 to 20 tends to confirm that. Other big sellers are massive compendia of 'essential' classics. Still, the absence of Bach and Beethoven from the list means something, I think. What listeners want now is not to listen to a great piece of music. No, what they really want is a soundtrack to their lives. Something that supports their wonderfulness, that underpins the beauty and drama of their existence. Wow. You can certainly bend classical music to that purpose, but it means a wholesale re-orientation, does it not? On the other hand, that doesn't quite capture the appeal of Jackie Evancho. Here she is singing Puccini:

Interesting that they don't mention what she is singing. What amazes me is her voice. It is almost unbelievable that an eleven-year-old would have this rich a vocal timbre. "Freakishly adult" is how Mr. Lebrecht terms it. I would say that she is gifted with an extraordinary instrument. Let's hope she does wonderful things with it.

No comments: