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(This piece appeared on Night and Day, The Spectator Arts Blog, on 11 March)

With International Women’s Day celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, it stood to reason that sundry shenanigans were in the works, with a 24-hour ‘day’ guaranteed to stretch into a solid week. Sure enough, London’s Southbank Centre has launched ‘Women of the World’ (WOW), a three-day festival that puts women at centre stage, while several publications have weighed in with lists of ‘Top Women’ in a range of fields, from business to entertainment to science. And Twitter is rightly a-tweet with news of #IWD festivities.

Active participants in this year’s celebrations include PRS for Music Foundation, the UK’s largest independent funder of new music, whose Women Make Music initiative puts their money where their mouth is. Offering financial support of up to £5000 to organisations and ensembles that commission new works by women composers, the scheme aims both to encourage collaboration, and raise awareness of the poor representation of women composers’ works among those performed on the world’s concert stages.

Indeed, notwithstanding the hoopla – and at the risk of being labelled a humourless feminist, as tradition would have it – it is difficult to look at the broader position of women today without feeling rather deflated. Just last week we learned that the UK is neck-and-neck with Uzbekistan in terms of women’s representation in politics (that’s 53rd, in case you’re like most people and lost interest at 20), while the number of women in corporate boardrooms hovers stubbornly at about 5%. In film, Kathryn Bigelow remains the only woman ever to win the Best Director Oscar (for The Hurt Locker) and not a single one of Hollywood’s ten highest-paid stars is female.

While many people outside the classical music world convince themselves that it’s a soft and gentle place, the gatekeepers’ blinkered thraldom to tradition can make it a similarly hostile environment for women – and that’s especially true in classical composition. Of course, we’re all aghast by stories about Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn’s thwarted ambitions, but it’s not clear that things have changed significantly for female composers since the 19th Century.

Sure, the Grammy and Pulitzer Prize winning American Jennifer Higdon is one of that country’s most frequently performed composers, while her younger compatriot Missy Mazzoli’s inventive works consistently astonish critics and listeners. And here in the UK, Manchester’s Hallé Orchestra has just announced that Helen Grime will be its new Associate Composer, while women like Anna Meredith blaze trails with their work, mashing up genres in the process. (In fact, Meredith is currently ‘Composer in the House’ at Sinfonia Viva, a residency scheme devised by PRS for Music Foundation with the Royal Philharmonic Society.)

Nonetheless, the stats suggest that these women are the exception to the rule. According to UK Feminista, a mere 4.1% of works performed at last year’s BBC Proms were by women and 1.6 % of Proms conductors were women. As for membership by music writers in PRS for Music, the society that represents composers, songwriters and publishers, only 14% are female. And the problem isn’t limited to classical music: among short-listed albums for the Mercury Music Prize, those by men outnumber albums by women by more than 2:1.

William Mival, Head of Composition at the Royal College of Music, points out that this data can be misleading, however. ‘Of course, we have been a male-dominated society for a long time now, and the Proms programming reflects the whole classical repertoire over several hundred years,’ he says. ‘Women over the centuries have not had opportunities to express their creativity, and it will take a while for that to work through.’

Besides, Mival points out, many of RCM’s most successful graduates are women, citing Grime and Meredith alongside Emily Hall, whose song cycle written for Mara Carlyle will be premiered during the WOW Festival. On the other hand, Mival acknowledges the need for female composition teachers to act as role models for women students, and says the College thinks carefully about that issue.

‘Teachers are very much role models, especially in the conservatoire, because teachers have a very trusted relationship with students,’ he says. ‘If you only have male teachers inevitably you’re sending a signal there.’

As PRS for Music Foundation Chair Sally Taylor has said, ‘Women Make Music’ aims to provide both funding and a similar nudge. ‘By promoting role models for future generations, we hope that we will be encouraging more women to think about making a living as a music creator,’ says Taylor.

The first deadline for ‘Women Make Music’ is 13th May. To find out more visit PRS for Music Foundation’s website.


(This piece appeared on RSA Comment on 7 March 2011, in anticipation of International Women’s Day)

As if women don’t agonise enough already about our career shortcomings, The Sunday Times dished out a real zinger recently. Just days before Lord Davies was to table his report on how to increase women’s presence in boardrooms, the newspaper reported that research from the Institute of Leadership and Management suggests the glass ceiling is a figment of women’s imaginations. It turns out the real obstacle to our career advancement is – you guessed it! – ourselves. Crippled by self-doubt, modesty and a lack of ambition, we sabotage our own working lives which – the article implies – the men around us would be delighted to help us progress if only we’d let them.

Now it’s easy to be scornful of these claims, and when I read them my head began buzzing with ‘buts’. After all, it’s a logical fallacy to claim that women’s self-doubt means a glass ceiling doesn’t exist. Still, I’m pretty circumspect about this sort of thing. I have three sisters and lots of women friends, and I’d be lying if I denied that fear, embarrassment and anxiety about being ‘nice’ often prevent us from putting ourselves forward.

A few years ago I read a book called It Takes a Candidate about why so few women participate in American politics. Here in the UK, try watching a parliamentary debate and see how long you can stomach the shrill finger-pointing, tiresome bluster and jokes that aren’t actually funny unless you spent your youth indoors deprived of natural light, but which are guaranteed an approving snort from your mates. Not a very tempting buffet.

The American book, which was based on thousands of interviews with both men and women, provides a more scientific view. Asked whether they’d consider entering politics, even highly accomplished women who’d graduated magna cum laude from Ivy League colleges and ran successful companies said they were not nearly qualified enough. Conversely, most of the men who were interviewed, from taxi drivers to school teachers to company heads, didn’t just think they could enter politics. They thought they could be President.

I can’t say I was surprised. In her book In a Different Voice, published close to three decades ago, the Harvard researcher Carol Gilligan set out to understand girls’ moral development. In doing so, she stumbled upon a related phenomenon: the collapse of many girls’ self-confidence as they entered their teens, struggling to navigate ethical dilemmas without the risk that their ‘selfish’ choices might jeopardise their relationships. Depressingly, this latest bit of research shows that whilst young women continue to outshine their male peers academically, these achievements contribute little to affirming their right to pursue their desires.

What’s equally dispiriting here is the relentless lack of curiosity about the causes of these phenomena. Instead, the usual fuzzy biological claims about gender are trotted out. For instance, The Sunday Times suggests that women’s ‘greater innate aversion to risk-taking’ is to blame for their stalled careers, and treats the punitive effect of having a family on a woman’s career as a neurotic projection rather than a well-documented fact. Of course, the beauty of this approach isn’t hard to discern. Far easier to blame women for their lack of advancement than to look at the social policy implications it raises, or indeed to scrutinise the messages we give our daughters.

In fact, the basis of self-confidence is rather complicated. One startling finding that emerged from the recent furore about Amy Chua’s Tiger Mother book, a memoir of the writer’s dominatrix-inspired parenting style, was the disconnect researchers observed between American students’ confidence and their academic scores. As Elizabeth Kolbert put it wryly in The New Yorker, ‘[j]ust about the only category in which American students outperform the competition is self-regard.’ Conversely, said Kolbert, ‘even the least self-confident Singaporean students, on average, outscored the most self-confident Americans.’

Now would anyone seriously argue that this dramatic difference in confidence between American and Asian kids reflects biologically determined racial characteristics? Highly doubtful. And yet when girls are less confident than their achievements warrant, we’re told it’s an inescapable fact of their gender.

Just as I was digesting these thoughts, I discovered a rather uplifting little piece on The Good Men Project website. Writing about the ‘princess culture’ in which so many young girls wallow these days, Hugo Schwyzer tells us about a new book by Peggy Orenstein which claims that this innocent obsession and the response it elicits from their families tells little girls that they will be judged first and foremost on being the ‘fairest one of all’.

‘This may be true,’ Schwyzer asks, ‘but how is it our problem as men?’

According to Schwyzer, telling your little angel she’s the prettiest girl in the world might make you both feel good, but it’s also the first in a series of messages that tell her looks are the key to approbation and attention. Then, says Schwyzer, when your little princess sees Daddy ogling teenage cheerleaders at a football match she begins to understand the mechanics of men’s approval. In this context, Schwyzer urges other men to think about how they respond to their daughters, and the lessons they implicitly teach through their attitudes towards women.

Of course, I can already hear the derisive howls from the ‘blokes’ over at Top Gear desperately nursing the dregs of their own testosterone. Indeed, it’s always chilling to read the sneering misogyny that invariably informs anonymous newspaper comments on stories about women’s advancement. Nonetheless, if I were a father I’m sure I’d be heartbroken to see my lively and outspoken child lose her nerve on the eve of adulthood sabotaging her own aspirations. And most of all, I’d want to know what I could do about it.

Here’s my interview with Jessica Duchen, classical blogger extraordinaire, for her blog on Standpoint.

Juliana Farha, founder and MD of Dilettante Music, was one of only two women from the classical music world to be picked for the new Cultural Leadership Programme’s Women to Watch list of 50 movers and shakers. We’ve featured Dilettante here before – it’s a lot more than just another website. You may remember their composition competition to find a composer in residence, and in my round-up of the most exciting classical music sites on the web in the Jan/Feb edition of Standpoint it came out basically tops. So I decided to ask Juliana a few questions – and got back, amongst other things, some home truths about the British music business and national priorities…

JD: What do you think it is about Dilettante Music that stands out from the crowd and has helped to bring you to such attention?

JF: There are several elements that make the Dilettante site unique. First, there’s the tone: the design, the editorial ‘voice’, and even the name make it clear that we’re challenging some of the stereotypes about classical music, while also communicating our own love of the music and support for the people who make it.

Second, the point of Dilettante is to bring musicians and listeners together, and it’s the only site that has set out to provide compelling features for both. Musicians can upload their concerts and their newest recordings, which listeners can discover on the site. Listeners can post reviews, debate concert hall acoustics in our forums, and buy music and concert tickets. We’re also committed to broadening the audience and supporting young musicians and new work, and our Composer-in-Residence competition, which we launched last year to provide a year-long platform for a young composer on our site, is a good example of that.
Third, there’s our revenue model: Dilettante is a business that presumes a somewhat altruistic motivation – namely, that registered members and casual visitors will choose to support our community of musicians and composers by using Dilettante to buy music and concert tickets from our retail partners. Of course, we’ve added value through our price comparison tool, for instance, but the altruistic element is still there.

And finally: we’re still here. I suspect that when I first started telling people about our plans for the site, they figured it was a dot-com fantasy that would disappear as fast as it had arrived. If so, they vastly underestimated our stubbornness.

JD: There are so few women in classical music on the list of 50 that one wonders why…do you have any theories about why the classical music world is still so male-dominated?

JF: Let’s face it: we live in a male-dominated world, and I certainly think that classical music remains the most traditional art form so it stands to reason that it would be slower to change than some other industries. While music-making is often very collaborative, of course, there’s a strong sense of hierarchy within the structures of classical music and I think certain kinds of masculine behaviour signify ‘leadership’ in that sort environment. Also, a lot of the classical music media is aimed at hardcore audiophiles because they’re the people who spend money ‘cultivating their collections’, as we say in one of our adverts. The profile of your average audiophile is older and male, of course, so much of the dialogue consists of those people talking to each other.

JD: What does it mean to you to be on the list?

JF: I was utterly delighted to be on the list. I’ve been at this for several years now and it’s often been tough, so the acknowledgment of what we’re trying to achieve and what it’s taken to get this far was really welcome.

While I certainly never expected anyone to embrace Dilettante as the saviour of classical music, I admit that I probably underestimated how resistant some people would be to anyone presuming to think they had anything new to offer. This sector is a pretty closed shop, and in order to stay true to your vision you really do have to make up your own rules, if you’ll forgive the cliche. I think that’s doubly true if you’re a woman. I’ve seen some other businesses launch in our industry – backed by big investment, and lots of swagger – that were received a lot more warmly than Dilettante has been, and yet those businesses certainly haven’t proved to be more viable or visionary than Dilettante. Still, I gave up banging my head against the gatekeepers’ wall a long time ago, because it sucks up enormous energy and gives nothing back except a bad headache. Instead I’ve focused on people and organisations that are genuinely open to collaborating with us and to understanding what we’re about, and fortunately there are lots of them. That’s what’s kept me going.

The other reason I was so pleased is because I imagined the list would mostly be populated by women from charitable arts organisations, and I was right. Interestingly, I have it on good authority that there was a robust debate among the judges about whether being a private sector entrepreneur disqualifies me from being a ‘cultural leader’. I find that shocking on the face of it, but of course many people in the arts are squeamish about money ‘polluting’ culture. Still, I’m struck by the irony that conceiving of how to support music and music-making, and then assuming significant risk to realise that conception, might disqualify a person from being recognised as a ‘leader’.
JD: Where do you hope to go from here?
JF: Well, there’s lots still to do with Dilettante, both in terms of reaching new audiences and offering more to our users, so that will keep me busy for some time. In terms of a ‘job’, whatever I do will be driven by my conviction that we express and experience our humanity through culture, so it’s vital that we support cultural output at every level. Recently, Simon Jenkins alleged that the arts need to make a better case for themselves. Perhaps he’s right, but I’m astonished at the bottomless pit of money that’s apparently available to fight wars on whatever flimsy pretext, while funding for culture and even education are axed with relative ease. I call it ‘bombs not circuses’ – and I’ll take the circuses, thanks.

First, I’ll say it before you do: I’m late. Or rather my cello blog is late, and since I’m its author it’s me that’s really late. A very busy week meant many nights out, not enough practice, and a sickeningly familiar feeling of nausea preceding my lesson on Friday. (Indeed, it was a week of firsts: not only the Women to Watch festivities, but also a black tie dinner where we were greeted on arrival by howling protesters in the street outside the venue. Charming.)

Samara was lovely as always about my failings as a student so I felt better, and didn’t make a complete hash of everything as a result. Edith Orton, take note! Unless it’s too late for you, which I think it is and suspect it always was. (If you’re new to this blog, Edith Orton is my old piano teacher. Years of therapy and yet she looms…)

We got through it all with a few rounds of Twinkle Twinkle to close the week, although I still haven’t had the courage to record it for Luke with audioboo. You see, Luke is my four year-old nephew who – despite being the coolest four year-old you’ve ever met – maintains Twinkle Twinkle as his favourite track of all time. And that’s precisely the point: here’s a kid with an intimate knowledge of a seminal work, and let’s face it: kids are terrifyingly honest. So while I’m trying to reconcile myself to my rendition being less than perfect (you know, ‘the perfect being the enemy of the good’, and all that nonsense), in my heart I know it’s still not up to performance standard i.e. the ears of a forthright four year-old.

And then she pulled it straight out of her bag, like a rabbit from a hat. What did Samara have in her hand, you might wonder? Why Dvorak of course, who just happens to be one of my favourite composers. Two lines from the fourth movement of the Dumky piano trio to be exact. And how did I react? How do you think I reacted, for God’s sake? Total paralysis. And then I tried to play it while Samara looked on encouragingly, all the while knowing that my brain had still barely wrapped itself around that fact of playing a melody in the bass clef, not to mention having to create notes myself out of thin air by pressing down thick strings in precisely the right spot. Geez. Throw in a stirring melody I’ve listened to hundreds of times in my life, and the tears started to well up.

I didn’t let Samara see them, of course – far too cool for that (see where Lukie gets it from?) – but I couldn’t help it. Did I dare to play Dvorak, or even try for that matter? I’ve managed to keep it together since then, but just barely. If we meet up in the street, you probably won’t notice anything different about me – unless you say the D-word, of course. Then all bets are off.

A couple of years ago, I was sufficiently outraged by a proposed UK government scheme that I banged out an editorial rant and sent it off to The Guardian for the Comment Is Free section of their site. The piece was accepted and went live on Sunday at noon. Within seconds the user comments starting pouring in. Within minutes I was hyperventilating.

That’s how long it took me to figure out that with my full name on display and Google at their fingertips, the digital mob had access to my whole back story – from my nationality (Canadian) to my husband’s job (Tory politician) – and that it was all fair game.

Coming so close to the launch of Dilettante, my company’s classical music social network, this episode was a little unsettling. Feeling rather sore, I started to wonder about the uses and abuses of this putative UGC ‘revolution’, and what it meant for classical music. Is anyone entitled to a view? And just as importantly, who decides?

After all, at Dilettante we’d committed to throwing open the gates to the genre, welcoming new listeners and providing a platform for performers. How many times had I heard from friends that they were curious about classical music but had no idea where to start and were too afraid to ask? Ravel or Purcell, Debussy or Stravinsky, Kissin or Lang Lang? Help! These were bright people anxious to decode a sophisticated art from – and unlikely to look to Gramophone for assistance.

But would a site aimed at unravelling these mysteries just become a forum for anonymous ignoramuses and philistines? (And wasn’t this fear just a reflection of my own elitism, whereby everyone’s entitled to a view so long as it’s the same as mine?)

On the flip side of these anxieties lies another grim suspicion: namely, that the self-appointed classical gatekeepers seem to relish dressing up the genre in snobbish pretensions that obscure as much as they clarify. You might ask why they do this. In order to maintain its exclusive status, hence the credentials of this brittle fraternity. How else to explain the paradox of hand-wringing about declining CD sales and empty concert halls on the one hand, while simultaneously dismissing as ‘gimmicky’ anything that dares to make the classical music world more ‘accessible’, whether it’s classical music in clubs, Popstar to Opera Star or Classic FM?

This knee-jerk accusation of (gasp) populism is propped up by a series of Trojan Horses that are trotted out to remind us all what’s really special about classical.

First, there’s the fixation on lossless audio formats, which relies on an unquestioning faith that no other benefit – such as mobile listening – could unhinge aficionados’ attachment to perfect sound quality. And speaking of perfection, there’s the obsession with concert hall acoustics, which starts with a baseline of flawlessness and goes downhill from there. Of course, these are the same folks who find the concert hall itself a bottomless pit of aggravation, from those who cough during the performance to those who clap between movements.

If you hadn’t already figured out that this aural intolerance is actually a not-so-secret handshake signifying membership in a very exclusive club, you’d be forgiven for wondering why they bothered to leave the house.

The classical genre is ripe for demystifying – and this is where the blog rolls have come into their own. Definitely not populated by mindless yobs, the classical blogosphere has spawned a growing number of clever and occasionally irrelevant writers, from Think Denk to Opera Chic. Or how about Proper Discord whose recent “10 clichés of classical music journalism” which include assertions like “Twitter: not going to save classical music from anything”, had us all ironically tweeting with pleasure. In fact, a survey of this provocative blogger’s comments reveals not just a delight in debunking the genre’s smug fictions, but an urge to cut through the facile populism that obscures such basic questions as ‘is it any good?’.

Still, it must be said that to the uninitiated classical music can seem like a play without a plot: it’s sometimes challenging to engage with, and gentle guidance from a knowledgeable source can be the difference between getting it and not getting it. And let’s face it: while UGC might have made the notion of ‘authority’ seem rather old-fashioned, authority is often precisely what we are looking for, even if we give it another name. After all, UGC’s democratic spirit can’t change the fact that some bloggers are simply better than others, some people actually know what they’re talking about, and learning how to listen to classical music can be pretty, well, life-enhancing.

(This piece appeared in MusicAlly on 18 February 2010)

(March 10, 2010)

Dilettante is pleased to announce that our Founder and Managing Director Juliana Farha has been named one of the 50 ‘Women to Watch’ in the UK creative and cultural sectors. Juliana is the only woman from the classical music world to be featured on the list, and one of a tiny minority from the private sector.

The ‘Women to Watch’ judging panel was led by the BBC’s Jenni Murray, and included Dame Liz Forgan, chair of Arts Council England; Wayne MacGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet; and Rita Clifton, Chief Executive of Interbrand, the global branding consultancy.

The ‘Women to Watch’ list was created by the UK’s Cultural Leadership Programme (CLP) to ‘celebrate the achievements of some of the most ambitious and talented women in the cultural and creative industries’. The CLP is an initiative of Arts Council England, Creative & Cultural Skills, and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

‘I’m really delighted to be included on the first Women to Watch list because it confirms that we’re achieving what we set out to do – namely, to lead classical music in a new direction,’ says Juliana. ‘After all, this is a sector that has a massive impact on the economy, and brings people tremendous pleasure.’

Find out more about ‘Women to Watch’ by clicking here.

This interview appeared on The Music Void on 16 February 2010.

The Music Void’s Chris McLellan spoke recently with Juliana Farha, Managing Director of London-based classical website Dilettante, which launched in 2008.

A trained journalist, Juliana Farha worked at Canada’s CBC Radio and Watch magazine in Toronto before joining the family business in the musical instruments sector.

After obtaining her Masters degree at Goldsmiths College, University of London, Juliana identified the Internet and social media as the ideal tools to support classical music and grow the audience for the genre. Dilettante is the embodiment of those ideas.

Hi Juliana. Thanks for meeting with The Music Void today. Can you provide our readers with a brief overview of Dilettante?

Certainly.  Dilettante is a classical music hub with a community of musicians and listeners at its heart. On Dilettante you can buy music and concert tickets, read news and reviews, post your own concerts, join discussions and more. The site was conceived with two goals: first, to support musicians and music-making by providing a platform for their work and for the classical genre; and second, to grow the audience for classical music. Obviously, those goals are related since you support music-making by engaging new audiences.

The site was designed and built with these goals in mind. We’re not aiming to make classical music ‘cool’ or dumbing it down, but Dilettante’s fresh, lively tone is aimed at bringing a different sensibility – and even a different vocabulary – to classical music. At the same time, we felt that we wouldn’t be doing musicians much of a service by simply providing them with a new set of social media tools to profile themselves. We needed to create practical reasons why listeners would come to the site, hence value-adds such as our price comparison tool. On Dilettante you can check prices across four retailers, learn about works and artists, read user reviews and ‘expert’ comments, and so on.

What is the nature of the Dilettante business model?

The Dilettante business model leverages multiple revenue streams to support our community of musicians and listeners.

We generate income from three main sources:

1/ Advertising revenue; 2/ commissions from music sales across two specialist and two mass-market retailers, supported by reviews, discussions, celebrity playlists and other guidance; and 3/ from commissions from ticket sales in partnership with classical ticketing vendors

Dilettante is a micro-economy sustained by transactions that are a natural part of site activity. For instance, Facebook might not feel like an obvious place to buy a t-shirt, but a classical music community is an obvious place to buy a CD or concert tickets.

As Dilettante has grown the site has become established as a credible and trusted brand for classical music, but one that is also refreshing, unstuffy and modern. And as a niche site, we offer advertisers access to a highly-targeted and well-educated audience. That’s one reason why we’ve secured advertising in a really tough market from record labels such as Chandos, EMI and Sony Classical.

In your opinion, is the classical genre fairly represented on the major online music stores?

Tough question! As I’ve said, we offer music through affiliate partnerships with four retailers, including two mass-market and two specialist shops. Music sales is a volume game, and digital content makes the long-tail model more viable since you’re no longer talking about shelf-space. In that sense, major music store sites have an advantage over high street shops.

Where the major retailers stumble, I think, is around practical issues such as metadata, and the lack of consistency from the labels themselves is a problem. You can find a needle in a haystack on Amazon, for instance, but you really need to know what you’re looking for. In fact, I buy a lot of discs through Amazon, but their classical search is appalling, and not made to handle the fact that a single work is recorded multiple times by different artists, so it’s not just Animal Collective playing Animal Collective.

Similarly, the major retailers can’t offer meaningful editorial context that a lot of new or casual classical listeners would find useful. Why buy this performance of The Nutcracker Suite and not that one? I love Bolero, but what else did Ravel write? Those holes provide a huge opportunity for value-adds such as a strong search function supported by editorial guidance. That’s the opportunity we’ve seized at Dilettante.

What is your social media strategy? Are you working with or through Facebook or Twitter, for example?

Facebook, MySpace and Twitter are vital elements of our social media strategy. In fact, it’s difficult to operate in the digital space without using them in a meaningful and sustained way.

While Dilettante has significant social networking functionality, we consider ourselves to be part of the classical music community, not simply an interface for it. As such we have a distinct voice in the digital environment, and the way we communicate on Twitter is as much a part of our identity as the way we communicate on the Dilettante site.

On a purely practical level, both Twitter and Facebook have proved to be an invaluable way of creating buzz about what’s new on Dilettante, and projects we’re involved with. Of course, Twitter is a social space too, so we’ve developed Twitter relationships with lots of people and organisations in the classical world.

Needless to say, our next step is to implement an OpenID system, and that’s something we’re working on with our developers. We’re aiming to be fully connected.

In what ways does Dilletante support live classic concerts and sales?

First, it’s important to be clear that we don’t regard the Internet as some sort of parallel universe to the offline world, and we don’t want or expect classical music activity to move online. Classical music is all about the live experience, not just an activity musicians undertake to support a CD. Thanks to digital piracy and the decline in music purchasing, that’s becoming increasingly true in the pop world, but it’s always been true in classical.

We support live performance in a variety of ways.  First – at its most basic – any Dilettante member can post their events on our events calendar, including links to tickets. Members can invite their Dilettante connections, and link their event back to their member profile so people can find out more about them – very useful if you’re a young ensemble, just starting out. That means a concert by an unknown chamber group can sit right next to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, so the two get equal billing.

We do our utmost to support our members’ concerts, so we can feature their events on the site and in our monthly Music & Events newsletter. Of course, there are number of editorial options, too. If there’s a really innovative programme or a group doing really interesting work, we offer feature interviews or profiles on the site, along with celebrity playlists and other kinds of editorial promotion.

Also, we’re looking at ways we can support live performance more actively. For instance, in 2008 we co-produced a concert in a club in Brick Lane in East London. Last year, we launched our Digital Composer-in-Residence competition, which culminated in a live performance of the finalists’ submissions by the London Sinfonietta at Wilton’s Music Hall. And one element of the winner’s prize is a live concert next Autumn featuring a work that was composed during the year-long residency.

With an aging population in the West, one might expect a rise in the popularity of the classical genre. Is that true in your experience?

I think there are a few factors affecting the popularity of the classical genre. You’re right that an aging population might listen to more classical music. There’s also the success of stations like ClassicFM in the UK. Some people claim they dumb-down classical music, but they also demystify it and bring it to a wider audience. I don’t see a reason to be snobbish about that.

At the same time, we’ve seen the rise of a lot of young composers and musicians who don’t talk or think about ‘genre’ in such narrow terms, from someone like Nico Muhly, who seems to come out of the classical world but works across genres, to a classically trained musician like Jonny Greenwood who came to prominence as an alt-pop musician and now performs alongside John Adams in New York.

We see that in the UK, too. Look at Mira Calix or Anna Meredith. Is it electronica or classical? There’s lots of jargon floating around that reflects this shift – ‘music without borders’ from New Amsterdam records in Brooklyn, ‘alt-classical’ from Greg Sandow at Arts Journal, ‘post-classical’ from I don’t remember who! I think this phenomenon gives younger listeners a different point of access that might lead them to more ‘traditional’ classical music, some of which is pretty out there. I mean, the Goldberg Variations are a real trip (see 8 below).

Is the rising popularity of so-called ‘cross over’ artists like Andrea Bocelli and Kathryn Jenkins good news for the classical genre?

I’m not sure it’s good or bad news. To the extent that these artists’ CDs sell, I suppose they help sustain the business. Do they introduce new audiences to classical music, and will those audiences go on to buy more classical music? I don’t think there’s any evidence to support that view.

What recordings would you recommend to classical music novices to give them a sample of best from the genre?

There are many of course, but here are a few of my favourites

Quatuor Ebene
– Debussy, Faure, Ravel String Quartets
This disc picked up Gramophone’s Recording of the Year prize last year, and it’s a wonderful introduction to three great French composers and four dynamic young performers.

Daniel Hope – Air: A Baroque Journey
I’ve seen Daniel Hope live several times, including with the now-defunct Beaux Arts Trio, and he’s a wonderful player. This disc is exactly what it sounds like – an engaging primer that’s a delight to listen to.

Simone Dinnerstein – Bach, Goldberg Variations
Per above, the Goldberg Variations are a real trip, and Simone Dinnerstein’s performance is brilliant. Wear headphones, and listen loud.

Alfred Brendel – Schubert Complete Impromptus D.899 & D.935 and Others
As always, Brendel gets every note right and captures Schubert’s grace and majesty.

Nigel Kennedy – Bruch & Mendelssohn: Violin Concertos
Two brilliant works that are a must for any novice listener. I’m never sure which concerto I prefer, but I always go back to Nigel Kennedy’s performance.

Beaux Arts Trio – Piano Trio No 4 in E Minor ‘Dumky’
I love Dvorak and this is one of my all time favourites – if it doesn’t break your heart there’s something wrong with you.

Miguel del Aguila – Salon Buenos Aires
I discovered this through a review by Frank Oteri at New Music Box. On the strength of one track, I bought it instantly, and can’t stop listening to it.

Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
I heard this live at the Royal Festival Hall last October – performed by the London Sinfonietta – and was totally blown away.

That’s a great list Juliana. Thanks for sharing that and all your thoughts on classical music and Dilettante today.

It’s been my pleasure.

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