Before Stephen Fry walked on to the stage at the Barbican on Monday to take part in a discussion on the place of classical music in today’s society, he asked his Twitter followers to suggest new names for what he sees as an off-putting label, ‘classical’. The replies that flowed in were typically informed and astute: ‘shit, outdated, irrelevant, dead’. ‘This is the scale of the problem we face,’ he lamented.
James Rhodes (above), the concert pianist with a knack for shunning the stereotype of the straight-backed, tailcoated performer, put it another way: ‘Walk into HMV (if you can find one), and if you ask for classical music, they shunt you down to the basement like you’ve asked for midget pornography.’
And so the discussion progressed; ideas passed between the audience and a distinguished panel of Fry, Rhodes, musical patron Sir David Tang and Tim Lihoreau, of Classic FM. Of course, talking about music in a concert hall is like going to the cinema to read a film review, so Rhodes regularly intervened with a few minutes of sublime piano music.
While the general conclusion that more must be done in schools to promote classical music seemed a little tired, the eloquent speakers were refreshingly frank: when quizzed on contemporary classical music, Rhodes confessed to having a ‘massive problem with it — I would to God a contemporary composer actually wrote some fucking tunes’.