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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Friday December 29 2006

Coincidentally, while I was concocting the day before yesterday’s post about solo Bach on the violin, a violinist emailed to plug a violin show of his in London on January 4th, which I am going to try to go to.

I’m not sure that it will be entirely to my taste, for whatever that may matter.  My preferences in violin playing veer away from the kind of pieces where they put a flower next to the violin on the CD cover.  Too chocolate boxy for me.  And judging by this lo-fi mp3 snippet , Simon Hewitt Jones’s preferred new stuff also sounds rather too chocolate boxy for me as well.  As far as contemporary violin composing goes, I fancy a more busking-in-the-tube kind of style – more gutsy and rhythmic, like a cross between Bartok and drumless rock and roll, or something.  But I am interested anyway, because at least the guy is putting himself about, and above all, making maximum use of the internet to do that.

I have a lot more respect for violinists like Vanessa-Mae Nicholson and Nigel Kennedy (whose fiftieth birthday was yesterday by the way), than a lot of music critics seem to have.  The answers that Vanessae-Mae and Kennedy offer may not always be entirely convincing, but at least they are asking the right question: Where next for virtuoso violinists?  I mean, never mind the Beethoven and Brahms concertos, the first of the Shostakovich concertos seems to get about one new recording a month these days.  Hahn, Chang, Josefowicz, Skride, Hope, Khachatryan, they just keep on coming.  These are all very fine performances, but these regular super-violinists are now deep into the land of diminishing returns - financially, artistically, and in terms of their overall contribution to the culture.  I buy all such CDs, but only when I encounter them second hand for three quid which won’t pay their rent.  The fact that new CDs now take no time to get to the bargain boxes that I see in the market, and at three quid straight away rather than eight quid like it was only a few years ago, says something, I think.  These people used to be able to make a living from their recording contracts.  Now their CDs are mere calling cards.  But calling cards for what?  Something has to give.  Both Vanessa-Mae and Kennedy, in their different ways, are trying to see what might.

Besides which, what’s wrong with looking nice in a wet T-shirt?

Lots of other violin virtuosi are like Vanessa-Mae in also being very young and sexy.  A common explanation for this is that the public only likes young and sexy violin virtuosi, like it only likes young and sexy film stars.  But the violin virtuosi are also young and sexy because they are still young (and sexy because young) enough to be trying to make a go of their careers in the regular virtuoso way, but mostly failing.  When they grow up, they will mostly give up, because the sums don’t add up.  More fundamentally, what are they actually achieving?

So then what do they do?  That’s the question.  Then what?  (Teach?  That’s not an answer.  That merely relocates the question.) Then what? is one of my favourite questions.  Then what? when what we’re doing now fails, obviously.  Then what? when what we’re doing now succeeds is more interesting.  This is the predicament of the classical music profession now.  They have recorded everything, superbly, bar the final ten percent of barrel scraping, and since recording is now so cheap and so easy, they might as well go on recording everything.  But they can’t hit the big time with such recordings any more, the way you could if yours was only the first or the second recording of whatever you are doing, or for that matter only the fifth or tenth.  So, what next?

imageSimon Hewitt Jones is already deep into that question, either because they won’t let him be a regular famous virtuoso with a nice if not massive recording contract, or because he has chosen not to go that way even if he could.  Clearly the Internet is a huge part of the new answer, hence the obvious interestingness of something called ViolinMP3.com, which turns out to have a blog written by Simon HJ at the front of it, which, although I’m only guessing, it probably makes more sense to read here.  (Straight to the blogroll with that.  Although, alas, the monthly archiving seems not to work.  Not for me, anyway.  I could find my way to things eventually though, by hoping backwards via the “recent postings” option.)

If I do manage to get to that Jan 4 show, I will be especially listening out for the new compositions, because acquiring new repertoire is now the key issue for classically trained musicians.  The best of them can scrape a living playing the same old stuff, but it is new and popular stuff that now matters, economically and artistically, as V-M and Kennedy have realised, and it is the composers of new and popular stuff, or the star commissioners of such new and popular stuff, who are the potential leaders of the classical music profession.  This wasn’t true in 1960, because then what mattered was recording the back catalogue in super stereo.  It didn’t matter how few people loved Boulez’s latest.  But now, the economics of the classical music business hinges on the attractiveness to audiences of the new stuff.  Whether the music itself gets called “classical” or something else is a bit of a detail, and it would probably be better if the regular classical critics were thrown into a paroxysm of indecision about that.  That would suggest that something real was happening.

You may be wondering: why did it take until now (Simon HJ has been blogging since March of 2005) for me to clock this guy?  Why did it take an email from Simon Hewitt Jones to me for me to find out about all this?  Well, it just did, would be one answer.  But a slightly better one might be to say that I find internetting very hard and that I plunged into blogging because it is the only kind of internetting that I find relatively easy and find to be relatively quickly rewarded (what with me being a writer who is still at the giving-it-away-to-attract-attention stage).  So, I started blogging, about classical music and about lots of other things, but I still don’t do much else of an internetted nature, such as iTuning or YouTubing or EBaying or Amazoning or Flickring or MySpacing, or anything else interesting that I might be doing if I were better at such things than I am.  But, nevertheless, Simon Hewitt Jones picked me up on his radar scanner, which is clearly far superior to mine, as part of his plugging of his Jan 4th event, and the connection was made.  By him.  But who cares?  I am now permanently tuned in to what Simon HJ and co. are doing, and very pleased I am about it.

(One reason why Simon HJ is better at internetting than I am is that he has a clever techy/musician younger(?) brother.  It’s a pity that the link at the top of this posting no longer works.  I tried internet-researching brother Thomas and learned not much, but I did encounter this.)

In his email Simon HJ mentioned that he was at the same school as Alex Singleton (i.e. Dulwich), with whom I do classical internet chats.  “Alex probably won’t remember me” blah blah, said Simon HJ, because he is younger than Alex.  But in fact Alex does remember him.  If you are a star violinist, a lot of the people you shared a school with will remember you, even if you are younger than them. 

Plus, I have a feeling that of the other people in my immediate circle, this lady might also be particularly interested in Simon HJ’s activities, not so much because of the music as because of the internetting and blogging that goes with it.  She likes almost anything, if internetting and blogging goes with it.

Alex and I will be going on Jan 4, I hope.  If any of our London friends and acquaintances are interested in joining us and making a bigger party, they should get in touch.  Soon.  I don’t want to leave it too late.

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