by Laurence Hughes
I wish to offer some ‘incorrect’ and possibly controversial opinions about the BBC Proms. John Wilson and the Sinfonia of London’s concert of British music represents the sort of musical excellence that the Proms used to be all about. When I was at school the Proms were effectively my summer holiday, and I spent many delightful hours at them, soaking up some of the greatest classical music played by the world’s best musicians. Now the Proms, like everything else the BBC does, have been poisoned by ideology. The reason the Sinfonia of London is acclaimed as far the best new orchestra for years is simple – its players are self-evidently chosen ON MUSICAL ABILITY ALONE. This means, unfortunately or not, that they are overwhelmingly white and middle class. There is not a single black musician present, and only one or two (possible) asians; also there is a notable preponderance of male players, including the entire front rank of the strings (most unusual these days).
This is not of course because women and minorities cannot be good classical musicians, but because classical music, whether people like it or not, is overwhelming a ‘white’, middle class occupation in this country, and male musicians arguably tend to have a greater intensity, strength and flair in their playing (though not always), so if you are going to choose the very best performers based on musical ability, this is likely to be the result. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s this would have been unremarkable, but of course in 2022 for the BBC and ‘woke’ idiots who control our culture today, the idea of a white, male-dominated orchestra is an abomination. Meanwhile the rest of the Proms is a ‘woke-fest’ of women conductors, black orchestras, (black) women composers, achingly trendy cultural ‘cross-over’ events and attempts at embracing fashionable popular tastes. I predict that there will be trouble about Wilson’s choice of musicians, at some point, even though the results are wildly successful and popular. The Proms used to be the greatest classical music festival in the world. Now its standards have been dismally compromised and lowered by ideological interference and it can no longer be called that, despite highlights like the John Wilson prom, the NYOGB prom and one or two others. It’s sad, and it’s worrying. ‘Identity politics’ in culture may assuage a few hurt feelings, but it will inevitably lead to lowered standards – indeed, already has done.
This performance of Elgar’s Enigma Variations is one of the best I have heard. Although Wilson’s tempi are sometimes a little fast for my tastes, the music surges backward and forward in a way that is actually very much like Elgar’s own recordings of his own music. Also there is tremendous attention to detail, without losing sight of the overall drive of the music – I noticed one or two important details that I had never consciously heard before. I have been listening to Elgar’s music for well over half a century, and the more I listen to it, and specially to this piece, the greater I think it is. This is how great music-making should, and could, be, if our cultural commissars could just keep their politics away from art.
Laurence Hughes is a composer and former freelance music journalist and broadcaster