“Classical” Music Designation Called “Tyrannical”

The Kronos Quartet, shown here performing in Gothenburg), is one of many "fine music" acts at this year's Melbourne International Arts Festival.(Photo: konstriktion (Flickr))
The Kronos Quartet, shown here performing in Gothenburg), is one of many "fine music" acts at this year's Melbourne International Arts Festival.(Photo: konstriktion (Flickr))

The director of Australia’s Melbourne International Arts Festival has called “classical music” a “tyrannical” designation and has said he made one of the festival’s programming decisions “because it would alienate some people,” according to an interview published in Limelight magazine.

Brett Sheehy, who came to lead some of Australia’s major arts festivals from a background in theater, says he wanted to take the focus of the Melbourne Festival’s programming away from “the dead-white-male canon”:

When I got the job, I thought about what I could do that would be different. So, rather than bringing in grand orchestras and presenting the dead-white-male canon, I wanted classical music concerts to have a primary focus on living composers and contemporary work. I did it because it would alienate some people.

Discussing his requirement that the London Philharmonic Orchestra perform new Australian music in its Melbourne Festival performance two years ago, Sheehy said the derided the term “classical music” as limiting.

“I think that festivals have the opportunity to broaden the horizons in terms of living composers. ‘Classical’ is such a tyrannical term, I’d much prefer to call it ‘fine’ or ‘orchestrated’ music,” Sheehy told Limelight.

“Orchestrated music” does not describe the repertory pianist James Rhodes will bring before this year’s Melbourne Festival audience. Nor does it accommodate Steve Reich’s WTC 9/11, which the Kronos Quartet will perform at the festival.

But “fine music” could accommodate various kinds of chamber music, especially if you think other forms of music, by implication, are not “fine.” So, what should we call “classical music” if not “classical music”?

Read more: Classical Music is a “tyrannical” term, says Melbourne Festival director (Limelight)

Comments