Interview With Norman Lebrecht

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Norman Lebrecht(Photo: Abigail Lebrecht)
Norman Lebrecht(Photo: Abigail Lebrecht)

Norman Lebrecht is a widely-read commentator on music, culture and politics.
He hosts Lebrecht Live for BBC3 and writes a column appearing each Wednesday in the London Evening Standard.

Lebrecht’s latest book, The Life and Death of Classical Music, is a top seller in Britain and is published in the U.S. this week. The concluding chapter, “20 Recordings That Should Never Have Been Made,” is Lebrecht at his most provocative.

In this interview, Lebrecht describes the greatness of classical music along with its problems, and passionately describes how the defenders of the art must separate the good from the great.

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Highlights From This Interview:

“What is good in classical music? I haven’t seen as much young talent around at any time in my life as there is now. There’s a most prodigious new generation of conductors in their 20s and early 30s. It’s just hopping and popping and peppering with talent. We’re watching the development in China of not just a new generation of musicians, but a new style of interpretation. That’s tremendously exciting.”

“The means of dissemination of musical invention and musical talent have now shrunk to a pinhead. That, to me, is something akin to a tragedy. It may be that I use provocative titles (for my books), and it may be that sometimes I use extreme terms. But what I’m trying to do is attract attention to this art that is so fertile and so exciting and so important to the development of human civilization.”

“(At a conference in Atlanta) I was talking about the need for excellence. Somebody in the audience jumped up and said ‘You can’t say that. That’s elitist.’ I said ‘Elitism is exactly what we’re about. We are in the business of discriminating between the good and the best. And it’s the best that we should be after.’ At which point he called me a fascist. Art is about human aspiration. If we cannot in art aspire for the very, very best, then we might as well give up and go back to painting fences.”

“It’s two generations since classical music was last taught in public schools in America. It’s one generation since it was last taught systematically here in Britain. It’s declining across Europe. We are in very, very serious trouble. There are, however, glimmers of hope. You only have to look at Finland to see what happens when people are taught to read and write and play music before they can read and write words. The musical education has produced brighter kids.”