How the PC Brigade Is Destroying Our Orchestras; British Musicians Are the Latest Group to Come under Pressure for Not Engaging with Ethnic Minorities. but It's Not Really Their Fault

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Byline: NORMAN LEBRECHT

I WENT along to be enlightened and came away consumed with despair at the political realities which oblige arts managers to give up a working day for a preach-in on multiculturalism.

The symposium was called Cultural Diversity and the Classical Music Industry and it yammered on all day yesterday in a dreary side-room at the Royal Festival Hall, overlooking the railway cuttings. There was a sell-out attendance from just about every classical body in Britain bigger than a string quartet. This might make you think that the theme was compulsive.

Compulsory is more like it. As things stand in British arts, only an autist would dare to profess disinterest in diversity. With 7.9 per cent of the population derived from ethnic minorities and the Government sloganising away about inclusion, it would have been a brave orchestral boss who stayed away from diversity day. One manager whispered to me that his absence would surely have been "noted".

There was an ominous edge to the proceedings. The organising body, the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), had "aligned the event with the objectives of Arts Council England" - specifically with ACE's aim to make cultural diversity " central to all that it undertakes". ACE sent no fewer than 10 observers to a room holding 160. An awful lot of next year's funding must hinge on diversity compliance.

As for sell-outs, that was the fundamental premise. The ABO, representing a dwindling and dangerously uncool sector, was waving a white flag of acceptance that art must, for the time being, take second place to social engineering. Orchestras are increasingly expected to hire " audience development managers" and work with "grassroots communities" if they want to carry on playing the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms.

The day began combatively with a speech from Lord Moser, once chairman of the Royal Opera House and now of the British Museum Development Trust. Lord Moser, 81, told the apparatchiks that orchestras "do not deserve lectures or pressures from the arts councils - what is lacking is on the other side of the coin, in the education and funding system".

The reason orchestras have so few non-white players - only two, for instance, in the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in the heart of the multicultural Midlands - is because music teaching has been neglected in the poorest areas. State school recruitment of music teachers was down 12 per cent last year. Most of those teaching music in secondary schools were, he said, untrained in music. Until they provide music teaching for minority children, the authorities cannot point a finger at orchestras for failing to engage nonwhites as players, staff and audiences. "Classical music will always be a minority interest," asserted Lord Moser, "but it should not be as much of a minority as it has been allowed to become in this country."

After that, it was all downhill as the diversity industry turned its rage on the orchestral craft. Professor Lola Young, head of culture at the Greater London Authority and previously-chair of ACE's diversity panel, said we must "change the look of the classical music industry". The professor, resplendent in an Africanstyle headwrap, named "George Augustus Bridgewater", the black violinist for whom Beethoven wrote his concerto, as a useful role model. …