Singing in the Rain

Musical Opinion, July/August 2012 | Go to article overview

Singing in the Rain


So the official celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee of the accession to the throne of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II have come and gone, with a concert in front of Buckingham Palace on the evening of June 4 that, for all the meagre classical music content it contained, might just as well never have happened. We had been previously informed, for reasons which have never been properly explained, that the planning of this event had been placed in the hands of Gary Barlow, a member of a very well-known pop band, and there is no doubt that an open-air concert, reflecting (we assume that was the intention) British music and musicians (extending also perhaps to the Commonwealth) and the world-wide impact British popular music has had during the Queen's reign, would contain its fair measure of performers. But to engage on the one hand a largely British (including one Commonwealth and two American participants) popular music contingent comprising Robbie Williams, Sir Elton John, Kylie Minogue, Grace Jones, Dame Shirley Bassey, Gary Barlow, Sir Cliff Richard, Cheryl Cole, Sir Tom Jones, Annie Lennox, Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney, and on the other to have the American soprano Renée Fleming (although the moment she began to sing, the BBC television coverage of the event cut away to a celebrity interview with someone else), the Chinese pianist Lang Lang playing Liszt and the Lancashire tenor Alfie Boe singing ? Sole Mio', was a doubtless unintentional, but none the less perceived, slap in the face to British classical artists. Quite apart from the fact that those classical artists who did appear were outnumbered four to one by the pop stars, the implication was staring us in the face that Britain no longer has classical musicians of sufficient merit or fame to appear before Her Majesty.

Readers of this publication will know that that is simply not a tenable proposition, and might very well have begun to draw up their own list of British pianists and sopranos, flute-players, violinists, cellists, guitarists - among others - who could have represented the country equally well, if not better, than the American and Chinese musicians who, somehow, found themselves invited. It might also have been a good idea to have had a British conductor, rather than an American one, and perhaps some jazz, ballet or folk music might have additionally broadened a seemingly endless procession of preening pop music celebrities, almost all of whom were in their '60s or '70s. It is quite clear, from the resultant show, that this was not the most suitable musical tribute that can have been laid on for the Queen, in her 87th year, or for the indisposed Duke of Edinburgh, a few days short of his 91st birthday, watching proceedings on television from his hospital bed.

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