Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Paranoid androids?

I spent a fascinating morning today at the Royal College of Music talking to postgraduate students, together with inspirational and entrepreneurial academic David Bahanovich and the one and only Gabriel Prokofiev. We covered topics ranging from Gabriel's innovative Non-Classical club nights to what the greatest musicians have in common - energy? dedication? more?; and from why "person gives concert" is not a story, to why you really need to understand, in today's music business, how digital media and social networking function or else risk being torpedoed. And much more.

It's wonderful, in 2012, to walk into the RCM and see devoted and brilliant young people who are on fire with the love of music and ready to spend their lives in its service. But also very worrying, because I don't know what in the world is going to happen to the RCM - or the other British music colleges - after the government removes all their support. Or am I being a paranoid android? After all, British music students can still hop on a plane to Denmark and study there free of charge (though they may need a different range of vocabulary from that of The Killing and Borgen). But I want to see top-notch, open-minded, free-spirited music colleges here in the Big Smoke, a city buzzing with creativity and diverse music-making every moment of every day, where young musicians could be nurtured without having to burden themselves with impossible debt. A college education should be free to those talented enough to pursue it. When we stop investing in education, we smother the future. It's that simple.

Speaking of creativity, David told me, en passant, about the pianist Christopher O'Riley's runaway success in the US with piano transcriptions of Radiohead, which apparently help to attract people to his recitals who might be under the age of 50 and sometimes sport interesting haircuts. Christopher's programmes might have a first half of, for instance, Janacek and Bartok, and a second half of Radiohead song covers. I hadn't heard the transcriptions before, so thought I'd check them out. Here's Paranoid Android: in this context, not so very far away from mainstream American minimalism, perhaps. Contemporary music: a convergence?