Insulating with the Stars

O goody:

We’ve had them ballroom dancing, ice-skating and eating live insects in
the jungle. Now a group of celebrities are to pick up their batons and
try their hand at conducting…

The BBC has just commissioned a new reality TV series called Maestro, in which seven celebrity would-be conductors will go head-to-head on the podium before orchestras and choirs. The winner of the series, expected to air on BBC2 this summer, will step up to conduct an orchestra during the Last Night of the Proms at London’s Royal Albert Hall in September.

All the participants are yet to be finalised, but broadcaster Jon Snow is rumoured to be one of the contestants. All participants will be offered pearls of wisdom from a panel of top international conductors, and mentored by a number of young conductors.

Plans for Maestro come hot on the heels of BBC2’s previous classical music reality series, Classical Star, which began last October.

The BBC insists that both Classical Star and Maestro are vital in their aim of bringing the classical genre to fresh viewers. Of Maestro, a BBC spokesperson said: "This programme is still in the pipeline at present, but if it does go ahead we hope that by following different people’s journeys in learning how to conduct, it will succeed in opening up classical music to a completely different audience."

I don’t know whether to be pleased or insulted by this. I’ve had a long-running debate with one of my colleagues on the merits of auctioning off the chance to conduct our orchestra in a public run-through of Stars and Stripes Forever. He feels it’s demeaning; I feel it’s profitable. But it is demeaning. No one would offer auction off the chance to do brain surgery to rich hospital donors.

On the other hand… maybe it’s more demeaning to conductors. As a participant in what Lincoln almost called “the eternal struggle between two principles – musician and conductor – throughout the world” I always enjoy seeing conductors taken down a peg. But what does it say about us that it requires absolutely no skill at all to get us through “Stars and Stripes?”

Maybe this is all a little like the old joke about the Brit, the Frenchman, and the Israeli who were asked to write an essay on elephants. The Brit wrote “Hunting the Elephant,” the Frenchman wrote “Country French Elephant Recipes” and the Israeli wrote “The Elephant and the Jewish Question.” No doubt orchestra musicians worry too much on whether or not we’re really respected – now or in the morning.


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