Classical music is dying, say the masters. So bring on the glamour girls ...

The Master of the Queen's Music warns that serious music faces extinction. Bright lights and winsome performers are being touted as the ways to save it
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The Independent Culture

One of Britain's leading composers will today warn that the classical tradition could die out completely unless there is a radical programme of investment to generate 21st-century audiences and performers.

One of Britain's leading composers will today warn that the classical tradition could die out completely unless there is a radical programme of investment to generate 21st-century audiences and performers.

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen's Music, will use a major speech to attack the Government's "bizarre" policies on culture, saying ministers have allowed serious music to become the exclusive domain of elderly listeners.

In tonight's annual lecture to the Royal Philharmonic Society in London, he says that consumerism and chronic underinvestment have left serious music irrelevant to modern life and in danger of becoming "extinct".

In an interview with The Independent on Sunday, he said foreign dignitaries have been astonished when visiting Downing Street to be "regaled" not with classic masterpieces, but with Britpop.

Concert audiences have declined steadily over the past decade and, with the recording industry now a shadow of its former self, the classical world is desperate to revive its fortunes.

The recording industry is increasingly turning to glamorous young stars, ranging from the violinist Nicola Benedetti to the scantily clad girl groups of the crossover market such as Bond and Wild. Benedetti, the BBC Young Musician of the Year, has recently signed her first recording deal with Deutsche Grammophon.

But many, including Sir Peter, are urging more radical change. Tonight, for example, Howard Goodall, the composer and television presenter, will call on performers to experiment with giant screens, hi-tech lighting and new repertoire in an attempt to shed their snobbish image and win younger music fans. Appearing on ITV's The South Bank Show, he says: "It's still bizarre to me that you can go to a concert and a conductor can come on stage and 50, 60 or 70 musicians and not one looks at the audience or says good evening or hello or anything. It's like you are simply invited to some club and would you please sit there and shut up while we perform our piece of music. This has got to change."

He praises the baroque quartet Red Priest, whose members learn the music by heart so that their faces are not buried in sheet music, and who talk to the audience in between pieces. Others, such as the writer and broadcaster Norman Lebrecht, have suggested shorter performances or later start times to fit in with the lives of a younger generation.

Many figures in the classical establishment, including Sir Peter, believe that cheap music downloads could help to rebuild the classical audience. The London Symphony Orchestra recently announced it is putting its own in-house recordings on the iTunes internet store.

However, the composer believes that younger audiences are now so badly out of touch with the classics that only huge investment in programmes of outreach work are likely to be effective.

Sir Peter complains that schools routinely employ music teachers with no proper training in the subject. "I can't imagine in art education that you send teachers into schools who aren't experienced in painting," he said. "But in music, there are people who are in charge who can't really read music and have no skill at playing the piano or any other instrument. It's very distressing that music is treated in such a cavalier fashion.

"The music teachers themselves are unfamiliar with the world of classical music."

Classically trained soprano Katherine Jenkins joined the criticism of classical purists who reject the "crossover" genre, which presents the classics using pop-style presentational techniques. "I take my concerts to the back of beyond and they reach a much wider audience," she said.

Speaking yesterday, Nicola Benedetti said she had been touring schools to promote classical music. "It's clear to me that it's not the music that's the problem at all," she said. "It had been worrying me but now I'm reassured 100 per cent. I had a completely positive response. It's something to do with the way that it has been presented."