Dear Bill Oddie

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Three cheers for your rejection of modern music, says the composer of 'Lament for Bosnia' and founder of The Hecklers

So you dare to say that you would rather listen to children crying than to Benjamin Britten's St Nicolas. You shouted this, I see, in response to the music teacher at your daughter's school who said he would halt his performance of Britten's work if parents in the audience did not stop their babies wailing.

Far from this making you a philistine, I think it entitles you to membership of the highbrow club. As Bernard Levin wrote last year, modern classical music is, by and large, "awful, ghastly, hideous, revolting, pointless, dreary bilge".

Before the 20th century, people were always commenting on music as it was being played, booing and cheering as it was going on. On one occasion, Hector Berlioz even rampaged into an orchestra to express his musical disapproval. Perhaps that was going a bit too far although, within the last few years, a cellist in a leading London orchestra has smashed up his instrument because of the modern "music" he was being asked to play.

Such is the political perfection of the age that any expression of disapproval of music that people have paid to hear is frowned upon. Even at last year's Last Night of the Proms, Sir John Drummond issued a total ban on any noise from the audience apart from applause at specified points. And that was the evening that Sir Harrison Birtwistle's notorious Panic was performed.

When I organised a group of hecklers to stand up at the end at the revival of Birtwistle's Gawain at Covent Garden to make a tame protest about taxpayers' money being spent on this kind of aural atrocity, the Establishment was not amused, just as I am sure they are not with you. Indeed, in a speech attacking political correctness directly after our protest, Prince Charles said "people face palpable intimidation if they venture any unfashionable opinion, such as a dislike of atonal music".

Alongside the dire harmonisations of well-known hymn tunes in St Nicolas there is the usual flimsy, hastily flung together, bleak parade so typical of much of Britten's music. His work is usually no more than an arch, camp, drearily ironic series of parodies and grotesqueries which are ultimately a trivial cul-de-sac in the history of music.

The music critics, desperate to keep appearing on Radio 3, will castigate you by saying that all great art takes time to be recognised. They will recite the examples of Beethoven's late string quartets, Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring and Bizet's Carmen as works which took time to be accepted. But all of these took only a few years to be recognised in some way, 10 at most. Yet after decades of the flunkies at the Arts Council squandering our taxes to hype "social security" composers, these same composers, dripping with honours and awards, still spell financial disaster for publishers, record companies and concert promoters and have never become popular.

You think St Nicolas is bad? Wait until you hear a Britten opera.


The writer's new violin concerto will have its premiere later this year.