David Lister: Since when was it wrong to talk about 'classical' music?

The Week in Arts

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The Classical Brits, which will be televised on prime-time TV, have been renamed.

This year and henceforth they will be known as the Classic Brits. So what's two little letters between friends? The answer is a hell of a lot. For by dropping those awkward two end letters, both the ceremony devised to honour classical music and the prime-time ITV slot availSable for performances of classical music can now be used for something quite different.

And so they will be. West End musicals will be honoured this year for the first time. A rousing chorus from Les Misérables was no doubt easier to sell to ITV executives than an aria from Handel. Indeed, Les Mis is to feature at the ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall on 12 May.

I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at the meeting that decided to get rid of those pesky two letters, and to have heard the hard sell from the whizz kid who came up with the idea. Barry McCann, co-chair of the Classic Brits, helpfully told Music Week magazine: "The name change means we can open up the show to musical theatre and ballet... The show definitely widens the audience for classical music."

Well, that's one way of looking at it. The name change definitely widens the definition of classical music to include, well, anything. This year it's a West End musical, next year perhaps a classic pop song. "Classic" covers a multitude of genres.

What Mr McCann and his colleagues demonstrate is that very British disease, classicalphobia. In their irrational terror that an ITV prime-time audience would switch off the moment Beethoven came on, they do make me wonder why they wanted to become involved with the Classical Brits in the first place. Aren't they the people who should be evangelical about its transformative powers? Is one hour a year of classical music on prime-time TV really going to frighten the viewers that much?

The Proms should not really be mentioned in the same breath. Last year's season under the brilliant Roger Wright was one of the best in living memory, and this year's season, for which booking opens next week, promises to be memorable. Scheduled are Verdi's Requiem, a rare performance of Rossini's William Tell and a series of Choral Sundays among other treats, although some of the world's greatest orchestras – including those of Berlin, Vienna and Chicago – will be missing. And yet, for all its undoubted glories there is always a tendency in the Proms programme to go for the quirky as well (this year the Spaghetti Western Orchestra and a comedy prom with comedian Tim Minchin). This exemplary showcase for the magnificence of core classical music can risk being diluted.

But, as I say, the Proms despite an almost nervous eagerness to please too many constituencies, will be a cultural highlight of the summer once again. The Classic Brits will just be a depressing example of a very British phobia. Those responsible should take the cure.

No escape from tweeting

The Theatre Royal, Stratford East, in London, is to install a "tweetzone" in the upper circle so that audiences in the cheap seats can use Twitter to tell friends what the show is like during the performance. Tweeting will, apparently, still be strictly forbidden in other parts of the theatre.

It's an interesting one, but a little hard to square with the complaints we have had for years from theatres, angry actors and irritated spectators that mobile phones being on is disturbing to cast and audience alike. Presumably the announcement at the start of the show in Stratford will henceforth be: "Please turn off your mobile phones, but you guys in the upper circle carry on tweeting. @stratford."

And as the logic behind this is that the cast isn't disturbed by what goes on in the upper circle as it is sufficiently far away, then it is surely only a matter of time before the dress circle, side and back stalls become tweetzones. I can't say it particularly bothers me, but I might take theatre protests about mobile phones a little less seriously from now on.

Banish the kissers to the upper circle

Tweeting might now be on the "can do" list at theatres, but what about kissing? David Hasselhoff was spotted at a recent West End first night kissing his lady friend, and the fact received the odd mention in print. It was newsworthy, I would suggest, not just because of the celebrity value but because kissing is a sight rarely seen at the theatre. It is unremarkable at the cinema and de rigueur at a rock concert. But at theatre, opera or dance it scores above tweeting, or even allowing your mobile phone to ring, on the social Richter scale.

I wonder how and when it was decided which art forms were suitable for an embrace and which were not? Is it the levels of darkness, the proximity to live performers? Perhaps, as with the Stratford tweeters, kissers should be put in the upper circle and allowed to get on with it.



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