by Paul Connolly (The Times UK)
September 6th, 2003
Classical music needs Hayley Westenra.
It seems difficult to believe, but Hayley Westenra, a pretty
16-year-old soprano from New Zealand, may soon find herself
at the centre of an unseemly squall in the classical music world.
Her debut UK album, Pure, is about to be released, and Decca
has every intention of making her a huge star, something that
is certain to annoy some figures in the sphere of classical
The baritone Sir Thomas Allen made clear his opinion of what
is known as “crossover” classical music when he claimed that
popular classical artists such as Charlotte Church, Bond and
Russell Watson were a symptom of an inexorable cultural decline.
critic of the popularising — or to use their favourite phrase,
dumbing down — of classical music has huffed pompously: “We
have reached a position of peril in the arts where we actually
need a new elite.”
is dismissive of such people. “I don’t really understand their
position,” she says. “Surely more people becoming interested
in classical music is a good thing. I know of many of my fans
who have taken up the violin or piano because of my records.
They would never have taken an interest in classical music otherwise.
How can these critics possibly see an upsurge of interest in
classical music in any kind of poor light? It baffles me.”
certainly has a point. For years, interest in classical music
among young people had been in steep decline. However, the past
five years has seen an increase in children choosing to learn
a classical instrument. The pioneering educational and outreach
work undertaken by enlightened orchestras has played its part,
but surely the high profile of artists such as Church has been
trouble is that for such critics any change is bad. Keep things
as they are, close your eyes and maybe those horrid young people
might go away and leave us alone with our music. Could these
people be any more patronising? Indeed, without the revenue
generated by crossover artists, “serious” classical practitioners
who sell perhaps 15,000 copies of each release might not find
an outlet for their music at all. It is difficult to escape
the conclusion that crossover artists are good for classical
music and maybe it is this that enrages the traditionalists
Westenra looks set to antagonise the elitists further by selling
lots of records; the glacial beauty of what is a remarkable
voice — the control and purity of her upper registers defy belief
— will surely captivate people in the same way as it has in
her native New Zealand, where Pure enjoyed three weeks at No
the fulminating begin.
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