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Stephen Fry defends classical music in debate

Features - Classical Music

Stephen Fry defends classical music in debate

by Melissa Lesnie on May 20, 2011 (May 20, 2011) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
The celebrity dandy championed the artform's relevance for today’s youth.

A debate held last week by Cambridge University’s prestigious public speaking society offers new hope for those who lament the younger generations’ lack of interest in classical music.

Proposing that “classical music is irrelevant to today’s youth”, The Cambridge Union pitted BBC Radio 1 DJ Kissy Sell Out in the affirmative against comedian and author Stephen Fry, ever outspoken on arts issues. The verdict: classical music reigned victorious, 365 audience votes to 57.

The singlet-clad, baseball-capped Kissy Sell Out riled against the artform’s elitism and argued that there is no room for the static ritual of the classical concert hall in contemporary youth culture: “sitting still, no Bacardi Breezers, no dancing, no hands in the air”. He acknowledged he uses classical music for shock value in his own club sets.

Fry, an alumnus of Queens’ College Cambridge, countered that classical music can be embraced by youngsters alongside pop and rock – he claimed he had tickets to see Lady Gaga after the debate – but ultimately rewards listeners with the deeper and more fulfilling experience.

“You can like two different things at once and not explode or be a hypocrite. Surely if education in a university is about anything it is the fact we can accept and absorb all kinds of ideas and celebrate and love all kinds of human expression.”

Like his DJ opponent, Fry admitted he has no patience for the elitist traditions of classical music that act as deterrents for potential converts: “You can make anything sound pretentious if you are pretentious.”

The pair gave a DJ mixing demonstration before the debate began, with Fry looking positively baffled.

The author and comedian was supported in his winning argument by UK Daily Telegraph music critic Ivan Hewett and student Hugo Hickson, as well as Lady Eatwell, who has launched a charity to foster a love of classical music in young people.

Arguing for the motion alongside Kissy were Queens’ College president Lord Eatwell, music student Joe Bates, and composer Greg Sandow, who teaches at the Juilliard School in New York and stated that “classical music does not represent or embody the racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of our world” and that “pop music is by far the more creative field”.

Founded in 1815, the Cambridge Union Society is the prestigious debating association of England’s second-oldest university and has hosted guest speakers including Julian Assange and Sir Ian McKellan.

In an attempt to appeal to the tech-savvy youth under discussion, and to a broader audience in general, the Union made last week’s classical music debate the first in its history to be streamed live online.

The full video will soon be available to view here.