Online music video platform Qwest, founded by jazz legend Quincy Jones and French music producer Reza Ackbaraly, has announced its move into classical music, with Qwest TV Classical. The new channel will be dedicated to classical music concerts, dance and opera and is available in Australia online and for free through Samsung TV Plus. Ackbaraly spoke to Limelight about the philosophy behind the launch of the new channel and how studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris informed Quincy Jones’ remarkable career.
Reza Ackbaraly and Quincy Jones. Photo courtesy of Qwest
What inspired Qwest TV’s move into classical music?
Well, firstly, both myself and Quincy have a background in classical music. I had the opportunity to work for Mezzo, a leading classical music channel, for over a decade while Quincy studied classical music and composition under Nadia Boulanger in Paris in 1957. Nadia is known as the “greatest music teacher who ever lived,” having taught the likes of Stravinsky, Phillip Glass, Leonard Bernstein, Michel Legrand and more.
Quincy drew lessons from classical music that have stayed with him ever since and these permeated his compositions in funk, hip hop, film scores and much more. For my part, I always wanted to see classical music on the same stage as incredible styles from all over the world. I wanted to place classical composers next to Indian raga, the music of my heritage, but was unable to do so until starting Qwest TV.
For both myself and Quincy, classical music has formed a big part of our careers, but we wanted to blend this incredible music with our own cultures and the diverse music of the world. Also, there is a certain elitism in the classical music world that we wanted to change. Good music is good music, no matter where it comes from and Qwest TV’s mission is to break down the barriers that separate different cultures and their music types, helping to make diverse, multicultural styles appreciated and accessible to all.
How important is classical music to Quincy Jones and to Qwest TV’s philosophy?
Under Nadia Boulanger’s tutelage, Quincy learned that there are only 12 notes, no matter if you are Beethoven, Miles Davis or Beyoncé. Classical training gave Quincy a broad artistic perspective and that has served him throughout his career. He learnt at a time when there were very few black musicians in classical music and this has been a theme throughout his career. As Barack Obama said: “At each stage in his remarkable career, he’s been the first. He’s been somebody who’s walked through that door before everybody else has. That’s given people behind him enormous confidence.”
Whether writing music for strings as an African-American, film scoring, composing and blending classical music with funk, hip hop and global sounds, Quincy has sought to lift the borders that separate cultures, opportunities and, by extension, our listening habits. This reflects the heartbeat of Qwest TV. Indeed, Duke Ellington once asked Quincy to become the “one to decategorise” modern music, and this new move for Qwest TV represents a huge step in that direction. What happens when Louis Armstrong sits side by side with international classical composers, DJs, Malian blues, New York hip hop, Anderson .Paak, Norah Jones, Fela Kuti? This is Qwest TV’s commitment. We don’t want classical music to be reserved for certain people from certain backgrounds, just as we want to encourage everyone to experience Afrobeat, for example.
The first classical World Exclusive features William Christie and the Les Arts Florissants Choir and Ensemble performing music Charpentier – why did you choose this performance?
William Christie is a legend of classical music in Paris and as an American-born French conductor his journey ties in well with the DNA of Qwest TV and its co-founders. He is also an artist who represents the dual mission of honouring the past while looking to the future. His phenomenal group, Les Arts Florissants, are an internationally-recognised outfit that performs music by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, a Baroque master, through presenting and recording many of his unknown works in world premieres.
We wanted to support this work at Qwest TV because it operates at the cutting edge of classical interpretation, but also for its sheer cultural and historical value. The group were meant to perform in a series of live shows that were cancelled due to COVID, so we want to lend a hand in that regard, as well. With our linear channels, including Samsung TV which is available in Australia, we have attracted [more than] eight million monthly unique viewers, giving us the opportunity to share incredible music with the world, both from iconic musicians and up-and-coming trailblazers. Enabling this kind of cultural discovery and exchange is key to Qwest TV’s mission.
How do you see Qwest TV’s classical music offering evolving into the future? Are there more World Exclusives planned?
Qwest TV’s aim is to democratise the classical music space and to share orchestral, ballet and operatic pieces with people who were never formally introduced to these beautiful, sophisticated performance styles. Another aspect of democratising this music is to highlight music savantes from all cultures, and not just European classical composers. Qwest TV will be a home to both Western classical and traditional musicians from all over, ensuring that their art is celebrated on equal footing.
We see our platform as a gateway to this broad musical universe for people from all backgrounds and, with a real focus on curation, we will enable an accessible experience through special playlists aimed at illuminating the music step by step. These playlists, curated by music lovers and top musicians, will be accompanied by texts written by experts that provide context for what’s happening on screen. So far we have the Back to Bach, a selection of superb interpretations of the great composer’s music and From Russia With Love, which focuses on the grand tradition of Russian classical music culture. What’s more, our upcoming archive of historic classical music will be on the platform very soon, transporting viewers through time via over 100 exceptional performances featuring icons like Ennio Morricone, Martha Argerich, Nicolas Economou, Claudio Abbado, Yehudi Menuhin and many more!
We are also planning to release exclusive concerts via partnerships and to produce original series under the Qwest TV banner. This, combined with upcoming personal curation from figureheads in the classical music world and plans to focus on cross-genre projects (jazz and classical/African music and classical, for example) will make Qwest TV a vibrant new home for this rich and wonderful music. This is just the start!