Matthew Barley/Cellist

If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music.

Albert Einstein

Classical Star: The Debate

I’m enjoying people’s comments here on the programme. Keep them coming! When I am now watching the programmes, of course it’s hard for me to get any kind of distance on it, but what keeps coming across to me is how fantastically passionate and dedicated the students are. Is anyone else getting that? And how that is a great message – how brilliant to see young people so totally engaged in a creative process. Number 3 tonight – let me know your thoughts!


  • Viktoria says:

    What a wonderful and enjoyable programme this continues to be – and certainly the passion and dedication of the students is one of the main reasons for this. I’m looking forward to next week already!

  • Tony Gavan says:

    I am absolutely hooked on this competition!!!!! The dedication to their music shown by all the students simply shines through. Whilst all the competitors are clearly extremey talented, for me i am just amazed by Tyler, who is only 14, and Ian, at 16.

    All the students are a credit to themselves, their parents – who have clearly given their children all the support to enable them to reach this standard – and great role models for youngsters out there.

    Tony Gavan

  • Suzanne says:

    This is a wonderful, enriching and captivating programme – such a breath of fresh air! The students are all incredibly talented and so obviously passionate about their music. What comes across the most to me is their amazing energy, skill and dedication. Watching them feels like an enormous privilege.

    Your teaching methods are inspirational – my 12 year-old daughter plays the clarinet and saxophone and she is completely hooked on the programme and would love to have an opportunity to experience something like this one day! She has already benefitted from following some of your great advice and been inspired to believe much more in herself and her music. Thank you!

    We need more TV programmes just like this – I’m impatient for the next instalment, it’s a joy to watch!

  • Simon says:

    The programme is fantastic, but could be better if only we could see or hear more of the performances. Perhaps even making them available on yours or the BBC’s website would be a good start.

    It’s now time to go to bed, but I think I hear my piano calling me!

  • Luigi says:

    I am both fascinated and horrified by the fall-out of what is, in essence, a great formula. It is clear who the favourites are of both the expert music world and the public – and they are not still in the academy (as i write). I wish them the very best and hope that Universal recognise the huge potential which could otherwise be lost. Congratulations Mr Barley for finding one young man in particular – what a shame he slipped through your fingers. My concerns double when I hear of cheap articles published in this weekend’s tabloids – treating these wonderful, dedicated and talented young musicians as if they are already famous media fodder. In this particular case, they are both remarkably professional and loyal to you and to your programme – a process they willingly signed up for. Can you possibly offer them some support and help?

  • Hi Luigi,
    Thanks for your comments. The answer to your question is that yes, I have offered them all support and help personally at any time they want to contact me, and they have all had professional support throughout the process. I am not sure of your sources when you say it is clear who the favourite are, but I personally think that the three finalists, as you will see them being selected tomorrow night, were the three strongest from the Academy based on the performances they gave.
    Where were the articles you mention? I don’t personally see any tabloids, so was unaware of this.
    I hope you enjoy the remaining programmes

  • Luigi says:

    Sunday Express – a double page spread on Ben and Jeanine. I suggest you get hold of a copy. Also, have a look at the Classical Star comments board. Do all of the academy members have any way of contacting you directly? I certainly know two who do not.

  • Hi Luigi,
    Thanks – I will try to get a copy.
    I told all the students during the Academy that they could contact me any time they wanted – they were told my email address, and know that they can contact me through the tv company or my website.

  • anna says:

    I stumbled across Classical Star a few weeks ago and despite not being a musician or even a fan of classical music, I am left speechless each week now, not just by the sheer talent of the students but because of incredible structure of the training you are giving them. This is the only reality show I have seen where the the contestants are not being exploited – far from it, the workshops you are doing with them are giving them incredible training. I would just like to congratulate you on the way you have structured this project – you are an inspiration and have opened up classical music to more people than you may think. I even downloaded some cello music today, just don’t tell anyone! Please find a way of releasing the complete versions of some of the students performances so we can listen to them in full.

  • Matthew (I feel that I almost know you well enough to call you that)

    I am enjoying Classical Star enormously. The young players are extremely talented, obviously very hard working, and very engaging. Your teaching methods are most interesting and it is clear, even to a non-musician (though classical music lover), how the players have developed musically and also as people.

    I hope that your choice of audience in programme four will have allowed all the fabulous five access to people who will help their careers. I should like to hear how the young players progress in the future, either by follow-up programmes on television or on your web site. I, also, would enjoy any available, but not televised, material from the series.

    Again, many thanks for a wonderful programme. Is it possible that there will be new series of Classical Star in the future?

    Michael Martinek

  • Simon Ordel says:


    I think that shooting off a reply to Norman Lebrecht on your site was a strategic error: Lebrecht is well-known as antagonistic not merely to you or your programme, but to the entire populist enterprise of which Classical Star is a small part. “Music for the Masses” is far from his rallying cry, and the errors in his article were not significant compared with his fundamental thrust, with which many fans of classical music will agree. By responding, you really only advertise him prominently on your own site: I for one wouldn’t have read him but for you.

    Any programme that promotes classical music and its youngest performers must be a good thing, but I am sorry that the programme as transmitted does not more rigorously explore whether these musicians are really ready for a public career. The Young Musician of the Year competition takes more seriously the ability to assemble a concert repertoire, and presents more of the actual music performed rather than brief, partially-edited extracts designed to illustrate a particular “storyline” in true reality TV style. For example, the extracts used to illustrate the idea that the very talented young violinist (I believe Victoria Goldsmith) gave a shrill first performance in Porgy & Bess variations and a smoother second performance were, respectively, of a rather shrill and a rather more mellow section of the work: it should be open to the viewer to decide with his or her own ears whether the narration accurately reflects the events.

    While I agree that young musicians benefit from being stretched to consider extemporisation (I for one was staggered that they seemed never to have been invited to do this during their education process) I also feel that some of your exercises were rather trivial. The percussion exercise in the kitchen was pitched more at primary school level than at musicians of their caliber. More interestingly, the blues exercise was a worthy one, but I wondered why performers with presumably a highly developed sense of harmony and a formidable technique needed an explanation of such an elementary musical form. The impression was created that some of the performers were very green indeed, and considerably weaker than a signficant minority of those seen in the Young Musican of the Year competition.

    Finally, I thought that – with all due deference to Lang Lang – it would have been worth pointing out in the voiceover that your contestants were being coached in this case by a pianist whose readings of the repertoire are themselves so idiosyncratic as to be justly termed “infamous”. Glen Gould would not have made an obvious teacher for a group of young pianists approaching Bach and, while I accept that having one’s work scrutinised by a prominent vituoso has a value, both the audience at home and seemingly the contestants were left with the impression that his readings possessed an authority that they certainly do not.

    The series has been entertaining, but its true value will only be measurable some time after it has an aired, If the most successful musical product of the series is a CD of its Classic FM-friendly incidental music (far more pervasive, sadly, than the actual performances of the young people involved) then the series will have been a commercial success and in all other respects a failure. If the CD of the winner proves to be another trawl of the most obvious repertoire, then packaging will certainly have triumphed over substance. The challenge is whether the winner can be encouraged and helped to develop a genuine musical identity in their own corner of the repertoire: nuturing that sort of talent probably deserves an entire follow-up series of its own.

  • Gez Kahan says:

    Replying to Simon Ordel, it is difficult to find technical fault with his comments above, but they don’t seem relevant given the remit of the programme. The challenge, so far from being “whether the winner can be encouraged and helped to develop a genuine musical identity in their own corner of the repertoire”, is “can classical music win itself a wider audience?”. The “Classic FM-friendly music” and dogmatic personalities that Mr Ordel disparages are basic requirements for that. There’s plenty of time for refinement of taste and scepticism once you’ve hooked them.

  • Sorrry – deleted Simon’s reply by mistake. It was:
    “Replying to Gez, I would have thought that all the evidence is to the contrary. Very few successful classical performers who have reached a wider audience are actually considered to be major performers within the classical repertoire. There are a few exceptions: Kiri and Pavarotti to name two. Generally, though, once a performer moves in a populist direction they concentrate on recording the sort of commercial repertoire in which – in order to succeed – one pretty much has to depend on marketing rather than skill.

    Sophie (and I do stress that she is a very promising musician first and foremost) will be sold on her green dress and red hair (as was said in so many words by one of the judges), and will play repertoire in which she is up against performers who – in addition being technically more complete and accomplished than she – have the advantage of being historically eminent in that repertoire. One wouldn’t go to her for Chopin or Debussy, yet I would think that is what we are going to get.

    What we won’t get is her thinking through the area in which she feels she can make the most contribution and bouncing back with some Sorabji or Cage, because a decision like that would cut directly across the aim of the programme. By the time her commercial potential is exhausted, it won’t be open her to make that shift because fans of obscure repertoire are not going to take her seriously (which isn’t how things should be, but is certainly how things are.)

    Looking down the line, I suppose there’s always “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here” …”

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