Matthew Barley/Cellist

Music is the hidden arithmetical exercise of a mind unconscious that it is calculating.


Reply to Lebrecht review of Classical Star

See Norman’s article at

Dear Norman,
Thank you for the attention you have given Classical Star in your error-strewn online music review.
The point of a competition is, of course, to find a winner, but the point of this one is also to educate, which seems to have eluded you entirely. The tone you mistakenly identify as PC counter-elitist dumbing down, is in fact the tone of a very exciting artistic, educational and ground-breaking process that I directed with a group of passionate, musical, and very enthusiastic youngsters.
Think about it for longer than it takes your cynical fingers to whack out another attack; there simply is no other competition that actually teaches its participants, let alone in the exciting and innovative way we do. These activities centre on private practice and lessons from excellent specialist teachers, and range outwards to improvisation skills, physical awareness, public speaking and performance. These are not skills that many classical musicians possess, and while some of them came naturally to musicians, for instance, like Barenboim, Bernstein or Previn, many others are intensely grateful for the chance to learn.
Far from my intoning a PC mantra (is declaring some of your colleagues boring really that PC?), it is a reality that I perceive about the profession that I am a part of (and you, the apparently omniscient onlooker, are not). We need to open up much more, and this programme helps that process, as the scores of enthusiastic emails I have received from musicians would indicate. It also helps to educate and inform the public about classical music, who plays it, and how they learn it, and it’s really hard to believe that you cannot see that.
While your pejorative description of the judges is of being image-conscious, the adjective you use to describe my wife, is ‘lustrous’. This presumably refers to her image. Hypocrisy?
An intelligent way to judge a contest is by asking its participants what they gained from the process. We are down to the last three for the final next week (why not come along?), and so far the overwhelming response we’ve had is that we have given them a very extraordinary educational experience at the academy in summer. “The musical highlight of my life” to quote a guitarist you correctly identify as being sensible.
You say the series will be peripheral to anyone with a serious interest in music. Far from it. This series accurately reflects much of what is happening in the vigorously beating heart of a changing profession. Changes that show just how swiftly you are being left behind. Get with it, Norman – you’re out of touch. And wrong.
Your errata:

– The programme will run for 5 weeks, not 6.
– I did not say “I am looking for an edge of arrogance” let alone in the context that you place it of implying it’s the main quality I’m searching for. I said that an edge of arrogance is useful – as someone practically made of the stuff, you should recognise this.
– It was a 60-minute episode, not 50-.
– Abbott did not sign Benedetti to her record deal.
– Abbott did not organise the record deal for the eventual winner.

Pretty poor journalism.
Glad to see you are planning to watch the next episode with a Lemsip in hand – it may help to clear your woolly head.
With best wishes


  • Andrew Hall says:

    What an eloquent rebuttal to a sniggering article by the kind of mentality that has scared away those of us who enjoy music but do not quite have the same coloured blood pumping through our veins.
    Whilst my wife and I would not consider ourselves music aficionados by any stretch, we do have extremely eclectic tastes in music, we both play music too. We are learning things every week from this show.
    The manner in which the students are handled is excellent and it is clear that your style has none of the brow beating looking down upon manner common to the classical world.
    As for the variety of judges you have on your panel, how they can be criticized is beyond me. They each bring their own individual slant and view on everything without the pretention seen in other judging panels on similar style shows.
    Hats off for a wonderful show, can’t wait for next Tuesday to come around.
    Suhcheng and Andrew

  • Mark Wilderspin says:

    Lebrecht’s article was garbage and you dimembered it eloquently – good for you. It was clear to me, as a fellow passionate music educator, that a lot of what you were trying to achieve was to provide an experience to broaden the kids’ musicianship and not actually so much about seeing who would win. Of course, the way these things are marketed has a lot in common with other shows like the X factor – so it’s easy to misjudge it on first glances – but anyone who had actually watched it properly would see what the wider point is, and no one can argue that it needs to be made.

    Well done on the show – I really enjoyed the recent episode and commend you on a a great job.



  • Daniel Parsons says:

    Matthew! Great come back to that ridiculous review-it’s a shame that the minority have attempt to ruin the name of a successful project. I’ve enjoyed the series no end, and despite the comments about some colleagues being some what dull-I myself am in the industry, I regrettably couldn’t agree more as is the opinion of many others in the field. Keep up the good work!

  • This is one of the most innovative and inspiring shows I’ve seen for years.
    At last the reality format has come of age.
    Shame that someone with the power to help the process has been blinded by narrow mindedness and missed it’s strengths to concentrate only on what appears to be his prejudice.

  • Larry Oster says:

    Thank you Matthew for your excellent response to Norman Lebrecht’s pathetic review. He can only be described as a very sad, sad man who clearly has a lot of personal unresolved issues. He would probably only be comfortable in the company of ‘Grumpy Old Men’ whose moans, groans and cries for help, while entertaining, are never actually to be received on any serious level.

    As for ‘Classical Star’, it’s just such an inspiring show which my wife and I are enjoying immensely. Seeing such wonderfully talented young people communicating both their gifts of music as well as their personal fears and frustrations, is a very uplifting experience. And it’s great seeing the way that you work with them in a such a variety of tasks and challenges. You also strike a good balance between challenging them to improve where there are weaknesses but also being so encouraging and sensitive to their individual needs.

    I’m sure many viewers who would normally shy away from classical music are being drawn to listen and enjoy the skill, variety, emotion and sheer pleasure of watching these young people play their music. Really looking forward to the next episode!

  • Victoria Peet says:

    I wasn’t supprised by Norman Lebrecht’s article, particularly after reading that his latest book has been withdrawn due to concerns about libel and accuracy, but I was still annoyed at his negative response to what I think is a great show. I was particularly annoyed at his comments about the audition process – for him to say the musicians went through ‘unnecessary suspense’ – what does he think happens when people audition for music college or orchestras and so on.

    What you are doing is opening many people’s eyes to the often crueling world of being a musician, the hours of solitary practice and enourmous self-discipline it takes to reach the high standard required to be a world class performer.

    What is really interesting is watching the way the young musicians change and develop week by week, how they approach the tasks you set them to broaden their way of thinking about performing, and your encouragement and interection with them as intelligent people. All of this I think is admirable and I wanted to congratulate you on making what I think is an inspiring show.

  • alistair gibson says:

    dear mathew,
    may i congratulate u on a good job so far with the show. it shows the classical music in my age range at its best! the guy who has posted this article has not a single idea of what he has talking about, especially as i have conncetions into the show- i am taught by spencer down, a first round judge, i go to junior guildhall with one of your contestants, and i was in the workshop you used in the open part of the first too shows!
    again i commend you with your show, and hope there will be a seris 2, which i shall definatly apply for,
    many thanks

  • ray says:

    This we know is part of the new Reality TV scene. It can still be entertaining ,all be it at the expense of the participants. If they don’t mind bitter truths, or they can shrug them off, that’s ok. In Dragons Den we hear some rejections go on to success. Perhaps we will hopefully hear of similar with this series.
    These young musicians are probably getting something money can’t buy. Congratulations to all of them for standing up to it all.

  • Bruce Hiscock says:


    Great response to a bigotted never has been.

    The show was a triumph both for the contestants and for you. There are always issues with reality TV style shows and to encourage interest from those who may not be not be natural classical music fans it was neccessary to use some of the now long established hooks to maintain drama. However the genuine enthusiasm, ability and entertainment of the musicians, the judges and yourself came pouring through the TV screen and I for one cannot wait for your next venture.

    Well done to all involved!

  • David Dreebin says:

    Matthew – sorry for the belated reply on this. I think your show and initiative is really to be commended, and your response to Norman Lebrecht’s article was great – as others have said he certainly has a bigoted view. It is good that what you and the 4 judges are trying to bring out is more than just technique and even ‘musicianship’ in the accepted sense. The TV show Classical Star was presented extremely well, and it just at the right pitch for viewers with little prior knowledge of classical music as well as those with more (I am a classical pianist at diploma level, so probably have more than some).
    Looking forward to a future series!

  • Gez Kahan says:

    Wonderful rebuttal. I enjoyed the way the elitist establishment rushed to condemn the show, apparently on the grounds that it wasn’t elitist. I understand the Czar of Russia was not fully in favour of Bolshevism.

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