Popularizing Classical Music – French Style


Susan Brodie, Toi Toi Toi

By Susan Brodie: Toi Toi Toi!

Once again French TV stupifies. Tuesday night 2 1/2 hours of prime time on the major French network channel France 2 were devoted to La Grande Battle, a “reality” competition to choose the best interpreter of a theme from classical music. Nagui, the game and genial MC, clearly not a classical music lover, managed three panelists, including tenor Rolando Villazon, an orchestra of young conservatory grads lead by a cute female conductor, a genial co-host who provided music appreciation explanations at the piano, and eight groups competing for 25,000€ worth of musical instruments. Each segment treated a composer (for the record: Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Bizet, Rossini, Handel, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky) The finalists, chosen from videos submitted from all over France, performed pop-inflected versions of the chosen classical “greatest hits”. These acts covered a gamut of pop styles, including a Sinatra (Brat Pack-era) imitator, a kilt-clad quintet of clash-pop Celtic rockers, a hyper-kinetic sextet in clownish clothing who evoked Brave Combo, and even a home-grown salsa band complete with merengue dancers. As in any good reality show, more time was devoted to videos of their preparation at home and to onstage and backstage interviews with the contestants. The winners were chosen solely by the television audience, who voted by SMS or on the internet, presumably after discussion in online forums during the broadcast.