Interview with Barry McCann – Classic BRIT Awards 2012 [2 October]

Written by: Chris Caspell

Barry McCann

Now in its thirteenth year, the Classic Brits award ceremony has moved from spring to autumn. This year’s event, at the Royal Albert Hall, takes place on 2 October. Barry McCann, co-chairman of the Classic BRIT Awards committee, spared a few minutes to tell me why the awards have become such a success.

CC: The awards were started in 2000 “in recognition of the achievements of classical musicians and the growth of classical music sales in the UK.” We are now in the thirteenth year. How have the awards changed over the years and do you feel that the original sentiment still stands true?

BM: The original sentiment still holds true where the show still honours and celebrates both excellence and commercial success. Some of the awards are based on a long list of best-sellers in the eligibility period from which the academy [almost 500 strong] vote for a short list of nominees and the eventual winner. Some awards (including the Critics and the new Breakthrough award) are judged by a panel with no reference to sales.

However, during this period, the show has evolved to embrace not only core and crossover classical music but also film music and musical theatre. Indeed, for many, their first experience of hearing orchestral music would either be on the big screen or in the theatre.

CC: The awards changed name last year from Classical Brit Awards – why was that and was the change a success?

BM: The show has evolved to embrace music genres other than pure classical and thus the name was changed to demonstrate the more inclusive nature of the awards show. Judging by comments from last year’s winners and performers and the increase in TV audience figures, the name change proved to be a success.

CC: Myleene Klass has hosted every awards ceremony since 2008. She is an accomplished classical musician and yet came to fame in the UK with the pop-group Hear’Say in 2001. She appears to be an ideal choice of host and, apart from Katie Derham, she is the only presenter to have hosted the awards more than once. How did it come about?

BM: Myleene is a bright, intelligent, classically trained musician who has developed into being a consummate professional presenter. The decision to invite Myleene to be our host was an easy one. We were and are delighted that she accepted. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

CC: One of the lesser known facts about the Classic Brits is the amount of money that it raises for Charities each year. Can you tell me a little about the BRIT Trust charity and its main beneficiaries?

BM: As with the pop show, all proceeds from the awards show goes to the BRIT Trust charity. The Classic BRIT [British Record Industry Trust] Awards is organised by the BPI – the British recorded music industry association – which has over 400 record-company members large and small who between them account for in excess of 90 percent of UK recorded music sales.

The Classic BRIT Awards has raised more than 14-million Pounds for The BRIT Trust charity, whose main beneficiaries are the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology, Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy and other selected charities which match the mission criteria.

Over 8,000 young people have been given free education and the opportunity to enter the BRIT School since its opening in 1991 and more than 10,000 children and adults have been helped by the extraordinary music therapy work carried out by Nordoff-Robbins.

CC: Classic FM has been a regular partner of the Classic Brits. What do you feel Classic FM brings to the awards?

BM: Classic FM is the ideal media partner for the Classic BRIT Awards and has supported the show since the very first show. Their reach extending over five-million listeners in the UK is the envy of the world. Their support on-air and more recently on-line has proved to be invaluable.

CC: In 2011 and this year, the “Lifetime Achievement Award” has been won by a film composer; do you think this represents a change in the way the general public listen to classical music?

BM: This is not a recent phenomenon. Sir William Walton wrote for film over fifty years ago. But, for many, the big screen got wider as they heard the power and beauty of a full-scale symphony orchestra. We are delighted to honour John Williams this year.

CC: What for you have been the highlights of the Classic(al) Brits over the years?

BM: Too many to list but I immediately think of Lang Lang with Herbie Hancock, seeing Plácido Domingo in rehearsal, Nigel Kennedy playing through the audience, the amazing energy of Cecilia Bartoli , the virtuosity of Maxim Vengerov, the purity of King’s College Choir, the fun of Rolando Villazón, the staging of Les Mis, I could go on, not forgetting the enthusiastic playing of the London Chamber Orchestra.

CC: The Duchess of Cornwall will be attending for the second year in a row. Do you see this as a sign of how the awards have grown in recognition in recent years?

BM: We are indeed blessed with the presence of The Duchess of Cornwall. While she is patron of our house band, the LCO, HRH attends in a private capacity which is more a reflection of how much she enjoys the show; but, yes, it signals the growth in recognition.

CC: Some members of the classical press have criticised the Classic Brits for being populist. David Lister in the Independent in 2011 accused you of “classicalphobia”. How do you respond to such criticism?

BM: David Lister is a very fine journalist whose opinions I genuinely respect but I believe he is missing the point. By definition, as an awards ceremony, it reflects the successes of the previous year – some are judged by commercial success and some by sheer excellence. However, a phobia of classical music? Nonsense. We embrace classical music as will be seen once more in this year’s show.

CC: Last year we had that rousing performance by the cast of Les Miserables. This year we have the cast from Phantom of the Opera – another 25th-anniversary and the second longest-running West End musical. The 1980s were a spectacular time for the British musical – is this genre something that you believe the Classic Brits should be paying more attention to?

BM: We are delighted to give a platform to recognise excellence and commercial success in musical theatre. It’s funny; some term the word “classic” as that which has survived a long period of time. Well, Phantom has done just that and no doubt will continue to excite and stir audiences for decades to come.

CC: This year, as last, the event will be televised on prime-time TV. To what extent is the music that is chosen for the awards event dictated by TV companies needing to secure ratings for such a prestigious slot?

Classic Brits 2012

BM: Good question. This one is all about creating a balanced show. We have an excellent relationship with ITV and in particular its controller of entertainment, John Kaye Cooper. We work together to ensure that each year the show represents the Classic BRITs ethos to recognise classical talent, but also to make a show that all types of the pubic would want to watch.

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