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The editor, Ariane Todes, tries to make friends with the portaloos at the Big Chill Festival, and searches in vain for the classical music

August 5, 2008

At the ripe old age of [ahem] I’ve just been to my first non-classical music festival, The Big Chill, in Eastnor, Herefordshire. I’ll spare the details of my efforts to embrace the whole camping thing (unsuccessful) but they were worth it for almost round-the-clock great music. This ranged from modern folk (The Imagined Village project, which has brilliantly integrated some of the newer British cultures into traditional English folk music) through the frankly bizarre (Camille, a French singer who screams a lot and has her band act as human beat boxes) to the iconic (Leonard Cohen, the cause of my adventures with portaloos).

But as I relaxed in the grass overlooking the beautiful Malvern hills, it occurred to me that the only kind of music not represented in this feast of human endeavour was classical, barring a version of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons by Ara Malikian that was part of the spoken word element of the festival. And the more I thought about it the lower my ‘chill’ factor became.

Classical music is often accused of being elitist, but it struck me that actually it’s more excluded against than excluding, especially at über-cool gatherings such as this. Where were the classical musicians? I can’t think of any better way to ‘chill’ than listening to a nice string quartet, so why had no one thought to include, say, the Belcea or Jerusalem quartets playing Haydn or Shostakovich in one of the smaller tents in the mid-morning day-after-the-night-before atmosphere?

When I was at university, going through a Leonard Cohen phase, I was too ashamed to admit it in public as he wasn’t considered hip. But on Sunday night, as the main headline act, he enraptured tens of thousands of people, young and old. Which goes to show the truth of the Louis Armstrong quote about there only being two types of music – good and bad. And that maybe there’s hope for classical music yet.

Which classical music do you think would work at a big music festival, such as the Big Chill? Let me know your suggestions.

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