The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Classical “crossovers” just don’t work for me

February 9, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

I know they make money, lots of money, for record companies.

And I know the make performers famous, much more famous.

And I know they reach audience, big audiences.

But classical crossovers just don’t do it for me. For me, they simply don’t work.

At least not so far – and it’s not like there hasn’t been a ton of them.

I was reminded of that when I recently heard the Quartet San Francisco (below)

perform a string quartet version of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” (It came from an all-Brubeck album, marking the 50th anniversary of Brubeck’s classic jazz LP “Time Out,” that garnered two 2010 Grammy nominations but didn’t win in either category.)

Here’s a link to the National Public Radio program that aired their versions:

To be honest the playing was fine, as was the music. But the crossover, all-string version just didn’t do justice to either the string quartet or Brubeck’s original jazz composition.

Even the famed Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble strikes me more as world music than classical crossover, despite his cello playing in the arrangements.

Sometimes these things work as novelties. The Kronos Quartet’s version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze” comes to mind as a showstopper. But even that doesn’t top the old electric guitar original version.

Whether it is opera stars singing Broadway musicales – I’ll admit that Renee Fleming is better than the Three Tenors, but she’s still not as good as great popular singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan or Tony Bennett – or solo piano renditions and improvisations or string quartets or symphony orchestras, the title “classical crossovers” seems for me at least to remain in an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.

Now I know they sell a lot of records and build careers, though I’m not sure they do much to help classical music.

But financial considerations aside, doesn’t anyone want to defend classical crossovers or try to defend to them to me.

Is there one classical crossover recording you really like and recommend?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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