« Former BSO president launches online classical site | Main | Jessye Norman sings Ellington at UM »

September 12, 2008

BBC show gives classical music the 'Idol' treatment

Try as I might, I can't imagine any TV network in this country giving us an American Idol-like reality talent show with a classical music focus. But across the pond, the BBC did just that with a program called Maestro, which wrapped up this week. The gimmick was that several UK celebrities competed as amateur conductors of an honest-to-goodness symphony orchestra, with some training along the way and a panel of judges that included such notables as Roger Norrington. What an imaginative way to demystify classical music a little and demonstrate just how tough it is to conduct. Sue Perkins, a comedian and writer, won the popular vote, edging out an electronic music guy who goes by the name Goldie.  (Although I'm prone to anglophilia, most of the contestants were news to me; the only ones I had heard of were David Soul, the Amercian-born, now British citizen singer and actor from way back, and actress Jane Asher.) 

Maybe there's a way we could get something like this going over here. What passes for celebrity in this country already hogs the airwaves, dancing and whatnot on various competition shows. So, considering how much has been made of the celebrity issue in the current presidential race, how about seeing what the candidates could do in a U.S. version of Maestro, trying to inspire a bunch of musicians to cooperate and function tightly? I can envision it now: Sarah Palin aiming at the Overture to Weber's Der Freischutz (The Free-Shooter) -- or maybe Ives' The Unanswered Question.  John McCain mustering the ensembe for Stravinksy's A Soldier's Tale. Barack Obama charging through the Overture to Verdi's La forza del desitno (The Force of Destiny). And Joe Biden seeing if he could limit himself to Copland's A Short Symphony. To add a little edge to the program, Karl Rove could pop up for an excerpt from Boito's Mefistofele, and, to round things out, various cable news types could take turns with Vaughan Williams' The Wasps. Think of the ratings. 

Feel free to suggest your own match up of celebs (political or otherwise) and repertoire for an imaginary American version of Maestro.
Posted by Tim Smith at 3:48 PM | | Comments (0)

Post a comment

All comments must be approved by the blog author. Please do not resubmit comments if they do not immediately appear. You are not required to use your full name when posting, but you should use a real e-mail address. Comments may be republished in print, but we will not publish your e-mail address. Our full Terms of Service are available here.

Verification (needed to reduce spam):

About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
View the Artsmash blog

Baltimore Sun coverage
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Marin Alsop
Famous faces in classical music
Sign up for FREE entertainment alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for nightlife text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
  • Weekend Watch newsletter
Plan your weekend with's best events, restaurant and movie reviews, TV picks and more delivered to you every Thursday for free.
See a sample | Sign up

Most Recent Comments
Stay connected