I’ve had it with Norman Lebrecht. I enjoyed his book The Maestro Myth. I enjoyed even more handing it to a well-known French conductor for a gander and watching him dive straight to the index to see if he was mentioned. (He wasn’t.)
I like the idea of a journalist who takes a particular interest in the workings of the classical music trade. Unfortunately Lebrecht seems to think he is the ONLY journalist with this interest and has turned himself, so he imagines, into a sort of caped crusader with super x-ray vision that can see through the veneer of PR. Supernorm and his Sword of Truth can cut through agents’ bullshit with a single stroke! Summoned by the Normphone he will jump into the Normobile to do battle with musical injustices, arrogant divas, people who don’t like Mahler and, er, fees that he thinks are too high!
Sometimes he gets it right but too often he gets it wrong, imagining skullduggery where none exists. And he loves a headline, even though it might be total bollocks. Bad news for the music profession is good news for Supernorm. He adores it, drooling over the imminent collapse of various orchestras, and pronouncing the death of opera and record companies even though they are in fact still breathing. In fact Supernorm has become so obsessed with being the first to break a story with an eye-catching headline that he seems to have stopped bothering to find out if a story may be accurate or not, and if a few musicians get hit while he’s fighting music crime then so what? They’re victims of friendly fire! Supernorm to the rescue! That’s what’s really important!
I used to follow Supernorm on Twitter but last week he overstepped the mark. First he tweeted a headline “Lady Rattle gives way to Plain Jane”, the story being that Magdalena Kozena was being replaced in a performance of “Das Lied von der Erde” by Jane Irwin. To me this smacked of the worst form of sexism, the implication being that rather than getting his Mahler fix from Harrods, it would now be coming from Woolworths. Now, if Supernorm really knew his stuff he would know that Jane Irwin is a fantastically talented, world-class singer. Perhaps he did know that but he didn’t care, simply because he liked his headline too much. Someone has argued that he was simply making a joke about titles. Even so, the implication is still that somebody was getting short-changed, and I find that offensive on Jane’s behalf.
It was the story that Supernorm “broke” a few days later that really did it for me. Another hugely talented singer, Sandrine Piau, has withdrawn from Glyndebourne’s “Rinaldo” because of a knee injury. Supernorm smelled something fishy where no seafood was in evidence. He sneered, he quizzed. He cast doubt upon Sandrine’s professionalism. Joyce DiDonato has sung Rosina with a broken leg, why couldn’t this French woman buck up and do her job? I’m not going to begin to pull this apart. It does it for itself but I’m sure that what Sandrine really needed when she’s probably depressed and in pain is Supernorm jumping up and down on her injured knee. That really scored a victory for classical music.
There are other instances I could cite of Supernorm’s thirst for sensationalism, a thirst that would be more appropriate if he were writing about premier footballers for the Sun, but I think I’ve made the point.
Classical music, and I mean real classical music and not all that Brit Awards tosh, is under serious threat. What we need is considered and thoughtful journalism fighting its corner. What we don’t need is a twat in a superhero cape beating the living daylights out of its practitioners just because it makes him look important or clever.

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