A Celtic music enthusiast talks to Bernardine Evaristo about regrets and music halls

Working in Scotland’s capital has become a scourge for some of its musicians. Although I’ve lived here for almost 50 years, I never stopped going to music halls as a child, somewhere within the late 50s and early 60s, especially to live English bands that were based locally. Glasgow’s heyday of choral music and the love of the arts in general was based in then, with our national orchestras playing at Victoria Concert Hall, also known as the Central Auditorium. By the 80s I was building my first recording studio, Hi-Nite Studio, in the city centre and attending music halls in the city centre as a musician.

Things have changed. When I moved to Madrid in 2012, the historic palaces of the city drew me. The Balaneses was next to Casa del Encanto; the Quadriexo was a stone’s throw from our home. I played in many. I love the intimacy and originality of the concert halls. The days when there were scores of musicians, mostly young musicians, at a concert hall and all playing on instruments with a hand-built sense of purpose are long gone. Although the city recently made the Balaneses a cultural centre with a bar, I can still hear a sheet of paper with notes about the performers and the piece during my act. At the Balaneses we also know that Santa Benedita Granada’s orchestra will be there, although they don’t play there these days, giving us the opportunity to visit their beautiful building.

However, many of the musicians who used to play in the city’s music halls have since retired to towns and cities around the UK. All of the orchestral musicians I know play in the UK because of the resources here and because of the social life that you get in clubs and concert halls. In fact, you could argue that it is a rather sad evolution whereby playing classical music on a regular basis is the norm. Although I feel that most of the orchestras are in really good shape and the players are in very capable and caring hands, it is clearly not just about talent. The music making, in some cases, has been replaced by a certain sort of lifestyle. Many seem to have lost contact with their heritage. Many have become mini-financial empires by negotiating their own contracts and keeping a wary distance from their audience.

I’m not saying that classical music isn’t important; I think it is. But the break-up of classical music into a thousand different, and apparently precious, things needs to be discussed and moderated. There needs to be a more mature understanding of culture as being an expression of identity, of value, of culture in music. It is always hard to think that culture is something which most people have to spend on, thinking about, or go out and buy for themselves.

There is a talk show on the British Cultural Council’s Freeview channel. It’s called The Culture File. The program was recently told that if they didn’t consider adding an interview with our cultural critic Walter Sharp to the show, they wouldn’t be able to exist. Walter Sharp is one of the pioneers of the world of music critic and he was born and raised in Scotland.

However, I must admit that I have become rather disillusioned. Because I was a student in Glasgow in the 70s when there was an undergraduate programme of music criticism, there is a place in my heart for criticism. I love it. It is great to listen to someone tell you something you never knew was so good. However, if you talk about classical music, especially for free, in internet interviews and live music in open air, people still want to know a lot about the music. So the cultural critic has to get back to the basics. I feel that the growing appetite for opinion is being curtailed by opinionated generation X and Y. I think that the voice of Walter Sharp could restore a bit of balance in terms of me, and maybe others, enjoying classical music again.

• Richard Sampson is a musician and conductor and was also of (co-)founder of City of Glasgow College

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