We 'shouldn't apologise' for the race or gender of those who made the most celebrated classical music, Nicola Benedetti says

Lizzie Roberts

Beethoven, Mozart and Bach have in common that they are some of the most celebrated classical music composers of all time - and also that they are all white men. 

But while this lack of diversity has been lamented by some in the industry, violinist Nicola Benedetti has said that she doesn't like to apologise “look and gender and race” of those who have written the most well-known music in history.

Speaking to Gramophone magazine Ms Benedetti said: “I don’t really like apologising for the look and gender and race of the people who have written most of the music that we celebrate, though.

“It’s just a fact that in our European history the people who were able to take their skills to the nth degree, or to study something or to effect change, were often white men, and I don’t think that lessens the power of their music.”

Ms Beneditti was awarded a CBE earlier this year. Credit: Getty Images Europe /WPA Pool

A poll by the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year showed the top 10 classical composers most recognised by Brits are male, prompting the Hall's director to say that these “white male titans” were  putting young people off the art form.

Benedetti, who played a solo in the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in this year’s BBC Proms, is currently dating the American Jazz musician and composer Wynton Marsalis.

Mr Marsalis, born in New Orleans, Louisiana, has 9 Grammy awards and the pair recently released an album together. 

Ms Benedetti continued: “To then link that to Wynton, I think his music is likewise of a level that can be studied, owned and enjoyed by anybody who looks like anything.”

But the her unapologetic attitude has been criticised as "white privilege”.

Chi-chi Nwanoku, OBE founder and director of the Chineke! orchestra - the first professional orchestra in Europe made up of majority BME musicians - said it’s time the industry thinks “outside our cosy little box” when it comes to selecting composers. 

“I think we are at a time now where we have to think outside of our cosy little box. We live in such diverse times now, where I step out of my front door every day and you can walk five yards through any street in London and see 10 different nationalities.

“It feels a bit archaic to stay stuck in this art form where we don't appreciate or even explore who else is out there,” Ms Nwanoku said. 

Ms Beneditti receiving her CBA from the Prince of Wales  Credit: Jonathan Brady /PA

She added, although her orchestra plays "from the great canon in every concert", when her musicians play pieces by composers of their own ethnicity “I can’t tell you what that does for someone’s sense of self”. 

“Most musicians like Nicola, they take it for granted they are able to play music by composers who are like themselves, it's a definition of white privilege,” she said. 

“If they’ve never grown up with other composers music, it’s obvious why they don't give it a second thought."

In April the director of the Royal Albert Hall, Lucy Noble, told the Press Association in order to encourage young people into the classical music industry they must not just be exposed to “white, male titans”.

Ms Noble said: "History has left us a legacy of great classical composers - Mozart, Bach and Schubert to name a few.

"But we must make sure that young people are exposed to not just these white, male titans, but women, and that those from minority backgrounds are recognised too."

Nicola Benedetti said: “I believe in and support a strong movement for diversity and integration. I also believe in respecting past mastery, regardless of race or gender.”