"I probably underestimated how resistant some people would be to anyone presuming to think they had anything new to offer..."
Juliana Farha, founder and MD of Dilettante Music, was one of only two women from the classical music world to be picked for the new Cultural Leadership Programme's Women to Watch list of 50 movers and shakers. We've featured Dilettante here before - it's a lot more than just another website. You may remember their composition competition to find a composer in residence, and in my round-up of the most exciting classical music sites on the web in the Jan/Feb edition of Standpoint it came out basically tops. So I decided to ask Juliana a few questions - and got back, amongst other things, some home truths about the British music business and national priorities...
JD: What do you think it is about Dilettante Music that stands out from the crowd and has helped to bring you to such attention?
JF: There are several elements that make the Dilettante site unique. First, there's the tone: the design, the editorial 'voice', and even the name make it clear that we're challenging some of the stereotypes about classical music, while also communicating our own love of the music and support for the people who make it.
And finally: we're still here. I suspect that when I first started telling people about our plans for the site, they figured it was a dot-com fantasy that would disappear as fast as it had arrived. If so, they vastly underestimated our stubbornness.
JD: There are so few women in classical music on the list of 50 that one wonders why...do you have any theories about why the classical music world is still so male-dominated?
JF: Let's face it: we live in a male-dominated world, and I certainly think that classical music remains the most traditional art form so it stands to reason that it would be slower to change than some other industries. While music-making is often very collaborative, of course, there's a strong sense of hierarchy within the structures of classical music and I think certain kinds of masculine behaviour signify 'leadership' in that sort environment. Also, a lot of the classical music media is aimed at hardcore audiophiles because they're the people who spend money 'cultivating their collections', as we say in one of our adverts. The profile of your average audiophile is older and male, of course, so much of the dialogue consists of those people talking to each other.
JD: What does it mean to you to be on the list?
JF: I was utterly delighted to be on the list. I've been at this for several years now and it's often been tough, so the acknowledgement of what we're trying to achieve and what it's taken to get this far was really welcome.
While I certainly never expected anyone to embrace Dilettante as the saviour of classical music, I admit that I probably underestimated how resistant some people would be to anyone presuming to think they had anything new to offer. This sector is a pretty closed shop, and in order to stay true to your vision you really do have to make up your own rules, if you'll forgive the cliche. I think that's doubly true if you're a woman. I've seen some other businesses launch in our industry - backed by big investment, and lots of swagger - that were received a lot more warmly than Dilettante has been, and yet those businesses certainly haven't proved to be more viable or visionary than Dilettante. Still, I gave up banging my head against the gatekeepers' wall a long time ago, because it sucks up enormous energy and gives nothing back except a bad headache. Instead I've focused on people and organisations that are genuinely open to collaborating with us and to understanding what we're about, and fortunately there are lots of them. That's what's kept me going.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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