Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Sergio Mims: Tagesspiegel: Brandon Brown fights racism in the world of classical music

Brandon Keith Brown

Sergio A. Mims writes:

Germany based conductor Brandon Keith Brown was profiled today in the German daily Tagesspiegel about his experiences as a black conductor in Europe and dealing with racism while pursing his career.

English translation of article

Bruckner for all:
African American conductor Brandon Brown fights racism in the world of classical music. 

To become the chief conductor of a symphony orchestra is pretty much the most ambitious thing a black USB citizen can do. Because in the field of classical music, whites still prefer to stay below themselves. In sports, in jazz, in the entertainment sector, most recently also in the film business, African Americans have won their place. But when it comes to Mozart, Beethoven & Co, they continue to stand outside, failing on the glass walls of a racism that is not overtly but yet implicitly present. 

"A friend said to me the other day: it's more likely to be a Black boss with the Berliner Philharmoniker than with one of the American top orchestras," says Brandon Brown. The 1981 born in North Carolina teacher's son has dared it anyway. And he owes that to his music teacher at elementary school. A teacher who knew how to awaken the creativity of her protégés. "We should write down a melody and she then explained which harmonies fit. I did that every day, when I was eight. "At ten he can get violin lessons from the school, a year later he is admitted to the state youth orchestra, passes the entrance examination at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music at 17, then moves to Northwestern University and graduated in 2011 from the Peabody Institute in Baltimore with honors. 

But while his white classmates proclaim with confidence, "I'm a conductor," Brandon Brown doubts, also because he lacks a great role model. And because he is the only African American in the class who often feels like the AlibiBlack, giving the teachers the good feeling they need to meet the diversity requirement. One problem, says Brown, was the reactions of the fellow students: "They perceived me as an intruder and gave me the atmosphere to understand." 

But Brandon Brown does not let himself be intimidated, is studying. And then meets at the Aspen Festival David Zinman, the longtime music director of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, which encourages him to venture a conducting career. However, Brown only gets closer to his dream when he goes to Germany in 2015. "I did not know anybody, had no management, I just sent my documents and a DVD around and after eight months I was already in the finals for the chief conductor position of the Jena Philharmonic," he says. "I was allowed to conduct Bruckner's Sixth Symphony, not typically American, chamber music or jazz, but German core repertoire."
He has also conducted orchestras in Weimar and Karlsruhe, and will debut with the Nürnberger Symphoniker in November. "The Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester Berlin has invited me twice," Brown continues, "in the first concert we played Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream Music, in the second work of Mozart and C.P. E. Bach. That would have been unthinkable in America." 

For Brandon Brown, the mistake lies in the US education system. "Even access to normal education is difficult for African Americans. Good music education is usually only in those schools that are in the good neighborhoods and on which you can go only if the parents have a certain income. No wonder so few of us arrive at the conservatoires, not to mention the conservatoires. "And if it does, then it gets really hard. "Conducting can only be learned in practice, in dealing with an orchestra," says Brown. "At the same time you will fail, that's normal. But for black conductors there is usually no second chance. Because we do not have a network that supports us. " 
Which is also because the orchestras are privately financed. "The power lies therefore not with the Intendanten, but with the board, which consists mostly of rich CEO's, well-known physicians or lawyers. And these people have a clear, very narrow idea of ​​what a maestro should look like." Definitely not black. 

Brandon Brown also finds harsh words for many education projects in his homeland. "They are not sustainable because the kids understand that they are musical alms." The way the outreach programs work is condescending. "There is no connection to the everyday reality of the target groups. And that's why those approached will not be ticket buyers for tomorrow. " 

As for his profession, Brandon Brown has now taken the initiative. He has deliberately encouraged African Americans from the United States to sign up for the Conductors' Workshop, which he will host in Berlin from 18 September. "Fortunately, there are programs for female conductors in my home country. But why not for African Americans? Because that would mean they would have to think about their history. " 

Brandon Brown wants to continue his way in Germany. "Here I feel accepted in my field, musically stimulated, here I can grow in the tradition and although I speak fluent German, I have more appearances than in the US."

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