Playlist: Disability and Classical Music

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[Image: British Paraorchestra perform The Nature of Why. Photograph by Paul Blakemore.]

Classical music is one of the most exclusionary areas of the arts, seen by many as a gated world which is lagging behind on diversity for race, class and, of course, disability, both for artists and audiences. But there now feels like there is some momentum to change that, with a host of organisations like British Paraorchestra, National Open Youth Orchestra, Drake Music, National Centre for Inclusive Excellence, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and OpenUp music supporting individuals and pushing the sector to improve.

In this playlist, we showcase some of the finest disabled talent in the classical world, from the world renowned like the British Paraorchestra, who shared a stage with Coldplay at the Paralympics in 2012, to emerging talents like the precocious Michael Fuller and his virtuosic singing and piano playing. The playlist also features Lloyd Coleman’s ‘Towards Harmony’, commissioned by Disability Arts Online in 2014, which was at the time the first piece of music by a disabled composer performed by the Paraorchestra. Exceptional soloists like one-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy, blind soprano singer Victoria Oruwari, Stephen Goss on the theorbo and the ‘pitch perfect’ Derek Paravicini showcase their exceptional individual skills. Disabled composers Ben Lunn and Lucy Hale, show it’s not just disabled performers who are pushing the boundaries of classical music.

A BBC report on Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s BSO Resound ensemble, led by disabled conductor James Rose also makes an appearance in the playlist. In 2018, BSO Resound became the first ensemble of disabled musicians to feature at the BBC Proms. Finally, proving its not just the Western Classical tradition that is being transformed by disabled musicians, the playlist culminates with a bit of breathtaking improvisation from blind Indian maestro, Baluji Shrivastav.

Read more about how disabled artists are transforming classical music in Joe Turnbull’s overview for The Arts Desk.