15th July 2019

Senate House, London

The Institute of Musical Research seeks 30 minute-length papers relating to any aspect of controversy in the music industry. There are no restrictions on the format or subject matter, but papers should address pressing questions that promote conversations about challenges and opportunities related to artistic risk, freedom of expression or controversy. Possible topics might include, but are by no means restricted to: 

  • How classical music organisations navigate free speech with cultural respectability

  • The impact of recent controversies in the classical music world,

  • The prohibiting or restricting of discussion and criticism in the classical music industry,

  • Critical musicology and risk-taking,

  • Freedom of speech and transcultural narratives,

  • The implications of freedom of expression in music on cultural policy

A primary aim of the conference is to encourage the exchange of ideas between those working in music from any context (performance practice, ethnomusicology, popular music studies, etc.) in different disciplines (music, media, geography, sociology, anthropology, etc.). The conference is envisaged as a unique opportunity to promote the sharing of questions, experiences, good practice, and advice amongst those whose objects of study and professional experiences may differ, and whose methodological approaches may vary. Proposals are particularly welcome from professional musicians, industry practitioners, late-stage doctoral students and early career scholars. 

Submission Guidelines Proposals (max. 250 words) should be sent to by midnight of Sunday 23rd June 2019. Decisions will be notified on Friday 28th June 2019

Conference Outline: 

The classical music world is often a site of controversy. As with many artistic disciplines, risk-taking has been integral to the development of classical music, whether through musical works (such as Birtwistle’s infamous Panic), performance practice (Nigel Kennedy’s anarchistic take on Vivaldi), or academic censorship. These risks are often the domain of those in power, backed by significant social and financial support from prestige institutions. Cases of racial, social and gender prejudice and discriminations are still rife in an industry that lags behind its fellow Arts in opening-up sensitive discussions. As soon as discussions are opened, they are often hastily shut down again for the sake of avoiding bad publicity, leaving little space to rigorously examine the root of the problem. 

In a risk-averse cultural landscape, the prospect of controversy means that navigating provocative or sensitive musicological work can be unnerving to those tackling taboos. This one-day conference in Senate House will bring together musicological, sociological and ethical debates in order to consider how best to prepare the ground for work that might possibly divide opinion and provoke hostility. 

Keynote speaker: 

Jodie Ginsberg Index on Censorship (Chief Executive) 

For general enquiries, and to register attendance please contact:

Conference Committee

Dr Francesca Carpos 

Dr Toby Young