In our ongoing debate about the music that Australian orchestras play – whether it properly reflects Australian identity and cultural diversity, and whether it needs to – Peter Tregeardiscusses the rise of identity politics and argues that if we wish to defend our orchestral culture, we cannot avoid questions of musical value.

Not all that long ago it was a commonplace to hear it claimed that music was a ‘universal language’. Now, thanks in large part to the internet, it is possible to encounter a vast range of the world’s music with spectacular ease. As a result, we more readily recognise that the meanings we ascribe to music are far from universal. They are, instead, profoundly shaped by our own cultural and social contexts.

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