Are rigid classical concerts scaring away potential fans?
Vancouver Symphony's Bramwell Tovey debates Brooklyn Philharmonic's Richard Dare
Posted: Jul 3, 2012 4:38 PM ET
Last Updated: Jul 3, 2012 4:35 PM ET
People are buying and listening to more classical music, according to recent statistics. Conversely, orchestras worldwide are struggling. Are concert halls scaring away new fans?
Richard Dare, CEO of the Brooklyn Philharmonic thinks so: this spring, he sparked a fierce debate with a strongly worded online essay blasting concert halls and other classical music venues for what he calls a state of rigidity and a "cadaverous body of rules" that intimidate potential new audiences.
"My point was not to say that we ought to clap at a particular time or to overturn the apple cart in a particular way...but to say 'We have a problem here.' The problem is that the world's population is growing by leaps and bounds… [but], particularly in the United States, the concert attendance is shrinking dramatically," he told Jian Ghomeshi on CBC's Q cultural affairs show.
'I'm concerned that everyone has a chance to be able to enjoy and understand music...I think it's about inclusiveness'—Richard Dare, Brooklyn Philharmonic
"I'm concerned that everyone has a chance to be able to enjoy and understand music," Dare said. "I don't think it's about relaxed codes of behaviour. I think it's about inclusiveness."
His initial missive, published by The Huffington Post, drew hundreds of critical comments, Dare acknowledged, adding that what he found most upsetting was an undercurrent of elitism.
"People using language like 'The unwashed masses will never understand this art form' ... [and] 'If you don't follow our rules, get out,'" Dare said. "That sort of exclusionary language, I think, has no place in art in general and certainly not in classical music."
According to conductor and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra music director Bramwell Tovey, the experience of attending classical concerts has indeed become more formal since the Second World War. Still, he sees no problem in the current custom of an orchestral audience remaining reverential and largely silent.
'If I go and listen to a Brahms symphony, I'm really not interested in the emo expressions of the person who's sitting next to me'—Bramwell Tovey, VSO
"If I go and listen to a Brahms symphony, I'm really not interested in the emo expressions of the person who's sitting next to me. There's a lot of inner narrative addressed in classical music and I think when people listen to the music, they want a certain amount of quiet and composure around them in order to be able to listen to it," he said on Tuesday.
"If you're in a mosh pit at a heavy metal band's concert — my son plays in a heavy metal band and I've done this — people can shout as much as they want, but you can't hear the shouting because the music is so loud. It's a different kind of music-listening experience entirely."
The real issue, Tovey says, is for orchestras to find new ways to showcase classical music that engage audiences, for instance incorporating lighter programs presented in a more informal fashion, holding open-air events where concert-goers might enjoy a picnic and wine as they listen or perhaps allowing for more vociferous audience expression when presenting contemporary music.
"Every orchestra in the world wants to play to packed houses and I think orchestras internationally are doing everything they can to develop audiences," Tovey said.
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