Audiences Would Soar If Classical Music Concerts Were More like Rock Gigs
Lister, David, The Independent (London, England)
The Week in Arts
I'm always a little suspicious of the frequently expressed concern that audiences for theatre and classical music are dying. The stalls are not yet full of corpses, and there is, of course, the very real possibility that audiences refresh themselves, with people coming to appreciate these art forms at a slightly older age than they do to rock music and cinema.
Nevertheless, a glance round a typical classical music concert hall shows that the demographic does give some cause for concern, and it's good to discover that steps are being taken to see how the audience can be renewed, both for live and recorded performance. Recently, as a first step, a meeting of the great and the good of the classical world (and me) took place to discuss some of the ways this might be done.
My own view is that classical concert-going can be a rather anachronistic experience. Generally, most of us go to see either a celebrated soloist or a celebrated conductor. But if it is a conductor, then you won't actually see him or her. You will see his or her back. And yet, if the same concert is shown on TV, the camera is often, and rightly, focused on the conductor's always expressive face. There seems to be a double standard at work there.
So, I ask why screens are the norm at so many rock concerts, but are still considered infra dig at classical concerts. Surely it's possible for the audience to have the same view of the conductor that the musicians have. Conductors are the biggest and most expressive personalities in classical music. We need to be able to see their faces.
On the subject of conductors, I also treasure the memory of seeing Daniel Barenboim conduct a year ago at the Royal Festival Hall, and hearing him give a short talk about the music before the orchestra played. It was both illuminating and witty. He had the orchestra perform small sections of the piece to illustrate what he was saying. It enhanced the experience. Why can't that become the norm as well?
When it comes to atmosphere at a classical concert, there is little to touch the Proms. To a large extent, this is because of the fact that a section of the audience stands in front of the stage, as at a rock gig. And the tickets for those Prommers standing are a very affordable 5. The enthusiasm there is palpable, and while it would be a pity to dilute the uniqueness of the Proms, the mixture of standing and sitting, with cheap tickets for those standing, could help to provide a memorable atmosphere at classical concerts beyond the Royal Albert Hall in summer. …