Magazine article The Spectator

Reasons to Be Cheerful

Magazine article The Spectator

Reasons to Be Cheerful

Article excerpt

It was being whispered last week at the first of the two Berlin Philharmonic appearances at the Proms that attendance across the board this year has been 94 per cent. If this is true, and is maintained to the end, it is a staggering achievement. Every year for the past 15 or so, the press office at the BBC has put out ever-increasing claims about the number of people who have bought tickets, in such a way that I have never quite believed them.

The increase year on year was somehow too reliable. But this would trump them all by far.

I wonder why it has happened, if it has. In some ways this year's season has involved less fuss and fanfare than previously - fewer themes lying behind the programming; fewer anniversaries to make one feel guilty about not having noticed or cared (and the main one, Chopin, being unresponsive); the atmosphere generally more relaxed. If this has led to the kind of better-balanced programmes that the public has wanted to hear, then there is a lesson worth learning. I'm not sure this has been the case - surely we all cherry-pick and find music to suit us - but something has made more people turn out, possibly more regularly than ever before. Of course, it may be nothing more than that the pound is weaker than a year ago and there are more tourists around.

Whatever the reason, I would like to put down a marker that these statistics are one in the eye for all those doomsayers, most notably Norman Lebrecht, who, 10 to 15 years ago, made money out of saying that classical music was dying. Their gloom was dished out under various headings. The collapse of the CD market was the favourite: the big names were going under, priceless reputations and blue-chip repertoires were about to be lost to the civilised world;

though in the event all that happened was the long-established companies that had ruled the roost for decades were reduced, and traditionalists didn't like it. The actual number of CDs recorded and released shot up; and, because they were now generally much cheaper to buy, more were sold.

Then there was the 'there is no classical music in our schools' scare, which some were quick to say was indicative of how the country was going to the dogs, predicting it would lead to a collapse of interest among young people in going to classical music concerts. …

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