An orchestra expects its audience to grow younger

An orchestra expects its audience to grow younger


norman lebrecht

May 26, 2014

Cleveland has plans for rejuvenating the audience. In an economy worse than Detroit’s that is quite a challenge, but executive director Gary Hanson and artistic director Franz Welser-Moest have some good ideas and a keen sense of mission. They have also found the money.

Cleveland’s leaders talked about the future to the New York Times video unit. Big mistake. The Times makes films like the French make tea – with an arrant over-confidence that masks rank incompetence.

Hard to imagine that an organisation headed by Mark Thompson, former BBC chief, can put out such numbskull, Fifties-style pap.




  • John Nemaric, Ph.D. says:

    And come they shall! Really..? This is one lame plan, not that I have a better one. So what’s the solution (at least in Pittsburgh my home town) give university students free tickets and some pizza and hotdogs and come they shall.

  • Anonymus says:

    It’s not working.
    The classical music listener is only to be found where (desire for) education and culture are pillars of human development. That’s the only sustainable target group.
    And then there is the other group, particularly in the anglo-american world, who go to classical concerts for social status and to mingle in elitist self-indulgence. That group is dying out, yet they had the money…
    Classical music is one of the greatest achievements of the human race, and its promoters need to ask the crucial question, why mankind’s biggest cultural achievements play such a suppressed role in our civilizations, which we ourself call highly advanced…

    • Michael Endres says:

      It may well be one of the big achievements of Western culture, but in today’s PC environment one is in a tricky spot when actually asking education authorities for support.
      My experience in a couple of cases was:
      ” We need to treat all cultures the same, and we cannot just allow some music composed by mostly white males from European countries to rule the agenda of music education.”
      OK. We have now in many schools a nice little mix of everything and in many cases music can be elected off completely as ”one should not force kids to have music lessons if they don’t want to.”
      The results of this idea of culture are kicking in ,nobody should be surprised.

    • Nick says:

      Sorry to keep disagreeing with Anonymus but I have said before I do not believe the lack of music education is at the root of declining/ageing audiences. I suggest Michael Endres is essentially correct. Many countries where classical music thrived now have populations from a much more diverse mix of cultures. What kind of music is to be ‘taught’?

      That said, though, western classical music does have a largely universal appeal even in countries where the very basis of their own traditional music is completely different. The surging development of western classical music throughout much of Asia is surely proof that lack of any kind of formal music education is no deterrent to filling concert halls with enthusiastic audiences whose average age is at the very least 20 years lower than those in the so-called ‘West’. How these young people become interested in and regular patrons of classical music is surely one phenomenon that should be studied and lessons learned. Last week I was at a ‘sold out’ Mikhail Pletnev recital in Hong Kong of music by Schubert, Bach and Scriabin. My guess is that the average age of the audience (90%+ Chinese) was well under 40.

      • anonymus says:

        We might not be in major disagreement. I was pointing out the need for a general respect for (real) education, that kind of education that requires hard work and not only is “child’s play” taught by adults.
        Music education in particular is just a spin off of general education standards. In Asia and particularly the places you mentioned, education is considered important. In such climates, the classical music thrives.
        In climates of our decadent western cultural relativism, nothing thrives, only mediocrity and idiocy.

  • Richard says:

    This is a noble effort but not very serious and probably ultimately a waste of money. Everyone knows what it takes to get young people in but they don’t want to do it. They want to trick them in for one night then play an old warhorses/chesnuts then hope that makes them a lifelong music lover.

    The actual goal is to have them fall in love with the sound of an orchestra – whether that takes film music events, video game music, musicals, getting on television, making an effort to be part of the larger culture, whatever it takes…and not just the token “Pops” concerts.

    For the intermediate classical lovers it means playing new viable music – this can mean new-old music (e.g. replace the Saint Saens Organ Symphony with Widor No.3 or Jongen’s Sinfonie Concertante which never get heard) or new-new music by composers that people actually want to hear like Philip Glass, John Adams, Hovhaness, Rota, Hanson, or John Williams concert works. No more blips and bloops of the tired Euro school passed off as “music we really should love.”

    You want to prepare for the next 100 years? Then changing oneself a little bit might be in order. Repackaging the same old stuff doesn’t work anymore. It never actually worked.

    Unfortunately most people who work for orchestras have the same worldview and mission as those who work for governments, they have no idea what’s going on and the main mission is to avoid responsibility and keep yourself employed.

  • Daniel says:

    I can’t comment on Cleveland’s big plans (namely because so few of them were well articulated in the Times piece), but as a filmmaker regularly tasked with creating documentary style pieces for classical music orgs, I was pretty appalled at the depth and quality of that video. Yikes! Nothing revolutionary to be found therein, let alone intriguing, or even very unique.

  • anonymus says:

    again…you can try to chase the audience where they are (I doubt Philipp Glass would help, he is older than Monteverdi, if you mean new synonym for “innovative”) and will lose the classical music. I’m personally not interested to dumb it down that way, but if audience and orchestra players alike are for it, why not.

    The golden nugget lies in the realization, that the experience of music needs two creators. The first 50% are created by the players. The other 50% are created by the listener.
    If the listener has no means to perceive, understand, process, ultimately recreate, the music through his mental condition, then there is no point in trying on the players side.

    I feel sorry for these orchestras in these decadent societies like the US, that in average give a damn about high arts and all about the reach to the bottom where the masses are.