A conductor proposes 10 changes to classical concerts

A conductor proposes 10 changes to classical concerts


norman lebrecht

October 18, 2014

Baldur Brönniman, incoming chief conductor at Porto, Portugal, is one of the more thoughtful and challenging members of the younger baton generation. He has just published a blog proposing 10 important changes to the way we stage concerts, including the right to keep our phones switched on.

Read here.

baldur bronniman


  • David Hutchings says:

    1. The audience should feel free to applaud between movements
    Often disruptive.
    2. Orchestras should tune backstage
    Nearly always impractical. In many cases even if there is a backstage hall, temperature differences could send the instruments back out of tune.
    3. We should be able to use mobile phones (in silent mode)
    Performers unions wouldn’t like this much. Plus, when I’m in a darkened concert hall, I don’t want to see the light from your phone screen.
    4. Programs should be less predictable
    Quite like this idea 🙂
    5. You should be able to take your drinks inside the hall
    In some cases yes. However a friend once had a glass – yes a glass – not a plastic cup – dropped over the balcony behind, missing her head by inches.
    6. The artists should engage with the audience
    Yes yes yes; the artist is there first and foremost to perform, but where they feel they can add value by saying a few words (or maybe a lot), yes, by all means
    7. Orchestras shouldn’t play in tail suits
    Not necessarily; but boy, they can look smart.
    8. Concerts should be more family friendly
    Not to the extent that people can wander in and out freely. This can disturb audience and performers alike.
    9. Concert halls should use more cutting-edge technology
    Vague to say the least… I don’t necessarily disagree, but you don’t make your point well I’m afraid…
    10. Every program should contain a contemporary piece
    NO! What on earth? I can understand the good intentions behind this and more needs to be done to promote and incorporate modern music, but there is a wonderful corpus of music written throughout history which needs to be heard. Sometimes it is better WITHOUT such an addition.

    • Mikko says:

      Re: no. 5 – many of the new “vineyard”-style halls are very steeply raked and have large drops from the highest balconies. There have been a lot of critical comments about e.g. the new Helsinki hall from the less-than-limber people who don’t like negotiating the steps. Adding wine glasses to the mix seems like a bad idea.

  • Andrew Condon says:

    I expect the great pianist Stephen Kovacevich would have quite a lot to say about about number 5. Heard him a few years ago give a recital at Glyndebourne as part of the Brighton Festival – just into his first encore a glass smashes to the floor, the noise all the more deafening given the hushed intensity of his playing. He stops, grunts, turns in the direction of the guilty party with a look of murderous intent, restarts and at the end walks off with the briefest of nods to the audience, never to return. No glasses and no phones is no bad thing in my view.

  • Doug says:

    You call that “challenging” and “bold”?

    No wonder classical music is in so much trouble. Most of these have already been tried before; the rest are vacuous.

    If BB wants to be “cutting edge” then I’d like to suggest he work for Apple and leave classical music.

  • J. says:

    Why should we bring people to classical music if these people don’t like what envolves classical music? If they won’t pay enough atention we are killing, and not saving, classical music.

  • David Borsvold says:

    Some fine points here and some dreadfully misguided ones.
    2) Tuning backstage. No. It’s noisy from back there too, and suppose somebody bumps their instrument coming onstage and the tuning slips. Plus the woodwind players need all of their paraphernalia in place and to be comfy/settled.
    3) Phones on during concerts. Loathsome. Terribly distracting to those not wishing to comply (plus some idiots think “buzz” is interchangeable with silent …. and some will forget to turn the ringer off anyway). If I’m listening to and watching the Sibelius 7th, and some philistine in front of me can’t make it through 22 minutes without tweeting and showing tweets to others, I would want to pour my beer over his/her head. Which brings us to
    5) Bringing drinks into concerts. Fraid not. Much as a tasty ale or three would genuinely enhance the experience, the constant back-and-forth to the concession and the loo would destroy the pleasure. This is not a football game.
    8). “Family friendly.” Ye gods, spare us this tyranny. Say, let’s just provide diaper-changing tables amid the seats too. If I pay $190 for good tickets to hear the Mahler 9th played by a fine orchestra, do I have to tolerate some baby (who should be home asleep hours earlier) getting loose and screeching during the end of the Adagio? Choose another type of entertainment.
    9) Visual aids. More catering to those without attention spans. If you need visual spectacle, try opera.

    Why is it always the orchestra that is admonished to adapt. We observe far more arcane ritual elsewhere in life, can’t the symphony experience be what it is?

    • Nick says:

      For one very simple reason – symphony orchestras are in trouble and many are dying or getting perilously close to their death throes.

  • David Borsvold says:

    Also, applause is good anywhere but do you want it after the Adagietto and before the Finale of M5? Somewhat of a buzzkill, I should think

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    2; Boulez did that and what a relief… imagine going to a theater play and witness actors clearing their throats…
    4;10 are at the heart of the problem.
    The rest is the usual cosmetic garbage.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      Not to mention players (especially horn-players) trying-over their difficult passages on stage as the audience file into the hall!

      The Svetlanov Orchestra always waits until the audience are seated and the auditorium doors are closed before they come on stage.

      Concert halls are not pubs. Please keep glasses out of auditoriums. And mobile phones too!!

  • Josep Molina says:

    I just love it!
    Number six – The artists should engage with the audience! They are storytellers, and that means telling stories with words and music. If you give a story to the audience, they will follow during the whole performance. Great post and good luck!
    Josep Molina

  • David Ashbridge says:

    Some things I agree with you; other however, I am taking issue.
    1. Audience applause: If you consider audience applause disruptive, I already have doubts whether you are a real musician. It makes no sense to say you feel disrupted by an audience showing positive appreciation. It happens in opera frquently. How would you feel if they booed and jeered instead as they did at Minzcuk in Rio a few years ago? Real musicians earn their living principally by playing to live audiences and if the audience doesn’t approve of what it hears, then that audience will not come back, let alone encourage new people to come along. Since audiences bring in a large slice of a musicians income you have no place to be so sniffy about them. However, if you are so of the opinion that audience applause between movements is disruptive you could always play to an empty hall to solve the problem, but let’s see how much you get paid for doing so.
    2. Orchestras tuning backstage: it’s a good idea and you don’t need a backstage hall amount of space available to tune an orchestra. The issue about temperature change is largely irrelevant since instruments will go ever-so-slightly out of tune with each other during a concert due to the player playing the instrument. Most professional players are also high adept at making adjustments for this while playing. If you disagree, consider this: you can’t stop 22 minutes into the second part of Mahler 8 just because there are some fractional tuning differences in the woodwind section. The players have to adjust.
    3. Largely the same issue as no. 1. People now do record the performance on tablets and most are entirely silent when doing so. Strangely enough they have learnt their own voice adds nothing to the recording. Also, and this is the great benefit, that audience member will most likely play the recording again and even possibly to someone else and enjoy what was played a second or a third time. It is just possible it might encourage someone new to come to a concert. Recording performances on a phone or the like is not an issue for me and the vast majority will have no commercial value, so it has nothing to do with the unions. Again, if you don’t like it, play to an empty hall. Perhaps I should also ask, if you have so much time to look round the concert hall for lights coming from mobile phones, just how much attention are you putting on the music unless of course you are the cymbal player in Bruckner 7?
    4. Programs should be less predictable. I agree on this one. Please can we get away from the overture, concerto, symphony format. It is killing classical music programs
    5. Drinks inside the hall. Yes, but glasses should be plastic for safety reasons and many halls will need some adaptions close to the seat to make it possible, but this can be done.
    6. I agree 100%
    7. Ditch the penguin suit. It is a 19th century throwback when the only legal way to avoid the need for a performance licence to appear on stage was to wear full evening suit with bow tie (read tourniquet when playing a violin or viola). There are many other ways to look smart or have a unified image and it is high time some thought was put into this by those many orchestras who have never dared to change. Personally, I don’t see tail suits as smart, nor do I think it makes the men in them look smart, but just stiff and awkward.
    8. Depends on the program. Till Eulenspiegel with an accompanying puppet sideshow might knock this idea on the head.
    9. Depends on the hall and where it is. Most musicians have little or no control on this.
    10. Hard and fast rules like this do not help. The reverse is to say every contemporary program should contain a piece from the 18th century. This idea does not work. What is needed is variety in programming.

    • Halldor says:

      ‘The overture, conceto , symphony format is killing classical programmes’? Yet the classical music marketers I work with report that 3-piece programmes of core classical repertoire actually outsell 4- or 5- piece programmes which *contain the same pieces*! It’s actually doing the precise opposite of killing classical programmes.

      Like Starter – Main – Dessert in a restaurant, it’s a formula that’s simple, effective and satisfying. Audiences like it, and it works. And also like a menu, with imagination and creativity it’s capable of infinite variation and renewal. Though the idea that audiences go to concerts wanting to be surprised also strikes me, whether we like it or not, as almost exactly the opposite of the reality (see also the reaction of pop audiences when major stars perform entire shows of new or unreleased material. Now there’s a conservative audience for you…).

  • Augustine Rodriguez says:

    Here we go again. Wasn’t there a similar discussion with the Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) comments?

    Isn’t this about the younger generation pushing boundaries? Nothing new, except that Baldur Brönniman prefers a tidy list.

    Have a look at Karajan’s 1966 film of the Berlin Philharmonic playing Beethoven’s Fifth. All white guys – in suits – during rehearsals! Compare to the Berlin Philharmonic today.

    Changes will occur, as they always have, too slow for some to fast for others.

    • Neil McGowan says:

      Yes, that’s right, and Bronniman cites Greenwood in his piece.

      A pity he couldn’t find someone with more credibility than Greenwood – someone who’s never played or written a piece longer than 4 minutes in his life.

      • Alfredo Ovalles says:

        What about some of Greenwood’s orchestral music? Stuff like Water, which he composed for the Australian Chamber Orchestra, or his 48 Responses to Polymorphia, which appears in a joint album with Penderecki’s music. There’s also that residency he had as a composer with the BBC Concert Orchestra about 10 years ago. Greenwood’s music may not be to everyone’s liking, but he is doing serious stuff, both on his own and with Radiohead.

  • Duncan McLennan says:

    1. I love hearing and watching orchestras tune up on stage.
    2. No cell-phones, no drinks. If you need to yabber or booze during a concert, do it outside and don’t disturb me.
    3. The only time I’ve seen the Vienna Philharmonic live the men (and conductor) wore light grey suits, white shirts, and normal ties of their choosing. They looked and sounded wonderful.
    4. I was once seated in the front row for a performance of Der Rosenkavalier. At the end of the 2nd act a cellist interacted with me – he asked if he could scrutinise my programme. I asked him why. He replied, “I’m a ring-in and I haven’t played in vocal rehearsals, so this is the first time I’ve seen the singers. .I need to know the name of the singer playing Sophie, because I swear I’m going to marry her – she’s absolutely gorgeous.” Indeed she was – a young Swedish soprano starting out on her career, who could sing as well as dazzle. Miah Persson no less. Is this the type of interaction with audiences that is being advocated?

  • Nick says:

    1. Personally I prefer not to have applause between movements. But since the aim is to encourage new audiences, I do think shushing those who do applaud can have a negative effect, so I am not at all against it. I believe the conductors can do far more, though, to discourage such applause. At the end of the March to the Scaffold in the Fantastique, for example, holding his/her arms in the air for an extra few seconds works wonders in discouraging applause.
    2. Tuning backstage. Does he mean, I wonder, actual tuning to the oboe’s ‘A’ or warming up the instrument? If the latter, then in addition to temperature changes, in some countries there are much more problematical humidity changes between backstage and the auditorium. In such cases, some warming up of the instrument is almost essential. I am far more concerned with some orchestras where the musicians wander on to stage up to 15 minutes beforehand and in the process of warming up repeatedly play the short tricky excerpts from the upcoming programme over and over again – often ad nauseam. That should be banned.
    3. Don’t agree. Apart from the concern of Unions and artists that a pirate version of a concert will soon appear, this creates a major disturbance for large numbers of the audience both in terms of additional moving light sources near them and those who constantly check the photos/vdos they have just recorded.
    4. This to me makes no sense!
    5. Agree. But as at venues like the Royal National Theatre, they have to be in plastic glasses. If this idea moves forward, then Concert venues will need to consider installing the type of arms on seats similar to those now common in most cinemas – with holders for plastic glasses.
    6. Absolutely agree 100%. Something has to be done to remove the invisible barrier between performer and audience. Most leisure activities these days have some form of interaction. This is all about breaking down barriers.
    7. Absolutely agree 100% – and I don’t even think suits are essential. Clearly there has to be a degree of uniformity, but that opens the door to so many possibilities. The first orchestra to get Ralph Lauren or Armani (Vivienne Westwood???) to design a concert outfit will gain masses of worldwide PR!
    8. Yes and no. Babies crying should not be part of any concert experience, except for concerts geared specifically to mothers and their young children. There has to be a certain minimum age, and I know some venues where it is 6. Creches for younger children is a great idea.
    9. Yes! Yes! Yes! But then I have advocated that in several threads and will not add to that here.
    10. He actually brings up two points here. I am not against a contemporary (or let’s say, a less usual) work in each programme. But I believe – and here the critics will come down like a ton of bricks – many contemporary composers have to take a much more serious look at what they write. How many orchestral and opera premieres have we witnessed in the last half century? And how many of these are still performed – if even only occasionally? Precious few. Composers have to remember they are writing for a public who ultimately pay their commissions and royalties. Yes, I fully accept that the great composers pushed the bounds of composition. But I often think many of today’s composers don’t merely push existing bounds, they are writing on another planet mostly for their own satisfaction. Yet what satisfaction is there if a work is played once or twice and then consigned to history?

    Some of these changes involve the concert hall managements. In my view, they have been as slow to consider changes as orchestras. Both have to change.

  • Anne says:

    Don’t really want to get involved in this again so I’ll restrict myself to one comment.

    This article and the previous one assume that, because classical concerts are not attracting new people (effectively, young people), the problem MUST be in the concert hall. Perhaps the problem, at least partly, is outside the concert hall and in the hands of schools and the MSM.

    For some time it has been relatively easy to find classical concerts which depart from the usual, allegedly over-formal, format. Concerts aimed at families do actually happen! Unfortunately, so long as the movie industry insists on portraying audiences at classical concerts as dozing, dinner-jacketed geriatrics, the perception will remain, regardless of what is actually available.

    Furthermore, if the education system is going to airbrush classical out of existence, and organisations like the BBC (with the advantage of several in-house orchestras) are going to confine coverage of classical to novelty news items of the ‘conducting dog’ variety and occasional, huge, worthy documentaries, curiosity will not be aroused in the first place. There’s no point in tweaking the format of classical concerts if large numbers of people are never going to know.

    IMO, we should stop agonising over concerts with ideas which are not particularly new anyway, and concentrate on the children. It’s already happening here and there, just not enough.

  • Michael Endres says:

    Focus on EDUCATION , lobbying the necessity for classical music education :
    that’s where the answers will be found.

    Cosmetic changes here and there may be helpful but will not solve the crisis .
    It’s not easy listening , it never will be.
    Whether the orchestra wears black or blue, tuned on stage or off stage ,clapping in between or not, it won’t change the game .
    But in the West we are saddled with half educated — PC correct — cultural relativist politicians and their journalistic brigades, so the chances for improvement are bleak.

    Munich,Vienna get it right, so do many Asian countries , particularly South Korea, China and Japan, Venezuela showed a remarkable way forward…. look there for answers.

    • Anne says:

      Spot on!

    • J. says:

      Very good remark.

    • mr oakmount says:

      An that is the truth and the whole of the truth. Amen.

    • Anonymus says:

      Thank you, that’s all that needs to be said about that.

    • Anonymus says:

      also “the crisis” you mention seems to be a phenomenon of certain countries more than others. We should have a debate, why in certain countries there is a crisis of high arts public interest while in other countries it is not or much less.

      I believe it is mostly a consequence of the general education paradigm. Are you educating your young ones as future humans under a humanist “age of enlightenment” paradigm or are you educating future producers and consumers who should not know too much unless they are willing to pay for that extra education.

  • Tommy says:

    Since Mr Bronnimann has closed comments on his blog, denying us the opportunity to deal directly with the suggestions he makes, I hope you won’t mind if I respond here.

    Dear Baldur Bronnimann.

    Let’s start at the beginning.

    “I often find myself sitting in a concert thinking I would never be here were it not for professional interest.”

    That may be the case, but what about the other 99% of the audience? It’s unlikely that the majority of the audience is there for ‘professional interest’, so I’m not sure what your point is. Certainly, the second sentence doesn’t appear to have anything to do with the first..:

    “This is a real shame, because to sit down in a concert hall and not do anything else other than listen for two hours is a great and quite radical experience in our lives.”

    On this, we are in total agreement. However, you are about to prove that you don’t really believe it.

    “But there are many unspoken “rules” and conventions at classical concerts that we often accept quietly and which make the experience of classical concert worse than it should be.”

    For whom, exactly? All those thousands of people that go to concerts every day, many of whom actually quite like these ‘unspoken rules and conventions’? Have you done any research into audience expectations and satisfaction? That might help inform you.

    1. The audience should feel free to applaud between movements

    OK, start with an easy one. It’s impossible to stop people from clapping between movements and, out of the hundreds of concerts I’ve been to, I think I can recall maybe 2 times that anyone has ever actually said something out loud to someone clapping between movements. There is no rule about it, so therefore there is no problem. Audiences do, however, like it when people can understand and appreciate a particularly moving or still moment in a piece that benefits from silence. That’s called appreciation of the art.

    “People should feel free to show their feelings in a concert.”

    They are free to do so. No-one stops them.

    2. Orchestras should tune backstage

    Looking at your CV, you have performed at many major venues. So you will know how cramped and unsuitable the backstage areas can be – and therefore completely unsuited to tuning ensembles. And with different temperatures and acoustics, the idea that a world-class musician would be happy to tune in a different place to the performing area is ludicrous.

    “We shouldn’t spoil the impact of the first sounds of a piece by giving away so many of these magical sounds in a random way at the beginning of a concert.”

    Has anyone ever seriously complained about this? An orchestra tuning is part of the aural landscape of a concert; part of the ritual and, of course, totally necessary.

    “Works like the Lohengrin Prelude, Gigues or Lontano do sound strange after tuning onstage. They should emerge from complete silence.”

    You mean after the applause for the conductor, which usually follows the tuning? Or do you want the conductor to come on to complete silence also?
    And what’s your suggestion if one of the pieces is a piano concerto and the orchestra needs to tune to the piano? Or is that unnecessary too?

    3. We should be able to use mobile phones (in silent mode)

    You started your blog by saying “…to sit down in a concert hall and not do anything else other than listen for two hours is a great and quite radical experience in our lives.” How is this possible if you’re also tweeting?

    “People should be able to tweet, take pictures or record concerts silently. If people buy tickets, they should have the rights to record what they see and share their thoughts with others.”

    OK lets deal with tweeting and taking pictures first: as soon as a phone is used, it becomes distracting to others. It distracts those that would like to concentrate on the music and the performance. Why should they have their experience spoiled just because someone is incapable of leaving their phone alone for an hour? Or don’t they matter?

    Have you ever heard of copyright law? The music and the performers are covered by copyright and any recording is unlawful. Composers would quite like to be able to earn money from their talent; filming it and making it freely available doesn’t help this. When someone buys a ticket, they are buying a seat at a performance. They are not buying the right to film and distribute it for free, and it’s stunning that, as a performer, you don’t appear to understand this. Also, people holding up phones to film something is distracting and annoying, not just to other audience members but to the performers. We should be concentrating on making the actual experience something special, not the virtual experience of watching it via a mobile phone screen. And let’s not forget, “…to sit down in a concert hall and not do anything else other than listen for two hours is a great and quite radical experience in our lives.”

    4. Programs should be less predictable.

    On the whole, orchestras want to sell tickets. And what sells tickets is the audience knowing what they might be getting. But many orchestras have, in fact, done exactly what you are suggesting. For example, the LSO ran a very successful scheme of brand new short works for orchestra that were played – unannounced – at the beginning of concerts, introduced by the composer.

    “There must be an element of unpredictability about a concert.”

    Talk to the marketing departments about that and see what they say. You appear to want your cake and eat it.

    5. You should be able to take your drinks inside the hall.

    “You can do this in a pop concert and I don’t know why you shouldn’t in a classical concert if the hall allows it.”

    Because it is almost always another distraction and can be noisy. Pop concerts, generally more informal and loud, can cope with drinks because the noise of bottles falling to the floor, or tops being cracked open, or slurping consumers are hidden by the sounds from the stage. This is never the case at an orchestral concert, which is often presenting high art that demands listening and concentration.

    “I like to feel relaxed at a concert, have a good time and not having to empty my glass in one after the interval.”

    Funny you should mention that. Is it impossible to have a good time and feel relaxed without a drink in your hand? If so, that’s a shame. Most people seem to manage quite well, so why not think of them instead?

    6. The artists should engage with the audience

    “Many of us do: we speak to the audience before, after or during the concerts. But this can’t be an option, it must be mandatory for every artist to at least be able to introduce a piece, greet the audience or to sign a program.”

    Mandatory? Really? So musicians who are uncomfortable about doing this kind of thing – or, shock horror, actually don’t want to do it and would rather their performance and music speak for themselves – should be forced to tick your box because you think it makes everything more ‘engaging’? Take this up with Brendel, Gergiev, Haitink (who perform to sold-out halls) and see what they think.

    “I think it is a shame that the public is often prevented from going backstage after a concert. Everybody should be able to talk to the musicians and share their thoughts and opinions”.

    Yes, I cannot understand why crowds at soccer matches aren’t allowed to go down to the team dressing rooms and share their opinions with the players.
    Why should orchestras even entertain this idea? Why should they always be open to the public? You’re also assuming that the audience is desperate to do this. Perhaps you could present some evidence to support this claim?

    “We don’t live in an ivory tower…”

    That’s true.

    “…and we have an obligation to talk to the people who love music as much as we do.”

    No we don’t. But once again you are suggesting that musicians don’t talk to people who love music. Which is, of course, not true.

    7. Orchestras shouldn’t play in tail suits

    I agree with you, to a degree. But when orchestras play in tails, do they sell fewer tickets? No they don’t. So there’s not really a problem, is there?

    8. Concerts should be more family friendly

    “People with small kids want to go to concerts too, but they have to be able to leave the hall quickly and silently when the little ones get bored.”

    Well, you know what? People want to do lots of things, but some things are more appropriate than others. If I’ve paid lots of money to watch an orchestra, I don’t want to find myself sitting next to a small child who doesn’t want to be there.

    “I have never minded if a baby starts to cry during a piece”.

    I have, and I’m pretty sure many other people have too.

    “…but one should be able to come and go, because some concerts can be long even for adults.”

    Seriously, do you value your profession at all?!

    “concert halls need to think about families.”

    Many of them do, but not inside the actual auditorium. And we can be grateful for that. And many, many orchestras around the world put on special concerts for young children and their families to enjoy music in an informal way, where they can make as much noise as they like – fantastic events that help invest in their future enjoyment of music. So again, there’s no problem here.

    9. Concert halls should use more cutting-edge technology

    “why do concert halls not use screens to show details of a performance to people who can’t see it from the back?”

    Do you know how much it costs to do this? Do you have any suggestions for who might pay for such things? In order to put an image up on a screen, you need cameras, camera operators, rigging, someone to select the shots, a projector, a screen, and all the personnel it takes to achieve this. All these things cost money, and most orchestras are just trying to break even on a concert. To raise money to support these ideas, manpower and time is needed – and they cost money too. It should be mentioned, however, that many orchestras do actually have screens during performances. And you’ll find that, almost without exception, some of the audience like it and some of them hate it. Promoters wrestle with this.

    “offering more contents to download before and during a performance?”

    Many do offer a huge amount of info to download. As for downloading something ‘during a performance’, see above.

    “As creative artists we should be at the forefront of using technology creatively.”

    That’s true of many artists, but again you don’t make any suggestions about who might pay for it.

    10. Every program should contain a contemporary piece

    I have to assume you know how much it costs to perform contemporary music: the commissioning itself (if appropriate), extra rehearsal, usually extra players and hiring of extra instruments (especially percussion), the expensive music hire costs and royalty collection. Although it should be noted that many, many orchestras around the world do exactly what you suggest and programme “the great works of the past alongside the music of our own time”, so at the very least your suggestion is rather redundant. And, hard as it is for you to accept this, some audiences are very happy to listen to the old pieces, sometimes without contemporary works – and anyway, intelligent programming doesn’t mean box-ticking.

    It’s good and healthy to have a debate about concert performance and audiences. But debate needs facts to support argument, and propagating myths and misconceptions doesn’t help the classical music industry; indeed, I think it damages it. The idea that classical music concerts need to appeal to the young or they die is preposterous; audiences, by their very nature, regenerate. The evidence is there, you just have to look for it.
    But there’s another serious point I’d like to make. If you’d like to do the things you suggest, why not just go ahead and do them? Because there is room for everything. Concert-going doesn’t have to change to survive because it’s surviving perfectly well thank you. There are millions of people all over the world that enjoy concerts in the ‘traditional’ way; I’m sure there are many who would enjoy them the way you suggest above, but it doesn’t have to be the only way. Be radical, be creative, be different – but do so, please, without criticising the traditional concert because all evidence suggests that millions of concert-goers (young and old) also enjoy it the way it is (and also other ways too!).
    Finally, I’d like to draw your attention to an LSO concert from last week: 251 students came to the Barbican to see Pappano conduct music by Ravel, Bartok and Tchaikovsky in a regular season evening concert. They had signed up via the Student Pulse app which makes tickets available especially for them for £7. No screens, no tweeting, no radical technology, no presentation from the stage – just the music, played by world-class performers. The students sat, quietly, for 2 hours simply absorbing the music and they loved it; indeed, one of the players said the atmosphere in the hall was very special thanks to their presence. I don’t suppose this will ever be mentioned in the press (it doesn’t fit with their view of young people or classical concerts) but that’s a shame because it demonstrates that we don’t have to patronise young people with gadgets and gizmos in order to engage them in great art.

    Tommy Pearson

    • J. says:

      Fantastic remark. Thanks, Mr. Pearson.

    • Nick says:

      Some excellent points, and I agree a debate is healthy – provided those taking part have open minds at least to a certain degree.

      But I do have to take some issue with some points. First: “Concert-going doesn’t have to change to survive because it’s surviving perfectly well thank you. There are millions of people all over the world that enjoy concerts in the ‘traditional’ way.”

      You are of course correct in that millions do enjoy traditional concerts presented in the traditional way. But then the world is a big place, and as has been argued in many blogs/columns/articles/music conferences/books etc., in certain parts of the world some orchestras are slowly but surely dying. Funds are drying up in much of North America and Europe. In such a labour-intestive business, the traditional model for many orchestras just won’t last. There are simply far too many leisure-based alternatives nowadays, some of which can provide a superb concert experience in one’s own home. Too many people just do not wish to be part of the ‘live’ concert-going experience.

      We can see with our own eyes that the average age of audiences is going up. Some younger people do start going to concerts and some orchestras, as with the LSO, have schemes to introduce young listeners to the concert experience. That is certainly to be applauded and encouraged.

      I also do not agree that “audiences regenerate” – the inference being that this is an automatic process. That, I suggest, is indeed a “myth and preconception”. It was certainly true in the US for most of the last century where subscriptions were virtually passed down through the generations. But I believe it is no longer the case. Audiences will only regenerate through the hard work of those in whose interests it is to keep orchestras going.

      As for producing facts to support changes bringing in that new audience, that presupposes someone somewhere has the magic formula. The fact is no-one does. And it is hugely over-simplistic to suggest that “the idea that classical music concerts need to appeal to the young or they die is preposterous.” That notion in itself is – with respect – preposterous.

      Marginally less so is the notion that many continue to present – that the decline in classical music audiences and their ever-increasing age is directly a result of the lack of music education in schools. Increased funding for music education may help, but who really knows?

      Michael Enres has suggested looking at other parts of the world and specifically mentions certain Asian countries. Those models should certainly be analysed for it is one part of the world where the number of both concerts and concert-goers is increasing quite dramatically. It has to be noted, however, that formal musical education has played and continues to play little role in the development of these audiences. State and local authority help through the construction of concert halls (although many are privately funded) and support for some orchestras has certainly helped. But formal education? Not from my experience.

      I am sorry I do not agree with you that concert going does not need to change to survive. Look at the once powerful and hugely profitable classical recording industry. No-one – absolutely no-one – in DGG, Decca, EMI and the other major labels foresaw the sudden collapse of their industry over less than a decade. It remains a pale shadow of its former self. Few people need their physical products any more because there are so many other ways to obtain recordings of classical music. It is surely a lesson orchestras and all in the loosely named “classical music” business would do well to heed.

      • Michael Endres says:

        @ Nick: regarding music education in some Asian countries:

        Musical education in music is pretty strong in Japan : http://blogs.longwood.edu/musicintheworld/2012/03/07/culture-represented-by-music-education-2


        China ‘s situation is assessed here :

        ( Some more info about Japan in general :
        http://www.fanfaire.com/japan/japanmusicmain.html )

        • Nick says:

          Thank you for those links re music education. I have read through them. Have you, I wonder? I ask because with the exception of the last one, all relate to the teaching of each country’s traditional music – not to western classical music. And the subject of this discussion – as well as what I assumed were the points in your earlier post on which I commented – refer to western classical music.

          You are indeed correct. The audience for classical music is expanding rapidly in several Asian countries, although not now in Japan you may be interested to note. I worked there for some years, as I have in other countries in Asia. Japanese promoters will tell you that classical audiences are now ageing and diminishing compared to 20-30 years ago. That is certainly my experience in comparing audiences there over a 25 year period.

          Even though the links refer to traditional music, they still tend to bear out my comments. For example, here is how the authors sum up the situation in China where, let’s remember, the Cultural Revolution destroyed the education system. It has therefore had to be rebuilt since approximately 1980.

          “China has a huge school-based music education system, more than 200,000 music teachers provide music education to more than 219,941,100 students in universities, middle schools and primary schools, 388 colleges and universities provide teacher training. However, concerning the multiple music culture, Chinese music education is not satisfying. According to investigations, many students do not know their own music culture but keen on pop music. Many traditional musics have disappeared or are on the way disappearing among the young generation.”

          Having visited China several dozen times, I can tell you that a good portion of those teachers spend most of their time at the specialised music schools and conservatories and giving private study in a relatively small number of larger cities throughout the country. There is hardly any teaching of western classical music throughout the Chinese primary and secondary school system. That is fact.

          We might also note the Report later states –

          “The obstacle lying ahead is that Government and educators are not fully aware the important role music education is playing in the inheritance of traditional music culture and that school-based education system is the main channel for cultural inheritance. As a result, many local musics and songs have been dying in resent decades although Mainland China have accomplished programs to preserve them.”

          Any form of education in traditional Chinese music has virtually no bearing on future audiences for the totally different concept of western classical concerts. Audiences for western classical music in Japan, China, Korea are certainly not attending concerts as a result of the education system. There are other factors at play which account for its popularity.

          • Michael Endres says:

            The Japan link is focusing on more generalised music education but it also points to the Suzuki method , which provides musical training from a very early age on.
            Early music training often does not necessarily have to focus on classical music but on rhythmical exercises and a more playful way to interact .
            That’s the approach I have seen at some very successful schools , e.g. the one I am currently working ( at College level ) , Barratt Due in Oslo, who is renowned for its integrated approach from preschool to College and the excellent results speak for themselves .

            The Korean link shows how much music is actually taught in schools, it mentions the remarkable amount of music tuition in schools ,e.g. 3 lessons each 45 minutes per week in Grades 1 to 6 ( !! ) .Of course the teaching isn’t exclusively for Western classical music , but I believe the reason for the popularity of Western classical music lies in this substantial exposure to music during school years .

            The Chinese report is mainly analysing the disappearance of Traditional Chinese music in music education , but it also mentions the fact that in 2005 53 % of middle school students like Western symphonic or vocal classical works ( !! ) and only 26 % traditional Chinese music.
            Your comments about China do not quite reflect my experiences, I have been there a number of times there ( e.g. masterclasses at Shanghai Conservatory ) and had the chance to find out a lot about their way of organising music education.
            One of many reports that confirm what I have seen : http://melaniespanswick.com/2013/03/22/music-education-in-hong-kong-what-the-uk-needs-to-know/

            And last not least : Schools may not the main catalysts , but there is always ”the Chinese mother ”, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754
            and that might explain a helluvalot ….:)

      • Tommy says:

        Dear Nick, thank you for taking the time to give my thoughts serious consideration. If I may, I’d like to reply to a few of your points:

        “Funds are drying up in much of North America and Europe. In such a labour-intestive business, the traditional model for many orchestras just won’t last. There are simply far too many leisure-based alternatives nowadays, some of which can provide a superb concert experience in one’s own home. Too many people just do not wish to be part of the ‘live’ concert-going experience.”
        That’s true, to a degree. But there are a myriad of reasons why orchestras might close and it often doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with audience numbers or expectations. In strapped economic times it is to be expected that organisations fold (not just in the arts, of course). But it is wrong to suggest, as others have, that it is serious enough for EVERYONE to change tact in the presentation of their concerts. And the idea that by simply patronising young people with gimmicks we will somehow save the classical music industry is really quite silly.

        “We can see with our own eyes that the average age of audiences is going up.”
        I don’t. But maybe I go to different concerts to you. Anecdotal evidence does not prove anything. And anyway, what’s wrong with older audiences? UK concert halls are enjoying particularly healthy numbers at classical concerts at the moment, does it matter who is sitting in the seats?

        “I also do not agree that “audiences regenerate” – the inference being that this is an automatic process. That, I suggest, is indeed a “myth and preconception”.”
        Forgive me, but if concert halls are full or near-full and millions of people are continuing to buy tickets to traditional classical music concerts, how can it be a myth and a preconception? Just as many people are going to concerts now (at least, here in the UK) as they were 30 years ago. This suggests to me that audiences do naturally regenerate. Also consider that the vast majority of people here go only to 2-3 concerts per year. Since many orchestras can boast of 85% houses across a season, I’d say that’s an awful lot of people going to traditional classical music concerts.

        “And it is hugely over-simplistic to suggest that “the idea that classical music concerts need to appeal to the young or they die is preposterous.”
        Is it? Surely the proof is in the pudding? Classical music concerts haven’t died, despite desperate attempts by certain parts of the self-serving media to kill them. They haven’t died, because many people, young and old, still want to go to them.

        “…the decline in classical music audiences and their ever-increasing age is directly a result of the lack of music education in schools.”
        Would you be able to present some proof that there is a decline in classical music audiences? And that their age is ‘ever-increasing’? This is either general anecdotal presumption or very specific to an organisation that you are familiar with.
        On a separate note, music education in schools is a disgrace and educational establishments and politicians should be ashamed of themselves. America has always been a disaster for this; the UK caught up fast. I have no experience of anyone else’s education system, so can’t comment on them.

        “I am sorry I do not agree with you that concert going does not need to change to survive. Look at the once powerful and hugely profitable classical recording industry.”
        There has never been a solid connection between concert-going and record buying. The vast majority of people who go to concerts do not buy CDs and vice-versa (there have been a number of studies on this). The record industry relies entirely on sales; orchestral concerts, on the whole, do not (whether from state or private support). So the comparison is redundant. And anyway, people may have stopped buying records but, as has already been mentioned, they have NOT stopped going to concerts and they show no sign of stopping any time soon.

        Of course our cultural landscape has changed enormously. There aren’t as many orchestras. But we have to get away from this idea that no-one wants to go to a traditional concert when all the actual evidence suggests otherwise. And we have to stop patronising the young by suggesting that the only way they’ll be interested in concerts is if we feed them technology and distractions. When I was 15, if someone had suggested this to me I would have been deeply offended by the presumption that I wasn’t intelligent enough to take high art seriously.


        • Nick says:

          Tommy, I’m only going to come back to you on your response to my point re the classical music recording companies. I absolutely do not believe you can disregard the collapse of that industry – not because people who buy CDs do not go to concerts (which I just do not believe, with respect) but because it is an indication of what happens when a part of the leisure industry takes itself too much for granted and stubbornly refuses to change!

          How could it have changed? By recognising that their obscene profits and similarly obscene contracts with conductors, orchestras and star soloists depended upon a market that would not change – that the public would continue to buy CDs at super-inflated prices and with well-known artists. They totally failed to accept there is a huge public actually quite interested in classical music who did not care whether the soloist was Kyung Wha Chung or Sarah Chang or the conductor was a Karajan or an Abbado. Enter Naxos with no names, simple packaging but splendidly recorded digital CDs at less than a third of the price. The majors could easily have re-released their monstrously large back catalogues in digitally remastered versions to compete with lower priced product, but failed to do so until it was too late. So with the foresight absent in the majors, Naxos found a totally new, untapped and huge market.

          You suggest orchestras do not depend on sales because they get donations and grants etc. Nothing could be further from the truth! Income from ticket sales is vital to almost every orchestra on the planet. Check as many orchestra budgets as you can find and then see the percentage of income derived from sales. Take that away and almost all orchestras go spectacularly bankrupt – period!

          The analogy between orchestras and recording companies clearly has a lot of holes in it. But the moral is quite simple. Unless orchestras find new audiences that are prepared to pay their ever higher prices for their mainstay subscription-type concerts, the ageing of the audience and the downward spiral in box office revenue will continue. Orchestras have to find ways and means to appeal both to existing audiences and to younger and newer ones. To sit back with the view that I like things as they are and that’s that is, I fear, in this day and age a recipe for decline.

          • Tommy says:

            “You suggest orchestras do not depend on sales because they get donations and grants etc.”
            No I don’t. I suggest that they are not always ENTIRELY dependent on sales.

            “Orchestras have to find ways and means to appeal both to existing audiences and to younger and newer ones.”

            The fact that audiences are healthier than ever in many countries suggests that your (and others) assertion is wrong. Unless, of course, you are only thinking of certain American orchestras. It’s worth mentioning, of course, that many orchestras DO think of new ways to appeal to audiences, but it might not be the way you imagine (or demand) it.

            Please do not be under the impression that America is the whole world. It’s not helpful.

            We shall just have to agree to disagree about the record industry. Remember, the whole recording industry has broadly collapsed, but millions of people still go to pop gigs. The opposite to what you suggest has actually happened: as the record industry struggles, live music blossoms. Indeed, that’s where most acts (including orchestras, when touring) make good money these days.
            You just have to look at the figures.

    • 5566hh says:

      Some really good points there, Tommy Pearson.

  • David Hutchings says:

    You are using Mahler 8 in defense of tuning offstage??!! It has more performers than nearly every other piece you’ll hear in the concert hall. Find them all a spot to tune up backstage before all making their ways from various backstage chambers… Staging the 8th is already a logistical nightmare.

    Then take into account the organ. In some venues these really change their tuning depending on the temperature and humidity. You simply need to tune in the hall.

  • David Borsvold says:

    There’s absolutely no reason why orchestras cannot do the onstage component of their warmup much more quietly and with more restraint. If the brass players need to practice Wagner excerpts they should do that in dressing rooms. Also, the concertmaster could simply be onstage and stand to tune, which would remove another time-consuming convention.
    Sure, musicians can be made available in post-concert reception settings, voluntarily. Free food and drink would ensure that some of them appear!!
    Also a casual concert series can incorporate some of these ideas, but you cannot program Schubert’s Ninth or Ein Deutsches Requiem in such a setting.
    Orchestras are already shooting themselves in the foot by offering too much pops programming, Catering to shrinking attention spans shrinks them further. To put it another way, I enjoy a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, certainly, but will finer food disappear from the menu because it’s too stuffy and part of the past?

  • SVM says:

    Like many commentators, I also find myself disagreeing with most of what Brönniman proposes. I am not going to repeat what has already been very eloquently expressed by others, but I beg leave to offer my observations on the 10 clauses from a *personal* perspective as a musician and audience-member:

    1. DISAGREE — applause between movements ruins the atmosphere for me: I am open to experimentation such as interpolating other pieces between movements, but applause undermines my capacity to become immersed in the music.

    2. DISAGREE — I do not think orchestral musicians would appreciate going back to Henry Wood’s method: each player tuning one-by-one in the presence of the conductor backstage (a process that is rather time-consuming). Atmospheric/acoustic conditions and co-ordination with keyboard instruments are also significant issues, as discussed by other commentators.

    3. DISAGREE — The light and fidgeting are an unacceptable distraction to other audience-members; allowing a recording free-for-all will be unhealthy for spontaneous risk-taking on stage, and raises major copyright issues. Copyright law is highly protective of performers and composers for very good reasons: whether or not the promotional benefit of free recordings outweighs the loss in CD contracts/sales, the point is that the terms of the dissemination and licensing of intellectual property are the the prerogative of the rightsholder(s), not any old internet pundit who thinks they know better despite not offering any evidence to support their claims. Buying a ticket does not entitle you to record the event, as the terms and conditions of the venue and the ticket make clear.

    4. MAYBE a good idea, although I am not sure that I would want every concert to be that way (having said that, I am a massive fan of the LSO’s initiative some years back to prepend programmes with a new commission).

    5. DISAGREE — I do not think it acceptable for me to have to spend the second half of a concert watching my feet for fear of knocking over someone else’s drink. I also second the points made by other commentators about safety and noise.

    6. DISAGREE about a backstage free-for-all. Performing is tiring work, and performers should have the option to wind down in peace after the performance, if that is what they want. This is especially pertinent to orchestral musicians, who may have a demanding schedule ahead, and may have a long journey to get back home/to the hotel before an early start the next day (not that conductors would know, since they, unlike the rank-and-file players, turn left on boarding the plane!).

    7. DISAGREE — I think formal attire gives a greater sense of occasion to the event, which is something I value, especially if I have paid a lot of money for my ticket and/or travelled a long distance to attend the concert. On a practical note, if players were to dress down, the variability of attire would be distracting.

    8. DISAGREE — I know that we were all screaming toddlers at one point, but I strongly feel that there should be places where we can be free of the distractions of very small children. A concert is one such place.

    9. MAYBE, but not a priority (cf. issues of money), and, where done, needs to be done well.

    10. As a composer, I like the intent, but I feel very uncomfortable with any sort of quota system.

  • He cites airlines as a model for dealing with people? The airlines that turn the plane around and throw you off the plane if they don’t like a comment you’ve made?

    Some of the ideas are fine, but are tails really a deal-killer for people? It’s part of the event, it’s fun to see, it’s like going to a play where people have put on period costumes.

  • Nick says:

    Re Michael Endres last post on Oct. 19 @ 8:40, I do agree that early exposure to the basics of any type of music-making is useful. But I am not at all convinced that a simple understanding of the elements of traditional Japanese, Korean and Chinese music with their very different rhythms, harmonies and tonality goes very far in any form of underpinning of an appreciation of western classical music. And after many years experience in Asia, I cannot agree that this in any way accounts for the substantial and increasing interest in classical music in those countries.

    Re China, the specialised conservatories are run pretty much on western lines and inevitably attract the better music students. The school system country-wide is a totally different kettle of fish, though. To suggest that these students have come through an educational system that generally provides even a very simple grounding in western classical music is, I have to say, just plain untrue.

    But I believe you hit the nail on the head in your past paragraph – the Chinese mother, or the east Asian determination for education for their kids that will provide them with a better life. As war ravaged Asia started to prosper, so did middle-class values, many imported from the west. One was the view that playing instruments and concert-going was something to be aspired to. The influence of Asian mothers in this regard can in no way be underplayed. It is far less the influence of formal musical education in schools that drives the rise in classical concerts and far more the mothers who find the money to enable their children take private music lessons.

    A year ago, the BBC reported that around 40 million children are learning piano in China. China is both the world’s largest producer and consumer of pianos accounting for 76.9% of the market in 2012. The same is true of violins and guitars. In addition to parental encouragement, learning music is now seen by the new middle class as a key to a better place in society.


    This in a country where less than 50 years ago the Red Guards denounced the piano as a symbol of bourgeois decadence and had the vast majority destroyed! As Lorin Maazel said a dozen years ago from the stage of Carnegie Hall where the two top prize winners of his International Conducting Competition learned their music in China and Thailand, and 3 or the other 4 winners were also from Asia, “Tonight you have witnessed the future of classical music.”

  • Anonymus says:

    1. The audience should feel free to applaud between movements

    -maybe, but only if the audience also can feel free to smack these idiots in the face right away, who interrupt the solemn silence at the end of a Mahler 9 or a Brahms Requiem with their trivial shouting and clapping while the music is still resonating in the hall.

    2. Orchestras should tune backstage

    -nonsense and not really relevant.

    3. We should be able to use mobile phones (in silent mode)

    -why? for what? How is this going to improve the concert experience?

    4. Programs should be less predictable

    -good idea, but coordinating 80+ people and performing complex music requires planning an preparation.

    5. You should be able to take your drinks inside the hall

    -sure, and I expect when I turn back to the bar and shout “one more Hefeweizen” that they fill my order in due time. Also it might be a good idea to see people literally vomiting, since that will teach the modern music composers a lesson!

    6. The artists should engage with the audience

    -you mean like actually go out and play for them? 😉 But I agree, depending on the repertoire it could be wise to say a few words to the many uninitiated in the audience.

    7. Orchestras shouldn’t play in tail suits

    -this is such an superficial thing, not really important. I like the tail suites (white tie dress code) since it shows the effort to give exclusivity and present high quality. But it should feel comfortable and appropriate for the musicians.

    8. Concerts should be more family friendly

    -requires definition, what is not family friendly right now?

    9. Concert halls should use more cutting-edge technology

    -pfffft,I smell hot air. Concert halls already use a lot of cutting edge technology, just not so “in the face” visibly. The real smart use of modern technology is when it is not apparent in-between the music and the listener, but helping the experience subtly…

    10. Every program should contain a contemporary piece

    -NO! But more courage for programming is indeed indicated. But no quotas please. Next thing someone asks for the programs to have compulsory 50% women composers… I hope I die the day before the idiots take over everywhere, but I hope I live long enough to see the bookkeepers losing their dictatorial rule over the concert programming.

  • Nick says:

    Replying to @Tommy’s comments on Oct 20 @ 9:44am –

    “We shall just have to agree to disagree about the record industry. Remember, the whole recording industry has broadly collapsed, but millions of people still go to pop gigs. The opposite to what you suggest has actually happened: as the record industry struggles, live music blossoms. Indeed, that’s where most acts (including orchestras, when touring) make good money these days. You just have to look at the figures.”

    I have never brought the pop music industry into my posts. That entire industry operates on a model so hugely different from classical music that they are worlds apart. Thanks mostly to Naxos, the model of the classical recording industry has undergone a seismic shift, one that embraces new technology and reaches a massive new audience that the majors never bothered about, let alone realised existed. Yet that is just not translating into increased audiences at live concerts.

    I do not confine my observations merely to America. In fact I have a more detailed knowledge of orchestras in Europe and some other parts of the world, including Asia, than the US. I would be absolutely delighted to learn that audiences, generally speaking, are not declining, are not ageing and that a new younger group of ticket buyers is increasing total attendances. You suggest that this is the case. Well, I strongly suggest you attend some of the many orchestral management and other conferences around the world, because the views expressed at those I have attended have generally not supported your theories.

    Let’s take another totally different funding situation like Germany, for example, with its 133 symphony and chamber orchestras and a great deal of funding from the public purse. Statistics produced by the Deutsches Musikinformationszentrum in 2011 showed that the number of musicians employed in professional orchestras decreased by 18.4% from 1992 to 2010. And worse is to come with continuing National and State budget cutbacks. The Report highlights “the structurally ineradicable fact that human resources costs make up roughly 85 to 90 percent of budgets in theatres and orchestras . . . cushioning just one per-cent of linear annual growth in labour costs calls for a sustained annual growth in box-office returns of around five percent . . . Countermeasures and a change of approach are required if long-term damage to Germany’s cultural legacy is to be avoided.”

    And yet many observers consider the state of orchestras and their audiences to be perfectly acceptable as they presently stand!