Radiohead star: Live classics are just so stiff

Radiohead star: Live classics are just so stiff


norman lebrecht

October 12, 2014

Jonny Greenwood, the Radiohead guitarist, is concerned about classical concerts.

He observes:

– ‘I think there’s something quite off-putting when you turn up and are given a seat number. It’s all quite formal.’

– It’s a little dispiriting to find how rigidly programmes are set. It’s very peculiar that usually orchestras know exactly what they are going to play two years ahead of time and it’s all booked, programmes are printed.’

– ‘In one of Mozart’s early letters, he’s boasting about one of his concerts to his father and is saying, ‘It’s amazing, the audience heard the first few bars and they liked the idea so they started clapping’, and it had that kind of excitement about it, which has kind of been squeezed out by the reverence and silence with which most classical concerts are done in now…. ‘And those 10 seconds of silence after every classical piece is played on the radio for it to sink in. It’s a bit peculiar.’


Can’t fault him, really.

He’s attempting a classical gig in Manchester next Friday.


  • Pirkko says:

    Of course Mozart’s audience started clapping because they were listening to the pop music of their time. When the audience is hearing Greenwood’s orchestra pieces, does he want them to disturb the music by clapping hands?

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Yep, it’s all booked and set… Not that a Mahler symphony would be more complex than his pop tunes…

  • Daphne Badger says:

    I much prefer to be given seat numbers at rock concerts too. Why should the way my body is positioned affect how my heart and brain responds to the music?

  • Max Grimm says:

    Frankly, I don’t see his point.
    First off, I would think that most pop artists plan their tours and concerts months if not years in advance as well.
    As for assigning seats, I have been to pop concerts and for the most part, I remember always being assigned a seat or at least a general location or block for most all concerts I can remember attending.
    Personally, I rather enjoy going to a classical concert, knowing I won’t have to queue for ages, fight for a good spot, find myself at the center of a mosh-pit or endure the screams of men and women going bonkers over say orchestra members shaking their breasts or showing off a six-pack.

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Off putting to be given a seat number?

    First thing that comes to my mind: Better to be thought a fool, Mr. Radio Head, than to open your mouth and prove it.

  • Augustine Rodriguez says:

    Am I supposed to know who Jonny Greenwood, the Radiohead guitarist, is?

    And..why does his opinion on classical music concerts take up space here?

    • Pirkko says:

      Yes you are. Greenwood is a rock musician but he was also the composer-in-residence for the BBC Concert Orchestra, and has curated art music events.

      • Neil McGowan says:

        I suppose the real composers were all busy….

        • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

          Not nice! He is not only a fine musician but a very good composer as well. And Radiohead have been at the forefront of Indie rock & pop for many years. You may not agree with what Greenwood says, but you don’t need to knock his skill as a musician. I don’t agree with some of what he says in the quote at the head of the page, but I have total respect for him as a musician and composer.


    Haven’t we heard this sort of thing before. Perhaps Jonny Greenwood has been having a few lunches or dinners with Max Hole, the man who Universal Music has put in to try to revolutionise classical music. The only problem is, one you are a senior executive and you don’t have a clue about classical music, nor its core audience, you inevitably will say and make ill informed, populist decisions, which unfortunately do more harm than good. Nowadays, Universal Classics management only knows, and repeats ad nauseum, simplistic sorts of comments that classical concerts should be more like pop concerts, that people should be able to stand up in the middle of the concert and clap, that the orchestra should only play the “good and popular bits” of the piece, etc., etc., etc. It is really pathetic and now we hear Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood espousing the same simplistic nonsense. Sadly, this “nonsense” is what is pushing Universal Classics into the abyss and has cost them the loyalty and support of their once loyal core classical consumer base.

  • newyorker says:

    I absolutely see his point. The crowd that reads this blog likely won’t get it unless they also go to rock shows.

    This whole programming-years-inadvance actually has a real downside in the classical industry. The orchestras in New York, including the visiting one from Europe, constantly duplicate one another in repertoire. Within two weeks the Berlin and NY Philharmonics have played the Firebird here (we know which one was better).

    Orchestras should stay more flexible and dynamic – letting conductors respond to the atmosphere in concert life by choosing programs somewhat closer to the concert time. If they want to encourage attendance by younger audiences, they should make the seating more democratic and allow general admission within certain sections. (Of course, this may cut into the bottom line if you are depending on expensive seats to pay the bills… but it discourages the experimental audience they want.)

    Of course, they won’t. They talk a lot about change – but I was at a concert today vigilant ushers were policing audience members who took cell-phone pics during the bows — DURING THE BOWS!? — so I really don’t think they get it.

    • Nick says:

      I, too, see his point and believe it should be taken on board with less levity than some posters are displaying. Surely it is a good thing that any pop musician not only knows about music practice during Mozart’s time but also is prepared to speak about it. Greenwood has clearly been to a classical concert. How many die-hard classical music lovers have ever been near a big-scale pop concert, I wonder?

      But then I also know what it is like to be running an orchestra within a pretty rigid, defined structure plus many additional constraints and financial pressures. That structure has evolved over time and is geared towards setting as much in stone as early as possible. Sadly in these days of strict Union requirements, endlessly peripatetic conductors and soloists and the need to generate as much advance revenue as possible, there is nowadays little room for flexibility.

      Yet with so many bemoaning the upcoming death of classical music in some parts of the word precisely because existing audiences are a dying breed and new audiences are not filling their seats, surely all partners involved in presenting orchestra concerts should be talking and working together to review and explore how greater flexibility can be achieved if it is going to broaden orchestral music’s appeal?

      And no, by flexibility I don’t mean new audiences bursting into applause whenever they wish!

  • Olaugh Turchev says:

    Next he’ll surmise that it’s boring to follow the score and that the orchestra should go on an improvisation tangent in Mahler 8th Veni Creator… He should take his own Karma Police advice: “This is what you’ll get when you mess with us!”

  • Three to four years between albums and he’s complaining things take too long in classical music?

  • Neil McGowan says:

    Rehearse? No, let’s just improvise The Firebird!!

    A-one! A-two! A-one-two-three-four…

  • Anne says:

    An orchestra can be anything between 20 and 140, maybe with a choir. Might give him a clue why a little planning and organisation is needed.

    I’ve been through the rock phase, briefly. I didn’t find the concerts particularly spontaneous and the very rare quieter bits were not well served by the audiences or the venues.

    Heard all this before. Some of us, including a significant number of people in the Far East, are still able to sit still and listen for more than ten minutes at a time.

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    For all the flaws in his argument, Greenwood makes a point. Classical orchestral concerts are – generally speaking – stiff, reverential affairs which hark back to the Victorian values of self-conscious moral high-mindedness.

    Sitting in a stuffy hall full of snobs waiting for a bunch of hard-done-by orchestral players dressed as 19th century butlers coming on to play Beethoven’s 5th/Dvorak’s 9th/Tchaikovsky’s 6th etc. for the billionth time does not do it for me I’m afraid.

    You have to go back to Handel’s time to see how much more fun concerts could be; people would listen and react to the music. At Vauxhall Gardens audience members would relax, have a bite to eat or a drink and even get up and dance if the mood took them BUT they always listened – and reacted – to the music being performed. As such, the audience became PART of the performance; not disengaged observers.

    Now, while it may not be exactly practical to get up and boogie en masse to the scherzo of Brahms’ 4th Symphony when it’s played for the trillionth time at the Festival Hall (although I would like to see it tried!) there is a case I think to change attitudes at classical concerts which, for the most part, remain the musical equivalent of Miss Haversham from Great Expectations.

    • Anne says:

      A few years ago, before The Lion King took over the Lyceum theatre in Wellington Street in London, I was making my way from Waterloo to the stiff, reverential, snobby hell-hole in the form of the Royal Opera House. I must have been in a hurry to dispose of a serious amount of unwanted cash since it was clearly going to be an awful evening – all those 19th century butlers and stuff.

      As I passed the Lyceum, the queue for the evening’s pop/rock concert extended all the way down to The Strand because the doors hadn’t been opened. I was struck by the uniformity of the crowd – one age group, blue denim from head to foot almost without exception. They didn’t look particularly happy, let alone excited about their evening’s entertainment. Perhaps it had been organised with such spontaneity that nobody knew what was in store.

      Conformity comes in many shapes and sizes, Mr Kenchington.

    • John says:

      One of the more judgmental posts I’ve seen in quite a while. Just speaking for myself, wanting to be able to hear and concentrate on what I’m hearing has nothing to do with being stiff, reverential and hearkening back to Victorian values of moral high-mindedness. I just want to hear what I paid money to come and hear. The only moral-high-mindedness I see around me right now is in Mr. Kenchington’s comments. Unlike Mr. Kenchington, I wasn’t around to hear Handel in Vauxhall Gardens, so I’ll have to take his word for it that they were much to his liking. There is so much more I’d like to comment on in his silly remarks, but I really have much better things to do.

  • Joshaw says:

    Another of those “Mozart said …” arguments.

    Did he really endure interruptions throughout Don Giovanni and Così fan tutte?

    • Anne says:

      Joshaw: Perhaps he did, although I suspect that performances differed, just as they do today.

      IMO, it’s a little like the original instruments debate – not so much what Mozart had to endure, as what he would have preferred given the choice.

  • Will Duffay says:

    ‘And those 10 seconds of silence after every classical piece is played on the radio for it to sink in. It’s a bit peculiar.’

    I really don’t know why he thinks it’s peculiar. I guess it’s because classical music is listened to in a completely different way to pop/rock music. It requires concentration, and it has an emotional effect which is different to that of pop/rock music. You only have to hear the gibbering goons on Classic FM launching straight into “And that was the first movement of Brahms’s wonderful violin concerto. We’ll be back after the break with more great classics” which morphs straight into an over-loud advert for insurance or something, to realise that Radio 3 has it absolutely right: the silence before and after a piece on the radio and in the concert hall frame the piece and give it context. And, of course, provide a moment for reflection or to allow the emotions to persist and subside. To talk immediately is to deny the emotional impact of a piece.

    As for lively, fun concerts: well, do we want to be able to hear a piece and concentrate on it, or don’t we? The two – audience noise, and concentration on the music – are not compatible. And without concentration it is not possible to appreciate the music effectively. Audience noise means a bad and pointlessly shallow concert.

  • SVM says:

    I agree with Will Duffay. I go to concerts to be able to concentrate on the music, not make a lot of wild noise. To speak frankly, I find the excessive informality of pop concerts offputting. There is no such thing as ‘one size fits all’, but you do not hear of classical connoisseurs campaigning virulently for pop concerts to settle down and assign seat numbers, do you? I beg Mr Greenwood to have a little respect for our traditions, even if they are not his ‘cup of tea’.

  • Will Duffay says:

    When I used to go to Ronnie Scotts jazz club, he would be quite short with anybody who interrupted the music and disturbed the atmosphere. So it’s not just classical music.

    The other point is that pop/rock operates in succession of short lumps – their songs are perhaps 5 minutes each – and they are often at a pretty high volume (and when they’re not, the audience is expected to be quiet). If you yell with excitement during a particularly fine passage in the development section of a Mozart sonata form movement, you’re interrupting a chunk of music which is not only longer, but which needs to be heard in its entirety to make good musical sense.

    Ah well – this is all about making a point against what Robert Kenchington above describes as ‘snobs’. Let’s not pretend this is about the music.

  • Emil Chudnovsky says:

    I’m curious what it would take to have the Kenchingtons and Greenwoods and other assorted “reformers” finally realize that changing the very nature of classical music – its technical, structural and emotional complexity, its nuanced self that aspires to rise above normal human experience – is not a recipe for saving classical music. It’s a recipe for turning it into a pallid, pathetic copy of external aspects of pop music, without even any of pop’s redeeming qualities: volume, danceability, and brevity.

    Haven’t they heard (and recognized the dribbling imbecility of) the notion of “destroying this village in order to save it”?

  • elizabeth owen says:

    At least with a booked seat I don’t get some silly fat cow sitting on her boyfriends shoulders so that she can see and I can’t….. selfish.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Jonny, you raise good points. Audiences have adopted to the manner which society has transcended through the generations the reaction element to listening to music in a live setting. It has become the norm to make the concert a formal event, and less ‘pop’ oriented. During Mozart’s time, concerts were entertainment, and the public reacted as such. During our times, concert going has become a fancy feast for the mind, the heart, the soul, so the way audiences react are based on the placement of concerts in their psyche, as it is in society terms. However, I witnessed exactly what you are talking about the other night, when I performed Keith Emerson’s Piano Concerto with a formal orchestra. Yes, Keith was there, and the audience was the most eclectic mix of society I had ever encountered in my thirty years of concertizing. You had the traditional symphony orchestra audience, since Mussorgsky’s “Pictures At An Exhibition” was on the program (in tribute to Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer), and you had young audience members who never heard of either, yet there was a 13 year old boy named Tyler who has already mastered several Emerson piano pieces, and then you had the groupies who attended ELP shows in Madison Square Garden and Montreal etc. They had not heard Keith’s music nor Keith in public for 35-40 years. Yes. As soon as the first measures of the Piano Concerto were heard, there was clapping and screaming. I never experienced that–and it was–great! My two cents would be to see orchestras starting to include works which fuse the traditional with other genres, to mix the audiences devoted to different styles of music. It is certainly one way to look ahead to new audiences.

  • Nick says:

    “Audiences have adopted to the manner which society has transcended through the generations the reaction element to listening to music in a live setting. It has become the norm to make the concert a formal event, and less ‘pop’ oriented.”

    I agree with much of what you write, but the fact is that as Robert Kenchington remarked earlier almost nothing has changed in the way concerts are presented over the last century. And that is the way most ‘active’ listeners now hear ‘classical music’ presented – as opposed to those listening only to CDs, radio, mp3 formats etc. Look then at the massive changes adopted by society as a whole during all that time. Is it any wonder that the performance of classical music as we know it is attracting older and older audiences (in most parts of the world), and one of the most frequent comments from potential younger audiences is “it’s not for us”?

    It’s the easiest thing in the world to say, “Stuff ’em! This is the way I like my music and change is not necessary.” Just as easy as it is to blame the present state of affairs solely on the lack of music education in schools. Well, the fact is that some degree of re-thinking and – yes – change is necessary to keep the art form we love alive and appealing through to the end of the century and more.

    It’s also easy to throw up hands in the air and scream this will involve breaking into applause and cheers at the wrong moments, chattering – etc. All the old arguments that are always thrown back in the face of those advocating even the merest hint of change. But change does not mean outright change. It can mean any number of things, but I believe it should start as a small change in the way a few concerts are planned and presented. The staple of the subscription concert and its audience is not going to disappear any time soon. So the die-hards need not worry. Some orchestras have already started experimenting with programme lengths, content and start times. I hope much more will be done – and many more orchestras will start to jump on the bandwagon. But it needs a serious dialogue – most importantly with musicians, their Unions, conductors and other key stake-holders. For it will certainly need a greater flexibility built in to musicians’ contracts in the future.

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      Excellent points, Nick. I should have added that many orchestras have recently added multi-media to their programs. Films are being shown with ‘live’ orchestra to accompany the aural/visual experience. It does indeed take decades for society to swing one way, and then adopt new tactics to make the experiences more audience accessible. We’re in that transition period now, I believe, although the traditional concert experience will probably outlive most of us.

      • Olaugh Turchev says:

        And while at it, do not forget peddling sodas, burgers and fries in adding the olfactory dimension to enhance the experience for a wider audience. With a bit of luck, and if the orchestra admin is really good, they’ll come for the hot dogs and get live music as a bonus!

        • Jeffrey Biegel says:

          Good one! Look, everyone is trying to figure out how to maintain and make new friends with audiences, so it is a period of time in our lives where music and marketing is experimenting. Technology is new, and reaching audiences via technology is also quite new and undeveloped. As long as everyone’s work ethic and positive tone prevails, in the end, beyond our lifetimes, music and performance will exist.

          • Anonymus says:

            Classical music doesn’t need any “bells and whistles” to be more attractive. It is very attractive the way it is. Maybe the audience needs a kick in their lazy butts and some education, read intelligence infusion in their brains, not more bullshit trivial entertainment paradigm.

            “reaching audiences via technology” is about 100 hundred years old, not exactly new.

            “adopt new tactics to make the experiences more audience accessible.”
            Sorry, but that’s just nonsense “Newspeak”. The experience *is* in the audience’s brain. You can’t make an experience accessible. Think about it for a moment…
            You can make music performance available, but not the experience…

            Once you have figured that out, you know what to do. Finding an audience that matches the requirements classical music has on the mental condition of it’s recipients. Music happens in the brain of the listener, nowhere else…
            If you have no sufficiently emotionally, spiritually and intellectually capable and hungry audience, you have no music.
            Better you give them then rap and soda, fries and popcorn on the side.

        • Anne says:

          Joking aside, it probably wouldn’t work anyway. The “wider audience” usually knows when it is being patronised.

      • Nick says:

        I have said before that I recall when Andre Previn took the LSO into BBC studios in the 1960s and had simple colour effects on large screens behind the orchestra. It was very effective for a television audience sitting at home. Perhaps more difficult to translate into a concert hall environment. But perhaps also something to experiment with in special non-subscription concerts.

        I have also advocated video screens to relay the front image of the conductor. This has been universally accepted for several decades in commercial video representations of concerts and I cannot understand why orchestras do not take this simple and inexpensive step. Surely how a conductor communicates to the musicians enhances the concert going experience? I remember the great American pianist Earl Wild describing to me the back view of a conductor he did not particularly admire as resembling “a cockroach”!

        • Anonymus says:

          Why the conductor is not shown on screens? Because it does not help experiencing the music a iota maybe?
          To play with your idea, you also would suggest in restaurants to show the chef at work on big screens in the restaurant? Or the pilots should be shown to the passengers of a plane on their screens? Why o why do you want to see the conductor at work when listening to the music he makes together with the orchestra?

          • Nick says:

            But there I totally disagree with you. I assume you must have your eyes closed during concerts. Otherwise, you are looking at a bunch of musicians split into various sections all looking at one man on the podium whose front – and therefore whose gestures and entire communication with his musicians – can only be seen by those in the audience seated behind the orchestra.

            I wonder what you are ‘looking’ for in the concert experience. Obviously the music and the way it is performed. But you can perfectly easily experience that with your eyes closed. Perhaps to read the programme notes. Yet in many concert venues I have attended over many years, the auditorium lights are either so dim or blacked out that reading anything is all but impossible.

            So since you listen with your ears, what can you possibly have against the front of the conductor being shown on video screens? How is that going to disturb your concert experience one “iota”? And are you not being more than somewhat selfish given that many others may indeed be interested in how the conductor communicates, the more so when, as I have already indicated, every single concert DVD I believe have ever seen spends many minutes concentrating precisely on that communication?

            By the way, your restaurant analogy is actually quite appropriate since more and more of the more recent restaurants I have been to in various parts of the world have open kitchens where diners can indeed see what the chefs are doing!

          • Anonymus says:

            @Nick, nice but futile try in reversing the argument. No, I want to listen to the music with my eyes open, my visual senses relaying the presence of the performers on stage “being there”, but not being distracted by light shows or bright flashing screens with zoomed in pictures. It would be violence to any sensitive music lover. Of course there are so many dumbed down people out there these days, their senses desensitized by overstimulation through various media, that their call for screens showing the conductors front and nose hair was just a matter of time…
            I would say if you find a big screen, showing the conductors front, in a classical concert an enriching experience, then you are not there for the music, and might actually want to do something you actually like.

    • Olaugh Turchev says:

      “My two cents would be to see orchestras starting to include works which fuse the traditional with other genres, to mix the audiences devoted to different styles of music. It is certainly one way to look ahead to new audiences.”

      Ask yourself how many rock concert goers would want to get their favorite show torpedoed by a classical act? None. So why are you so keen to inflict the opposite to classical concert goers?

      • Anne says:

        English National Opera performed some Wagner at the Glastonbury Festival a few years ago. I don’t know how successful it was or whether it stimulated any wider interest.

        Never been to Glastonbury but I get the impression it’s a rather strange beast anyway. As you say, I doubt if the audience at a regular (and possibly expensive) one-off concert would appreciate the intrusion. Deep Purple (or members of), and one or two other groups, have been dabbling in classical for years but again, I’m not sure whether it has made any difference.

        • Violachick says:

          My husband played for that, Anne. He said it was a truly amazing experience, both for the musicians and for the audience, which grew steadily to quite staggering proportions while they were playing. There was very clear engagement with the plot (despite no one having a synopsis to read, and – I’d guess – very few of them knowing the story), and many audience members were visibly shocked at Wotan’s punishment of Brunnhilde – not to mention surprised at themselves for standing through a great big chunk of Wagner. You can still see reports and pics of the day here:,,1248593,00.html

          I really have no idea why such a roaring success was never followed up by ENO or by Glastonbury. Presumably it was pretty expensive to transport everyone down there, and logistically complex to put on, but in terms of the argument strand we’re all commenting on, it was a peerless example of what can be achieved. It also challenges the point made by several people here that you need to have relative quiet to enjoy the performance, although of course an opera orchestra/chorus/soloists playing Valkyrie are going to make a lot more noise than a string quartet playing Mozart.

          • Anne says:

            Thanks for that. Unfortunately, I can’t get the link to work. I’ll try Googling it.

            With regard to touring, I seem to recall that there’s some Arts Council limitation on the ENO but I’m not familiar with the details.

            I assume it was amplified, which probably helped overcome any noise that was present.

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        Not rock–you misunderstand. Look how many years it has taken since Keith Emerson composed his concerto in 1977–to get seen and heard again–and played by a classical artist–and I’m not the only one. It takes decades for music to be accepted, and only now do people see it as a work inspired by other composer, Elgar, Ginastera, Copland, Stravinsky, Oscar Peterson etc. This is not dumbing down, it is an area of acceptance. And the smart part of the show, at least the one with Emerson, is fusing the Mussorgsky ‘Pictures’ into the program, since it was ELP that helped make it popular to their fans–who now enjoy the original version. When done right, it can work. But the tone must remain positive, thanks. I’m not sure how much is out there to make this happen, but it does work in the case of Emerson. Time will tell.

  • Anonymus says:

    Jeffrey mistakes commercialized entertainment for art. Basic mistake. Of course if you want to make money…

    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      Leaving now. Words are slanderous and inappropriate.

      • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

        Jeffrey Biegel, I don’t blame you for giving up with your thread here. Mr “Anonymous” seems very blinkered to the realities of the modern classical and rock/pop music world. Classical music has been commercialised for the last 60 years, and it is, and has always been, another form of entertainment – Art or (as it sadly often comes across as nowadays) not. Some of the commercial classical music scene is just as money, Promi, VIP and ego orientated as the rock & pop scene. To be so black and white about the merits or non merits of the “commercial” music scene and write it off as non “Art” is in my humble opinion just stupid, since it is plainly obvious that there are wonderfully artistically orientated and serious “commercial” musicians out there (with an enviously large audience!).

        In my middle age I am still happy to listen to Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, The Clash, The Stranglers, et al from my youthful years, and today I also am excited to explore the (sometimes to me) more interesting sides of the rock & pop scene with the likes of Radiohead, Coldplay, Blood Red Shoes, Damon Albarn, Sharah Worden, and many others who have a lot to offer and who are serious Artists in their own right. Their live concerts are certainly not like the majority of “classical” music concerts, but the fact that they have audiences who participate more freely (as the genre more often than not inspires them to) does not demean or undermine the quality of their contribution to our universal music scene, nor does it mean they are not creating Art or being creative Artists.

        I applaud rock musicians who try to extend their Art by trying to meld with other musical mediums, and I applaud classical musicians who try to do the same and break down conventional as well as musical barriers. At the same time I happily defend the rock musicians who, in their effort to extend their experience musically and artistically, criticise the classical music scene’s mores and formalities. Whether one agrees with them or not is in the end neither here nor there, and indeed it is useful to hear their views (right or wrong) in order to provoke discussion and debate amongst us professional classical musicians and music lovers alike. Most “commercial” rock & pop musicians I have had the privilege to meet (and sometimes work with) are often musically adventurous (and some are incredibly musically well-educated) when it comes to their interest in “classical” music, and I would hesitate to knock their values as musicians, or as artists.

        If you don’t like certain types or genres of music, or if it isn’t to your taste, then please feel free to say so. But please don’t write off the things you don’t like as just “crap”, don’t imply that hard working “commercial” ARTISTS (and the majority of them spend years trying to achieve their artistic goals) are not capable of creating music of Artistic worth, because I believe that they do and many of them are often much more interesting to my modern 61 year old ear than a lot of so-called Artists in the classical music scene.

        I am a professional singer, I have been in the business 40 years or more, and I grew up listening (courtesy of my father, my brothers and my friends & colleagues) to every sort of music available, from Perotin toGesualdo to Handel to Beethoven to Schubert to Wagner to Mahler to Varese to Stockhausen to Tippett to Birtwistle to Elvis Presley to The Beatles to the Troggs to Frank Sinatra to Deep Purple to the Modern Jazz Quartet to Prince to Coldplay to Rap & Hip-Hop, and so on and so on (not to forget all that Jazz and Indian music etc etc). I still believe the modern music scene, including the genre loosely called the “commercial music” scene, deserves to be respected, and many of the people involved in it are certainly creating Art in a meaningful and contemporary way. Mr Anonymous, please don’t become one of the stiff musical “snobs” (and I use the word loosely) that Jonny Greenwood (unfortunately so loosely 🙂 ) refers to. I don’t necessarily agree with all he says, but you are obviously giving him (and me) some sort of justification for his comments.

        Rant over 🙂

  • Ks. Christopher Robson says:

    ps. I think I could safely address my above rant to Mr Neil McGowan as well. Apologies to NL for taking up so much space on his blog, but I just HAD to say something 🙂

  • Christopher Stager says:

    Gosh, Jonny, how can I ever thank you! Why is everyone so QUIET after Mahler 9 and Das Lied and St. Matthew and Parsifal? Where’s their spontaneity!?!

    Yet another no-nothing pop artist, confusing the collective concentration of an audience absorbing affecting content with his need for the immediate gratification of audience feedback.

    Imagine the chaos at a Radiohead concert if no seats were assigned. Flooded with GA tickets so easy to counterfeit.

    I hope it all goes well on Friday. It would be a pity not to have more of his insight on why we’re all listening to Bach, Mozart and Beethoven in the wrong way.

    • Stephen Hall says:

      C. Stager, I think you mean “know-nothing.” It would appear that your literacy matches your musical knowledge.
      Personally, I have a great deal of respect for Jonny Greenwood, as I also have for Christopher Robson, a very fine singer indeed.

      • Anne says:

        Fine, but perhaps “personally” some people don’t.

        • Christopher Stager says:

          My no-nothing was a play on his negativity. (It’s not my literacy that’s the problem. It’s my punctuation. Quotes would have set it off. And maybe a comma after no?) I apologize if my musical literacy doesn’t extend to this fool. But I won’t apologize for those many of us who collectively, quietly, reverently absorb the greatest works in western civilization. It’s an ecstasy he simply doesn’t understand. Thus, he negates it. Well, back atcha Jonny-boy. I’ll have to live the rest of my miserable existence without knowing a note of your glorious music. Pray for my unenlightened soul. I’d do it myself, but there are more than 200 Bach cantatas and I’m only up to 56. So little time, folks. Gotta make it count.

  • Anonymus says:

    I still don’t get what Johnny’s problem actually is. He seems to lack understanding, that form – he criticizes only form – follows content or function, not the other way around.
    But nobody will stop him to stage concerts with classical music the way he likes. Except lack of audience interest of course… But proof me wrong Johnny!

  • El Grillo says:

    If I may,
    In “Mozart’s,” “Time” people didn’t have televisions, they didn’t have little card sized boxes they pumped around with them, poking at as if they are trying to imitate pigeons in the town square, which also wasn’t filled with honking cars, more the pigeon effect than the poking, in that it insults them.

    And people actually could have a conversation, read books, and get into the imagination there rather than turning a knob or pressing a button. You also didn’t have the sound bytes or bites you have now the baba-boom effect; and when Wolfgang said that people appreciated the first idea that’s what he meant, the first idea, that it was an idea, not an adrenaline rush to knock out the mind from thinking further, something people were able to do then, think, rather than waiting for the next baba-boom embellished by said celebrity to program them with what’s it, blinding virtuoso abilities or not, or beauty treatments, or scandals, or technical prowess.

    I think that’s what’s pointed out here, the idea is honored, rather than that there’s an expression of being frozen “given” by what resembles a bunch of mannequins waiting for the invigorating desire of being drawn into a romantic dream of what has said virtuoso’s cheesecake research lead to, and does this resemble their favorite bubble bath or other luxury, and how virtuoso is the display they engage with.

    There was one actress who played the wife of the man from Little Dorrit (Dickens’) who causes the same kind of crash we had in 2008, in economics, which isn’t eco-gnomics or dwarfics. She said she would read umpteen pages of the book and not know what she had read – which was supposed to be a comment on Dickens), and just keep turning pages. And then the guy writing the scenes (because he’s so good at scenes – had changed the whole geography of the plot. In Dickens book the “bad guy” is able to sneak right in, from a great distance from England (same-old same-old everywhere the same same-old), where everything is drying in the sun in Dickens maze of contrasts. Another contrast might be the most beautiful shadow in the fairy tale about shadows and princesses Little Dorrit tells to her friend Maggie, perhaps the shadow little Dorrit takes with her in the beyond, from an inheritance she lets go, or is it her father’s shadow who loses his inheritance from the economic melt down; as struggles and wars about money go. I just wonder how many people can actually still read Dickens (or Anne Bronte or many others) and……

    It’s not about leading people on with scenes or Baba-boom as to what’s going on economically.

    And this was already “after” “Mozart’s” “Time”

  • Robert Kenchington says:

    Why are they silly remarks? Until recently I’d been going to concerts both at home and abroad for 20 years and always found them to be stuffy, elitist affairs where many in the audience didn’t actually know who was even playing, let alone the music. They just went to say they had been most of the time. And as for listening in peace to the music, what hope is there at the likes of the Barbican or the Festival Hall? People shuffling their programme book, coughing (during the flute solo in Brahms’ 4th or the closing bars of Mahler’s ninth) talking throughout the performance, coming in late, running out early etc.

    Above and beyond that though, I always felt there to be a joyless atmosphere at most of these occasions. The music and the musicians seem to be wrapped up in a kind of invisible cobweb. For most orchestras, sawing through yet another Beethoven cycle is a job. No more, no less. And that sense of jaundiced routine comes though many times. No. I don’t want to pay good money for such an uncomfortable experience. If I want to listen to music in peace, comfort and contentment, then I’ll stick to CDs. If, on the other hand I want to go to a concert where there is a sense of fun, enjoyment and audience involvement, then I’ll hear The Fairport Convention! The classical orchestral concert in its present format is a fossilized, elitist non-event. Change or die!

    • Anne says:

      “People shuffling their programme book, coughing …. talking throughout the performance, coming in late, running out early”

      Sorry, but I simply don’t believe you.

      Apart from bat ears, you do, however, seem to have an astonishing ability to know what other members of an audience are thinking or motivated by.

      If you just want “fun” well, yes, I see your problem. Perhaps your needs have not been well served by The Heroic, Pastoral, Tragic, Resurrection, Alpine, or Fantastique. I’m not aware of anything called simply “The Fun” but you might look out for “Symphony No. 5½, A Symphony for Fun” by Donald Gillis. Failing that, try Zippos Circus at Blackheath.

      Look out for Zippos Circus at Blackheath.

      • Robert Kenchington says:

        Yes, very witty, Anne – and full of the patronizing, snobbish attitudes I’ve just been describing. Maybe ‘fun’ was the wrong word to use because that’s clearly put you on a horse high enough to perform at Zippo’s. I need not waste words any further on this thread. It’s better to have bat ears than ears that are deaf to reasoned argument.

        The best person to take my argument further would have been Leonard Bernstein. Remember him? Ever read ‘The Joy of Music’? I rest my case.

        • Clare says:

          “patronizing, snobbish attitudes” – really? Stock answer to any suggestion that the existing concert format might be best suited to its purpose.

          Looking back over this thread, it seems you set the tone two days ago with “Sitting in a stuffy hall full of snobs ……….”. Pot, kettle etc

    • Clare says:

      You object to programme shuffling and coughing yet seek more “fun, enjoyment and audience involvement”. I don’t think you know what you want.

  • Nick says:

    From ANONYMUS post of October 15, 2014 at 7:25 pm (since we have run out of reply options)!

    “No, I want to listen to the music with my eyes open, my visual senses relaying the presence of the performers on stage “being there”, but not being distracted by light shows or bright flashing screens with zoomed in pictures. It would be violence to any sensitive music lover.”

    Perhaps this thread is now overlong, but you appear to forget that I did point out very clearly that I am talking about experimenting with a small number of concerts, adding – “The staple of the subscription concert and its audience is not going to disappear any time soon. So the die-hards need not worry”

    @Anonymus clearly falls into the “die-hard” category. I am sure there are masses more like him whereas I, having attended probably a couple of thousand concerts over my lifetime as both an orchestra manager and a regular audience member, am very much in favour of some change. I accept though that for any form of change to be effective, it is vital that the core audience is retained as attempts are made to attract new ones.

    That said, how a screen at the side of a stage conveying the image of the front of the conductor can destroy a concert experience totally beats me. No, I did not specify “zoomed in pictures”. I mean one camera simply focussed on the conductor with no camerawork whatever.

    @Anonymus, however, takes the argument to ridiculous extremes. “I would say if you find a big screen, showing the conductors front, in a classical concert an enriching experience, then you are not there for the music.” Frankly, I do find this both an interesting and often informative experience. And if you think someone who has attended the number of concerts I have is not there for the music, you not only accept that others have different views to those you hold, you are living in some cloud-cuckoo land.

    • Nick says:

      Apologies – the penultimate line after the comma should read – “you not only fail to accept that others have different views . . . “

    • Anonymus says:

      I have no clue why my simple priority of putting the music first is now labeled as “die hard”.
      I would label myself “sensitive”. I acknowledge the apparent desperation of some professionals on the frontline – e.g. orchestra managers and concert promoters – in culturally threatened habitats in the western civilization to find *customers* for their *product* *classical concert*. These people sound increasingly desperate.
      Fortunately I’m free from such compulsory straight jackets and can concentrate on the music. If the concert promoters put annoying screens and light shows in, I will stay home and play some Bach on the piano and sing a song with my kids. Much better way of celebrating music if you ask me anyway. 😉
      I think the “watering down” of the spiritual and uplifting classical concert experience – what the not-curious-anymore-and-saturated-kids call *stiff* – will only accelerate the agony of intellectually challenging classical music in an environment that is increasingly feeding to the lowest common and stupid denominator. Having “fun” and being trivially “entertained” in the exchange for some money.

      • Anne says:

        This topic won’t go away, will it?

        I’m wondering – if a classical concert is “stiff” (and perhaps all those other evil things that some people have identified here), then presumably visiting the National Gallery, the Louvre, exploring a great cathedral, or simply sitting quietly and enjoying a good book, must also be “stiff”?

        Those supposedly great paintings, buildings and books are exactly the same every time I see them. How dull! Perhaps Banksy could liven them up a bit!

    • Anonymus says:

      also neurological science tells us, that a focused listening to more complex music (like most classical music is) will require about two thirds of our brains neuronal “bandwidth” to process the auditory information alone. The other third is what is left for the other senses, visuals included. Now it should be obvious to you, that adding visual stimuli on top of the real world pictures in the hall can only be taken away from the auditory experience. Yet you can not force people who don’t like to be distracted by the additional visual stimuli you suggest to close their eyes, since open eyes are essential for being in the comfort zone most of the time, to be able to “let go” and relax yet being aware of ones environment visually.
      If one wants to intensify the concert experience, I would suggest to do the opposite. Try to create a minimal light atmosphere and thus intensify the auditory experience. It could be done with only lights on the musician’s stands for reading the music and just enough light that the musicians can see each other and the conductor. You could call it “candle light concerts” or “Ear Safari” or what the heck… 😉 I would love to go to such concerts. And I know many who think likewise.

      • Nick says:

        Since I have been advocating experimenting with the type and format of the concert-going experience at SOME concerts, I see no reason why “candle-light” concerts should not be part of that mix. Musicians use such music stands in opera pits and so that would not be difficult for them, provided there is enough light on the conductor.

        The museum analogy which Anne brings up, though, is far comparing like with like. Apart from the fact that one appeals primarily to the visual senses and the other to the auditory senses, as has been outlined in another thread galleries and museums have made huge strides in recent decades to make themselves far more appealing to vast numbers of new visitors from many age groupings. Just look at the numbers. In 2012 visitors to the Louvre numbered 9.7 million – 1 million MORE than in 2011. Tate Modern attracted 5.3 million – up from 4.8 million in 2011. Tokyo’s Metropolitan Museum of Art attracted 10,573 visitors daily. One reason for the rise has been the vast increase in the number of special exhibitions often displayed in very different ways – in other words, providing visitors with a different and more appealing experience.

        Yet the orchestra concert format has remained more or less unchanged for more than a century!

        • Anonymus says:

          Major difference between museum and concert hall is the bidirectional interaction between the artist/interpreter and the audience.

          The visibility aspect is largely driven b the musicians, who want gratification from the audience.

          In the age where can be reproduced (film, photography, audiography) it is interesting to note, that people still go to the museum, even though they could see reproductions of the paintings in better environments rather than crowding with 200 Japanese tourists around it… 😉

          May be we must consider the social interactive aspect of the concert going experience as well. In fact most recordings give a better auditory experience of the music than being at the concert where the majority of the audience – even in good venues – has less than ideal and blurred acoustical listening conditions of the art work, the composition.

          • Nick says:

            With all respect I don’t often attend concerts where musicians appear to seek “gratification from the audience”. Indeed, at so many concerts one sees musicians who really appear to pay little heed to the audience! Even during applause, how many times do you see musicians actually smile and warmly acknowledge the audience response? Many look as though they have been through a rough time at the health club and can’t wait to get off-stage! That may sound flippant, but it is certainly my experience.

            My own view is that the vast majority of musicians gain their gratification from the performance of the music they and their colleagues have just presented, the more so when they have been inspired by the conductor. And that is just another reason why I believe actually seeing the conductor can actually help an audience (but I accept you disagree).

            Yet I do agree with you that in this age where you can see superb reproductions of the visual arts without going near a Museum/Gallery and many superb and different performances of symphonic works without going near a Concert Hall, something has resulted in the collective experience of attending Museums more attractive despite over crowding at popular exhibits, whilst the collective experience of attending concerts is on the decline.

            I believe you are correct in suggesting that social interaction does indeed play a part in this. And does that not go back to an issue we have discussed before – many Museums have introduced quite dramatic changes to make the overall experience more appealing, whereas the concert hall ritual (let’s restrict this part of the discussion to the venue – not the music itself) has become less so?