Catastrophic rise in age of French classical audiences

Catastrophic rise in age of French classical audiences


norman lebrecht

November 14, 2014

This is seriously bad news.

A sociologist at the University of Limoges has been studying the demographics of concert audiences.

A survey of 5,000 audience members at 11o performances by 19 orchestras revealed an average age of 61.

Not bad?

In 1981, the average was … 36.

It looks like the same people are still going to the same concerts. No sign of renewal.

And Paris is building two new halls (pictured).

Not good.

Read here.




  • Marc Gregory says:

    The same thing applies here in Cornwall, but the 1981 average would have been around late-50s, now mid-60s [guestimated]. No wonder we perform so many Requiem Masses – four last week in Truro Cathedral (2 x Britten War Req, 1 x Duruflé, 1 x Fauré)!

    The C of E is in the same position (and broke) – especially in Cornwall.

    Precious little new blood seen either in concert hall or nave, despite continuing inmigration from England.

  • Julien says:

    Ah ! Ah !
    Does anybody believe that the average in 1981 was really 36 ???
    For sure, the age of concert audience is high, and 61 must be correct.
    For sure, we have to find solutions.
    But please, this speech about the death of classical music is as old as the world. I think it should be possible to find an article from 1981 (and 1960, and 1940, and 1920….) who tell that the audience is old and that classical concert will die soon.
    I am very impatient to read the entire work of this man, and not only 3 lines in a paper.
    OK, we must be clear-headed about the situation. We are not in a very good moment today, for a lot of reasons.
    But it’s also bad news to make this kind of shortcuts.

    • Marc Gregory says:

      ‘Does anybody believe that the average in 1981 was really 36 ???’ – sounds unlikely.
      Maybe a contemporary music festival or two in 1981?… we need to know details of the 110 concerts, their target audiences and the 19 orchestras… were the same orchestras compared? Audiences for, say, the London Sinfonietta are somewhat different from those at André Rieu concerts…(how to lie with statistics, et alia).

      Yes, ‘the death of classical music is as old as the [post-war] world’, but the death of the Anglican church as we know it in England (and in Cornwall) seems to be making good progress.

      • norman lebrecht says:

        They haven’t made it up. It came from a 1981 survey.

        • Graeme Hall says:

          Simply saying that the 1981 figure comes from a survey doesn’t answer the question: Was the 2014 survey done on exactly the same basis as in 1981? The average age of a Prom audience would be very different from Covent Garden. Bald statements are meaningless without knowing the methodology of the survey(s).

          • norman lebrecht says:

            Do your own research.

          • David Rowe says:

            Alas, research is difficult, because data is sparse. I agree the ageing of the audience is an issue to be considered, and in particular efforts to connect with the “culturally aware non-attender” must be expanded. However, I suggest that absent consistent, reliable data, we are all mainly swapping anecdotal stories, and choosing those which confirm our underlying biases (Mr. Sandow included).
            For instance, here is an excerpt from a May 2006 New York Times article titled: “Check the Numbers: Rumors of Classical Music’s Demise Are Dead Wrong”:

            “The golden age of concertgoing, meanwhile, is at least partly a matter of idealized memory. Organizations did not collect demographic information then, but musicians and critics who attended concerts during those years remember the audience as always middle-aged (and concert videos bear out those memories). And despite the music’s greater visibility in daily life, it was a niche market even then. The pianist Gary Graffman said recently that when he began attending New York Philharmonic concerts at Carnegie Hall in the 1940’s and 50’s empty seats were plentiful. And among the great soloists, he added, only Heifetz, Rubinstein and Horowitz could expect to sell out Carnegie Hall.”

          • Ken J. says:

            Sandow doesn’t just cite anecdotes, he has collected studies:


            He has collected studies from 1937, 1955 and 1966 (referencing earlier in the 60s), all showing a median audience age in the 30s — this suggests relative stability for decades.

            In contrast, National Endowment for the Arts studies covering the period 1982-2002 show the audience aging rapidly through that time span.

          • Ken J. says:

            Arguing with the New York Times article submitted by Mr. Rowe:

            “Organizations did not collect demographic information then…”

            The 1955 study (above) was for Minnesota Symphony internal use. The 1937 and 1966 books were published for the performing arts business.

            “Listeners now in the 50’s — the core classical audience — were the baby boomers who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s.” This is a 2006 article. In 2014, that same cohort of listeners is now mostly in their 60’s, which matches the French data in the original posting, almost perfectly.

            “…musicians and critics who attended concerts during those years remember the audience as always middle-aged.” Here in the flyover states, it’s gone beyond middle-aged. The classical audience I see is dominated by white-haired retired people with mobility problems. At the used CD store, the owner has told me that the big expansion of the classical section in the last few years has been stocked from estate sales.

  • Graeme Hall says:

    Well, that’s a polite meaningful contribution Mr Lebrecht.

  • Ken J. says:

    Norman’s summary of the French report is not out of line with the detailed reporting on The Age of the Audience which Greg Sandow has done for the last few years. Sandow’s work mixes what little survey information is available with anecdotal evidence (for example, how classical music listening was represented as a normal and aspirational activity for average young people in film and literature in decades past) and cultural milestones (last classical music cover on TIME magazine: 1986). Google will lead readers to this topic in his ArtsJournal blog.

    In my late 50s, I see myself as part of the trailing younger edge of the USA classical music audience. I have been in the trailing younger edge of the classical music audience for about 30 years.

    • Marc Gregory says:

      At 57, I reckon I’ve been at that trailing edge for 40 years in England.

    • Ken J. says:

      Let’s see if the software will let me post links:

      Sandow on what the classical music world was like up into the 1970s — when things made profits:

      And an informal, first-cut timeline, which includes many references to the aging of the audience (as Norman said, “It looks like the same people are still going to the same concerts.”)

      From the timeline: 1997: “The National Endowment for the Arts publishes a report that documents the aging of the classical music audience from 1982 to 1997. The report shows a dramatic drop during those years in the number of people under 30 in our audience, and a sharp rise in those over 60. The report also notes that the classical music audience is aging faster than the general population.”

      That report was from 17 years ago.

  • Michael Endres says:

    I think Norman is right here , at least that’s what some of my French contacts have been going on to me about for years now : the steady ageing of the public, impossible to ignore whatever statistic you want to cite.
    The only answer : hard and slow work in all areas of music education.
    Education in schools and support of music schools ( pre Uni level, that’s where everything goes wrong ) starting at the Kinder Garden and introduce music as a normal subject in schools, not an elective .
    And Music Colleges have to branch out even more into pre college education to make sure they nurture their own talent and not just visiting students from other countries .
    The College I work at the moment does exactly that.
    Of course the format of classical concerts etc might have to change too , and I am all for it, but repackaging is not the cure ,it’s just a supporting strategy.

  • Marc Gregory says:

    ‘Hard and slow work’ for sure, but that’s easier to achieve in a country like Norway with a low-population/high wealth ratio, often heading world rankings of GNI per capita, living standards, well-being and happiness. Yet even there, your particular institution points out that it is ‘the only music institution left in Norway with learning and education programmes for children, youth and adults all under the same roof.’ Perhaps we can learn something from Venezuela’s El Sistema?

    • Michael Endres says:

      Whether it’s easier in Norway then elsewhere I don’t know.
      Great wealth does not automatically generate great interest in music education.
      There are other factors such as politics and of course tradition .
      The fact that Barratt Due is the only such insitute left in Norway underlines exactly that .
      And it is a private Institut, which is probably why it can do what it does.

      You mention quite rightly Venezuela’s El Sistema . That one proves that where there is determination and people behind with a vision something will happen.

  • Diana Medford says:

    I blame Peter Gelb.

  • Gonout Backson says:

    The media’s responsibility cannot be judged too harshly. Classical music is practically absent on French television (unless you have insomnia), the rare “music critics” that appear there are complete amateurs, no musical event, no matter how big, ever gets coverage in the news, and when it exceptionally does, the level is awful. The radio fares, as usual, much better, even if the audience doesn’t compare. But the printed press is the worst culprit: not one paper, not even Le Monde, keeps track of the concert live. Fifty years from now a scholar shall find nothing useful in the press archives. The logic is oberwhelming : “we” don’t speak about it because “it doesn’t sell”. And it doesn’t sell because they haven’t seriously spoken about it for years now, making the readers believe these things are not important, not worth of anyone’s attention. And so it goes.

  • Michael Hurshell says:

    Hm. 5000 people surveyed at 110 performances… that’s an average of 45 people per concert, if those numbers are right. Rather odd, considering they are all orchestra concerts… So were these incredibly poorly attended concerts, or did the researchers choose whom to select for their study, or …? Of course I agree, age is rising, missing music education is the cause.

  • William Ford says:

    When I go to concerts in Europe the audiences look younger than in the US. Admittedly its my perception and not a study. But in the US it is true that the audiences do seem to be getting significantly older. It has to do with education, or the lack thereof, that seems to lead to a general coarsening our the culture. Many don’t like or trust science, or want their tax dollars to pay for art, but we sure seem to like Miley Cyrus a lot. Classical music may be “in the genes” of those of European descent (as well as a cultural heritage), but those demographics are changing also. It is also true that National Public Radio stations, a rare source for classical music in the US, are changing their formats away from music and toward more talk. Change does happen and not always for the best.