Yannick to music biz: Change it

Yannick to music biz: Change it


norman lebrecht

May 22, 2015

In an address to the Classical Next conference in Rotterdam, the Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin called for ‘new venues, new dress codes and maybe also an entirely new repertoire’.

You can watch his speech here.

yannick nezet seguin




  • Olassus says:

    Sounds like he’s in the wrong business.

  • Emil Archambault says:

    Interesting. YNS makes a lot of interesting points. People focusing on the ‘sanctity’ of classical music reify and construct a rigid tradition which never existed. People forget that most of classical music was not designed for expert perusing in a concert hall, but for, as YNS says, “communication” for a variety of purposes. There is a reason why attempting to listen seriously to a concert of 12 Vivaldi concertos is mind-numbing: they were never intended to sustain concentrated attention for a long period (much rather as background music).

    YNS’s point that not all music ought to be approached in the same way is very good – one should not treat a Mahler symphony like a Paganini violin concerto. To pretend that all classical music was designed for the purpose of 2-hour concerts in concert halls is denying the plural roots of this ‘tradition’. Many like to quip that what is now ‘classical’ music was pop music 200 years ago; well, it might be that by treating such music (not all classical music, but some, popular works – folk dances, Strauss waltzes, Dvorak Slavonic dances, etc.) as more popular may actually be more traditional than performing it in a concert hall.

    You may want to actually listen to the speech.

    • Olassus says:

      The splintering he advocates would only raise costs and destroy the commonalities we have, and he seems to ignore the many ways classical music is already delivered.

      • Emil Archambault says:

        “…and he seems to ignore the many ways classical music is already delivered.” You mean the part where he cites the many ways orchestras adapt to new fora and schedules?

        I fail to see how his suggestions would raise costs. It is not more expensive to put on an informal concert than a formal one. Also, his point is exactly that these “commonalities” are restricted to a small, homogeneous group; it is not by forcing people into concert halls that one will create commonalities, on the contrary.

        • CA says:

          In some ways this would indeed raise costs for the orchestra. Perhaps not significantly, but consider the added burden that all of these new activities, concert formats and logistics-planning effots would have on orchestra staff, many of whom already are maxxed out with excessive workloads and hours. Sure, one can smartly engage volunteers (even volunteer musicians sometimes!) to some extent but even that needs someone (a paid staff member) to oversee and direct, most times. However, these kinds of new community performances, ensemble presentations and on down the list of endless possibilities for making some of our delivery of classical music fresh and interesting are indeed vitally necessary for broadening our reach into the community and deepening those relationships. Certainly this all represents a great opportunity for a donor, or several donors, to create a fund to tap into for the very hiring, planning and execution of these new and sorely needed “add-ons” (for lack of a better word)….

          • Anon says:

            But “an orchestra” is not the only form of delivery of classical music.
            Many orchestral concerts are those given not by a full-time permanent orchestra with their own regular hall, but freelance collections of musicians playing as an orchestra in any given venue of choice. For these, the ‘extra costs’ of reconfiguring things would be minimal if at all. For non-orchestral forms of classical music, ditto.

  • Anon says:

    Bla, bla, bla.
    Just make the music passionate, colorful, thought provoking, heart warming, earth shattering…

    “New dresscode”… yaaaawn.

    But not surprising from an exponent of a pampered western younger generation who is conditioned to the attention span of a fruit fly. The more “excitement” these types try to create, the more boringand tiring it gets.

    The really honest thing to do is to leave classical music. But then he loves the money that’s in it for him too much.

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Meanwhile one of the most “traditional” venues on the entire planet, the Metropolitan Opera, seems actively to be courting YNS to be their next MD (just as soon as the battery on Levine’s motorized wheelchair runs down). I’m sure YNS will turn them down because of the dress code and the lack of variety in the way they “deliver” the product. And how about all that variety in Philadelphia and, for that matter, in YNS’s repertory??!

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Not much “variety” in Philadelphia and at the Met Opera, which seems actively to be courting him to be their next MD. Somehow I don’t think he’ll turn them down on account of their “dress code” and their lack of variety.1500

  • Daniel Farber says:

    Not much “variety” in Philadelphia and at the Met Opera, which seems actively to be courting him to be their next MD. Somehow I don’t think he’ll turn them down on account of their “dress code” and their lack of variety.

    • Anon says:

      And why should he? Those are two orchestras with a reasonably thriving orchestral scene and good solid audience. No need to change it if it works there.
      Yannick was talking about a picture somewhat wider than simply his own career.

  • RW2013 says:

    Full of sound and fairy,
    signifying nothing.

  • Eric Koenig says:

    Next thing you know, it’ll be just fine and dandy to bring bubble gum, popcorn, slurpees and video games into the concert hall. Where does it stop?

  • william osborne says:

    Changing the package won’t solve the problems with it contents. Or from another perspective, the changes Yannick suggests are like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. His suggestions, which have been bandied around for the last 20 years, are merely the death throes of a dying art form. We have gathered around the sick bed to watch our old friend die.

  • Peter says:

    Basically he says, everything should change, except himself.
    What’s ACTUALLY wrong with this business, is that it’s full of narcissists like him, who are in it for their egoistic gratification and the money, not the music primarily.

  • David says:

    I agree, at least partly, with the comments made here by RW2013 and William — I would though add that I’m not sure what to make of YNS’s “keynote address” as a whole: on the one hand, he seems to be advocating a more “accessible,” less “stuffy” approach of classical music with its audience, proposing new formats such as “rush hour concerts” or “night shift concerts”; on the other hand, he also insists that today’s public should still be able to maintain the kind of attention span necessary to appreciate a Bruckner symphony. This issue of “short-attention span” is indeed quite relevant, as it seems hard to fathom how a culture obsessed with constant intenet updates and incapable of focusing on a message much longer than 140 characters could indeed maintain the kind of attention and concentration needed to appreciate not only a Bruckner symphony, but indeed many works of literature and philosophy which all require considerable effort: could Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, or Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, be made any more accessible, perhaps, by mini-lectures no longer than 20 minutes, perhaps at lunch time, held not in a conference room but in a much cooler venue offering cocktails and canapés? This whole vacuous, if not vapid, debate, seems to me to conspicuously ignore the elephant in the room: the tragic degradation of our culture as a whole, which has rendered the very notion of effort — which is always implicated in the true appreciation of great works — somewhat of a taboo, but which has also rendered culture as a whole irrelevant to a society that simply has no time for it and which has transformed it, at best, into a commodity to be consumed. Nothing can remedy the fact that people will only engage in this effort out of a genuine concern for self-transformation and self-betterment. This whole debate, ultimately, is but an acknowledgement of this very degradation and comes down to one rather simple concern: money. It doesn’t really matter whether people are able to talk during concerts, munch popcorn during a Mahler symphony, or post their impressions on social media as the concert goes along: the real issue is that the very sense of appreciation for art and for culture in general, along with our very capacity for focus and for bringing our full attention to a given subject-matter, are becoming increasingly compromised, and no “cosmetic” or superficial changes might possibly remedy such a situation.

  • hyprocritesgalore says:

    Is he serious? He should never have taken Philly and stayed with his Montreal band. He lives the life of a “maestro” and then preaches. When will artists learn? How about bold ideas and not just some mindless dribble?

    • CDH says:

      Why is is drivel? (Which is what I imagine you meant to say). It seemed to me more a compilation of what others are trying around the world in recent seasons, with his commentary essentially endorsing the willingness to adapt. That last is a translation for open, as opposed to some of the closed-minded drivel I have just read above.

      Every few months I read of some orchestra or other appearing in a local pub or other casual venue, having its rush-hour or midnight events, having casual evenings with shorter programmes, appearing in parks or other sudden spaces to get people to stop and listen. A few have been posted here. Some of these ventures will not work everywhere, though they may in some places. But they do represent, along with the youthful energy Y N-S has, an antidote to just “[gathering] around the sick bed to watch our old friend die.” Maybe some of these younger proponents are not so defeatist.

      But it does not become those who are defeatist and exclusivist and full of nostalgia for how they think it should be (which appears to be restricted to those who are “one of us”) to sneer at sincere and energetic efforts to expose a wider, often simply deprived, audience to savour classical music, in many cases for the first time, through some meeting halfway. What next: women not admitted without heels?

  • John Borstlap says:

    The difficulty with such conductors is that they are not informed about things that are just what they are pleading for, like new repertoire: Nicolas Bacri, Richard Dubugnon, Karol Beffa, David Matthews – contemporary composers reviving the classical tradition in a most original way and rejuvenating the genre and increasingly successful. But this ‘maestro’ is too busy with flying around and preparing warhorses to take notice of what is going-on around him. Also, many orchestras are florishing because of good programming, good promotion, excellent quality performers, and educational work. So, speak for yourself, mr. Nézet-Séguin.

  • Milka says:

    He reminds you of hustlers, hustlers be they politico or musical grounded who have mastered one art and that is
    to appear sincere and thoughtful while saying absolutely nothing , all smoke and
    mirrors .To compare this to the Titanic is a stretch …one suspects he would have jumped
    ship long before one could yell iceberg .In street terms his little speech was BS .

  • Gerhard says:

    While he advocates great flexibility as far as the whole format of orchestral performances is concerned including programming, scheduling, and locations, he quite directly warns against watering down the music itself in an attempt to please people who one fears might not be pleased with the ‘real thing’. Good common sense IMHO, and I can see neither the deck chairs nor the Titanic.