BBC tries out concert for people with autism

BBC tries out concert for people with autism


norman lebrecht

July 04, 2017

The upcoming ‘relaxed’ Prom for people with autism and learning disabilities has been tried out early in Cardiff by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Sign language interpretation was provided on stage and there were chill-out areas in the hall for those who felt the need to stretch their legs.

Sounds like a terrific idea.

Conductor Grant Llewellyn said: ‘It’s just so invigorating, it’s so liberating. And I can’t speak for the players – but I will – I think they learn a tremendous amount.

‘I certainly have learnt about the nature of direct communication, and entertainment, and just unadulterated fun through music.’

The Prom is on July 29.


  • John Borstlap says:

    Music goes beyond conceptual consciousness so it is particularly suited to therapeutic uses. I only hope (for the audiences concerned) there won’t be any Xenakis in the programs, which seems to induce mental problems, or Birtwistle or any such sound art works. There are stories of well-meaning people perfectly healthy, leaving a contemproary music concert with autism symptomes.

    • jaypee says:

      Don’t you get tired of repeating the same thing over and over and over? We get it: you don’t like modern music. Can’t you just move on?
      For f***’s sake, get a life…
      Better: compose something valuable for a change…

      • John Borstlap says:

        ‘Everything has already been said before. But because nobody was listening, certain things have to be said again.’ (André Gide)

    • Bitter Old Queen says:

      This is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever heard towards people with autism or learning disabilities.

      Comparing a lifelong learning disability or neurodivergence, which is lived with day in and day out, to an audience’s temporary reaction to a “modern” composer, is utterly crass.

      Again, if you don’t like Xenakis, don’t go, and leave those who do like it alone.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Recent research at the Texas Institute for Technology has shown that classical music is especially benefitting for bitter old people. As one of the researchers at TIT said: ‘We found that repeated listening to Mahler’s 9th symphony, which had a depressing effect on younger subjects, turned grumpy old bitches into warm human beings beaming with benevolence.’ (Source: Forth Worth Questionable Inquirer 15th April 2016)

  • Dan P. says:

    I have youngster in my family who is autistic and I know that to be able to bring him to hear live music would be an extraordinary experience for him. I think music can reach through just about anything and communicate. This would be a wonderful thing if it there were more opportunities to do these performances.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Wonderful as concerts for autistic people are, active engagement is even more important. Once they establish a connection with music, initially through music therapy and, hopefully, by singing and learning an instrument, they can then appreciate the concerts much more.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The conductor Jaap van Zweden, who has an autistic son, has – together with his wife – set-up a foundation in the Netherlands, the Papageno Foundation, which helps young autistic people to find their way in life; they are housed in a splendid villa and their curriculum is full of musical activities, which seems to have a strong effect upon the learning trajectory. Also the St John’s Smith Square Orchestra in the UK spends many efforts and concerts on autism, with similar effects.

  • SVM says:

    It sounds like someone is making sweeping and simplistic assumptions about a particular demographic, whilst ignoring the considerable variation *within* it. The agenda sounds like a transplant of “lazy stereotypes about what young people want”, served with a massive dose of political correctness which will, no doubt, see to it that vituperation and scorn are poured on any that criticise these assumptions (the “you have no idea” / “you evil snob” / “go back to your ivory tower” rhetoric).

    And why this misappropriation of the term “relaxed” to refer to audience anarchy? One may make a case for *tolerating* disruptive behaviour in well defined circumstances (such as events/schemes geared specifically towards babies/toddlers), but to *incite* it and broadcast the result will do nothing to further classical music. As far as I am concerned, a “relaxed” concert experience is one where I am not worrying about how many seconds it will be until the next distraction from a vibrating telephone or the glare of someone’s screen. If a promoter is not going to even attempt to cultivate a modicum of courtesy and discipline on the part of the audience, the result will be merely a pale imitation of classical music.

    • Bitter Old Queen says:

      You do realise that you’re not the intended audience, don’t you? If you don’t like the idea, don’t go. It’s not for you.

      For many people, it’s attitudes like yours that make people afraid to go to classical music concerts. Tutting when someone new makes the most minor infraction, or when people (heaven forbid) clap in the “wrong” place. It can be incredibly intimidating to those who want to try classical music for the first.

      If we collectively want classical music to survive, and not to wither away and die, we have to let other people join the club. That may mean that they don’t quite understand the customs at first, but if they’re left alone to enjoy the music, they might even develop a lifelong love of the stuff. And they are the audience that we’ll need in 50 years time.

      Plus, your comment about “assumptions” is in itself an assumption – the needs of people with autism and learning difficulties have been well documented and academically research over the years. Any concert promoter can choose to adapt to these needs should they wish. It’s also not a particularly new concept – theatres have been trialling relaxed performances for years.