Commentary: The need to program classical concerts for a younger audience

Greg Sandow on his ArtsJournal blog, 7/8/12

It's time for a post about what kind of classical music a new audience might like... an audience younger than the one we have now, and one that's native to our changed culture, which classical music hasn't kept up with. We have to think about this, because the audience we have now won't be replaced by another one like it, by another audience that accepts the old view of what classical music is. Or at least there won't be another old-style audience nearly as large as the current one. A former girlfriend, not a classical music fan, asked -- when I put on a Handel record -- why classical music wasn't more noir. And when I replaced Handel with Berg's 12-tone Lulu Suite, [she]said, "Yes, why doesn't more classical music sound like that?" The new audience is going to want classical music that sounds like it comes from our current culture. Or at least it will, if it's going to embrace classical music as living art, and not just as something delightfully quaint (though in its own way cool). But most of our music isn't atonal, of course. And here it's important to note that a new audience might not respond to a lot of what gets labeled as "contemporary music" inside the classical world. That's because a lot of it feels like it comes from the classical concert hall. The moral of this? Simply playing new classical music isn't the answer. It may not attract a new audience. It's part of the answer, but the full solution has to be far more diverse.


FROM TC: Here are some follow-up posts Sandow has added to his blog:

  • 7/13/12: Programming for a new audience: one example. And now to some specifics -- how classical music programming could change, in the new world we'll be in when we've found a new audience. Or, of course, how we'll need to change what we offer, to be part of the culture our new audience lives in. I'll describe a concert I saw at the University of Maryland, created by students at the National Orchestral Institute...
  • 7/17/12: Programming for a new audience - Shuffle.Play.Listen. That's the title of a Matt Haimovitz/Christopher O'Riley double CD, which I should have blogged about ages ago, especially after I heard Chris and Matt play a version of it live. Among much else, it revolutionizes the cello/piano repertoire. When I heard it live, the pieces were announced as (or after) they were played, rather than being listed in order in the program. So I had no idea what the first piece was...
  • 7/20/12: Programming for a new audience - more examples. I'm not saying that every moment in every classical performance has to be new and eclectic. I'd expect a wide-ranging mix. All-Schubert one night, Les Noces the next weekend, Shuffle.Play.Listen midweek, and then a student-crafted concert happening down the street. Then a Stockhausen retrospective, and then my friend Stewart Goodyear playing his Beethoven marathon, all the sonatas in a single day. That said, here are more examples of what can be done...
  • 7/24/12: Programming for a new audience - things that worked. There have been many events in New York that draw a non-classical audience to new classical music. The lesson? If you create an event -- something that feels like more than the usual concert -- people open to adventurous culture may well come, whether or not they normally go to classical performances. And it doesn't only work in New York. In Saskatchewan, Lia Pas founded the Mysterium Choir. She told me she drew more people than the Saskatoon chamber music series...
  • 7/25/12: New programming - expanding the box. I want to suggest that classical music people -- even those in the most mainstream institutions -- should perform music that's far outside the normal notions of classical music. To which some people surely will reply: Why should orchestras (or chamber music groups, or opera companies) do these things? That's not what our mission is! But you have a larger mission, to represent classical music in your community, and to foster it. You may think, "We're an orchestra, everyone understands we play orchestral music." But you're wrong. Part of your job -- an essential part, in the coming years -- will be to reach people who currently don't care much about classical music, and (a crucial thing to understand) they don't think of you the way you think of yourself. Yes, they see you play orchestral works, and that's what they -- without thinking very much about it -- expect from you.

Commentary: Can a TV reality series lure younger audiences to live classical ballet?

Karyn D. Collins, Dance/USA's From The Green Room blog, 7/24/12
The summer of 2012 may well go down as the summer that introduced reality television -- and its fans -- to the cloistered world of ballet. [The] six-week-long show "Breaking Pointe" followed Salt Lake City's Ballet West through a portion of its 2011-12 season. Though the series concluded a couple of weeks ago, "Breaking Pointe," which can still be seen online, has sparked intense discussions about almost every aspect of the show, from its marketing to the dancing (or lack of it as some have complained). But amid the sometimes heated discussions and Twitter exchanges about the show's various plot points is a bigger question for the ballet world: Can "Breaking Pointe" do what ballet companies have been struggling to accomplish for decades now? That is, lure newer, younger audiences to theaters for live classical ballet? "Looking back on it, I'm very pleased that we did it," said Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute. In the short term at least, the gamble seems to be paying off to some degree. [In June, Ballet West's] website had more than six million hits compared to 1.2 million in May. "We definitely saw an enthusiastic and committed fan base. Not only did we keep a consistent hold on our audience for all premiere episodes and repeats, but our fans really took to Twitter with their love of the show," said "Breaking Pointe" executive producer Kate Shepherd. However, the jury's still out on how much of a lasting effect "Breaking Pointe" will have on actually bringing new audiences into the theater, even as Sklute noted subscription renewals were up from last year. There also have been some encouraging signs on the touring front, he said. "Fall for Dance [at New York City Center asked] us to bring 'Paquita,'" one of the ballets seen [on] "Breaking Pointe." And there's been increased attention at venues presenting the company, such as an upcoming engagement of the troupe's Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Around the dance world, other companies have definitely taken notice, although few will say on the record that they would be willing to follow Ballet West onto reality TV. Sklute did risk assessment before proceeding and felt that the company had more to gain than to lose by signing on to do the CW series. He pointed out that, for him, there isn't much difference in participating in a reality television show than in producing a brand new ballet based on a popular story like "Alice in Wonderland" or "Dracula." The goal remains the same: reaching new-to-ballet audiences with the hope that they will return and develop into regular ballet-goers.


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Study: Even Millenials feel there's too much emphasis on chasing the young

Judith H. Dobrzynski, ArtsJournal blog Real Clear Arts, 7/26/12
It's pretty obvious that museums -- and most other places as well -- chase the young. They see gray hair in their galleries and fear that no one will replace them if they don't do something about it NOW. I've always had some doubt about that -- many people, I believe, don't have the time for art or the inclination for it until they reach a certain age, which -- anecdotally -- seems to be somewhere in the 40s, give or take, after most people's children have developed some independence. Now comes a survey which agrees that society is too youth-obsessed. According to a firm called Euro RSCG Worldwide, which survey people in 19 countries, "63% of consumers around the world believe that society's obsession with youth has gotten out of hand." Results in the U.S. clocked in at exactly 63%, though the response ranged from 78% in Colombia to 45% in Belgium. "Interestingly,"
an article on Marketing Charts said, "this view is shared by 6 in 10 Millennials (aged 18-34)." 7,213 adults took part in the survey, but ages were not stated in the report, nor was the margin of error. This survey was more about aging itself -- e.g., "55% of the respondents said they look younger than most people their age" -- than it was about choices. But it still makes me wonder. Older people -- and here I mean 40s and above -- seem to resent the attention given to young people, even perhaps at some museums. Museums have to deal with that, making sure that they present a balance of activities and, with luck, a lot of programming that appeals to all ages. I really love it when I go, say, to the Frick or the Morgan and see people of all ages. And I dislike it when I see costume exhibitions full of young people who never set foot in art exhibitions. Likewise, with diverse audiences for both, say, Jacob Lawrence and, say, Titian.

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