Music lessons

The man who co-created Tate Modern is moving to the Royal Opera House. It's a chance for the classical world to learn a few new tricks, says Jessica Duchen

When Alex Beard, the deputy director of the Tate, was appointed the new chief executive of the Royal Opera House, the musical world was taken by surprise. Critics had been eyeing candidates with more extensive, hands-on experience of opera to take over from Tony Hall. In fact, his insights from the spheres of art and museums could prove immensely valuable.

There's a cliché that “music mustn't be a museum culture”. Its implication is well-meaning: classical music should feel alive, recreated anew every time it is performed, not set reverentially on a shelf to collect dust. But you can't help wondering if anyone who uses this expression has actually been to Tate Modern, which Beard co-created with Nicholas Serota, or indeed any museum recently. Museums are doing rather well. In terms of tempting people in, providing a rewarding visit and, above all, making the arts they display an integral part of cultural consciousness, they're altogether in better shape than many classical music organisations.

There's no mistaking the huge demand for exhibitions at the UK's top galleries. You have to book way in advance; inside you'll join a varied throng of people of different ages and nationalities. The venues might offer lectures, study days, special packs for children. The forthcoming Vermeer and Music exhibition at the National Gallery in June is even drafting in the Academy of Ancient Music, to perform pieces that the artist's subjects might have played.

The Southbank Centre's year-long festival, The Rest is Noise, is employing an ethos close to this. It probes 20th-century composers' responses to politics, conflicts, art, literature, film, science and more. Talks, discussions, events, all are present; and the place has a tremendous buzz as a result.

There's a strong appetite for these events: concert-goers want to know more about the music they hear. Several weeks ago I gave a pre-concert talk at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, for an audience of 500. Yet such additions still remain the exception rather than the rule. I did that talk twice, because the CBSO likes to repeat an evening concert the following afternoon. The very elderly and the very young are more likely to attend a matinée. Result: full hall times two.

Galleries have long been adjusting opening times to suit the demands of modern living; late-night openings attract an eager crowd. The vast majority of concerts, though, still take place stubbornly at 7.30pm: a time unfriendly to people's empty stomachs, demanding employers, baby-sitters and so forth. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has been addressing this in its own way, offering a variety of presentation times and styles, with encouraging results. Few others have bothered to try.

No self-respecting art gallery would tolerate a situation where its paintings can't be seen clearly, or where the lighting works against the picture rather than enhancing it. The equivalent in music is acoustics. Some newer venues like Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and The Sage, Gateshead, have excellent acoustics. But in London the revamped ambiences of both the Royal Festival Hall and the Barbican offer increased volume and clarity, yet lack any real bloom of warmth. It can feel akin to shining a bright spotlight onto a glass-fronted landscape.

Or take John Eliot Gardiner's Bach Marathon at the Royal Albert Hall on 1 April. This was a nine-hour celebration of the composer's works, featuring some of the world's finest performers. But the acoustics swallowed the oboes whole. And the heating wasn't working. Not only was everyone frozen but, worse, some of the delicate original instruments sounded badly affected by the cold. If anyone encountered such failings at a top art gallery – an ambience that affected the display in such an adverse way – it would be a national scandal. And the sandwiches ran out in the first interval.

UK museums have one final advantage over concerts: free entry. Concert ticket prices are modest compared to a West End musical – but they do cost, necessarily so, as there are musicians to pay. Free or low-cost large-scale performances are nevertheless essential to “accessibility”, when funding or sponsorship allows. The ongoing thrill of the Proms rests largely on the crowd of promenaders who pay just £5. And last year the LSO and its principal conductor, Valery Gergiev, performed The Rite of Spring free in Trafalgar Square and pulled an audience of some 10,000. They have scheduled another concert for late May.

This is progress, but there's room for more. Classical music deserves to reclaim the centre ground of British cultural life. It could do worse than take a cue from a “museum culture” that truly moves with the times.

Suggested Topics
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower