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
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
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.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?