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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
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.

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy