Exclusive: Orchestras must 'ride the wave of change' or die

New boss of Universal Music issues clarion call urging musicians to engage with audiences

One of the leading classical music figures in the UK has warned the genre faces “grave danger” unless it sheds the stuffy elitist image and proves it is a “force to be reckoned with”.

Max Hole, who is head of Universal Music’s classical music business, called on musicians to change the way they dress, become more excited when they play and to encourage the audience to applaud whenever they want, in a bid to attract a new crowd.

In a speech to the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) in Leeds he said that classical musicians needed to “ride the wave of change” and feared that traditionalist may hinder its growth. He also called on the industry to embrace the digital revolution, from downloads and streaming, to social media.

Mr Hole, a former rock band manager who was promoted to chairman and chief executive of Universal Music’s operations outside America just weeks ago, is seen to have breathed new life into classical music labels Decca and Deutsche Grammophon. 

He believes that classical music needs to be promoted beyond the existing core audience, not just young people but “people like me who would engage in classical music if they didn’t feel it was elitist or forbidding”.

“Musicians need to think about the way they dress, and need to appear more excited engaged with the audience,” he said. “There’s more to it than just taking a couple of bows at the end of a concert.”

He said that the traditions and institutions that seek to promote and preserve classical music “are in danger of causing the genre great harm and hinder its growth”. Even the term “classical” is in danger of alienating its audience, he said.

Conductors need to actually talk to the audiences, and Mr Hole pointed to the “sheer exuberance” of the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra. He said there should be screens showing the audience the conductor’s work, and “more theatrical” use of lighting.

“We live in a time of great opportunity, but also grave danger. If we grasp the opportunity we can ensure that music will be consumed on a scale unthinkable only a few years ago,” he said.

The speech was not met with anger, although some pointed out that orchestras around the country were experimenting ever more in an attempt to widen their audiences.

Michael Eakin, chief executive of the Liverpool Philharmonic and chairman of the ABO, said: “I agree with almost everything he said, I don’t think there will be a huge kickback. The more we build a connection between the audience and the stage, the better. The rallying call is right.”

That there was “a lot of good practice out there,” he said and did not believe the audiences were dying off before adding: “The last thing we want to do is alienate our existing audience.”

Mr Hole said he represented a “large swathe” of the public who love music but feel that the classical world is not something they can be a part of.

Live concerts are not enjoyed by enough people, he said, “because of the perceived elitism that’s perpetuated by unwritten etiquette that many find perplexing and intimidating”.

 “There are too many ‘clap here, not there’ protocols to abide by, for people to feel at ease. I’m not even sure classical music was ever intended to be listened to in this way,” he said.

Mr Hole himself “wanted to jump on my feet and shout and yell” while listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Proms last year, but instead there was a silence punctuated by coughing and spluttering.

The argument over “stuffy” classical concerts has raged for years, but some are attempting to change the image. Companies such as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Aurora Orchestra and London Contemporary Orchestra have all worked on playing with conventions to bring in a new audience.

“We need to be daring and break with convention if we are to show the world that classical music is not a sleepy, stuffy genre, but a force to be reckoned with, and something that can be enjoyed by all,” Mr Hole said.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before