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
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there