Exclusive: Orchestras must 'ride the wave of change' or die
New boss of Universal Music issues clarion call urging musicians to engage with audiences
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Thursday 24 January 2013
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.
The best TV shows and films coming to the servicetv
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
- 2 Raif Badawi, the Saudi Arabian blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes, may now face death penalty
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 Dakota Johnson's 'It's only Isis' Saturday Night Live sketch sparks controversy
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
Broadchurch series 3: David Tennant and Olivia Colman to return for third season, ITV confirms
EastEnders may bring transgender character to Albert Square to challenge 'traditional' viewers
Game of Thrones season 5 spoilers: What we can expect according to George RR Martin's books
Indian Summers recommissioned: Channel 4 confirm a second series of British Empire drama
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'