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.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • 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.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence