Orchestra's chief laments British audiences as dumbed down and unwilling to listen

The world of classical music is said to be "shrinking by the day" because popular culture has overwhelmed a generation. David Whelton, the managing director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, says that amid garage, rap and house music, classical works are becoming a forgotten language in Britain.

The world of classical music is said to be "shrinking by the day" because popular culture has overwhelmed a generation. David Whelton, the managing director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, says that amid garage, rap and house music, classical works are becoming a forgotten language in Britain.

In an interview with Prospect magazine, Mr Whelton, says: "The broad population of the country is totally unfamiliar with orchestral music and reluctant to enjoy anything that requires some investment of time and thought. Our world is shrinking by the day because of the overwhelming impact of popular culture".

While previous generations acquired a basic awareness of classical music as children, this was no longer the case. He says: "The musical language you grew up with was the basic harmonic tonality that underpins music from the Renaissance until the present day. Now that language is almost entirely foreign because rap music and garage and house have no harmonic references at all."

Mr Whelton said it was impossible to avoid artists such as Eminem, 50 Cent and The Streets just through the experience of everyday life. "And they are terrific," he said.

"But there's a huge job to be done in making sure that people don't lose sight of the real great canon of Western classical music. It's a question of life-long learning so that as people go through life there is a moment when great music - just like great theatre - really begins to mean something for them and they can make the transmission from the latest pop culture to something deeper and long-lasting."

Today audiences often knew orchestral music only through films or, increasingly, from computer games, Mr Whelton said. But the classics only made real sense with repeated listening, he said, which not everyone was prepared to do.

Marshall Marcus, chief executive of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, agreed a major problem of the last quarter century was the brevity of audience's attention spans. "The ability of people to concentrate on something for any period of time seems to be diminishing. There's an argument that we live in a three-minute culture, but it's more like a three-second culture - the length of a television advert. Classical music is one of those genres where you need to be able to concentrate to get a lot out of it."

Roger Wright, controller of BBC Radio 3, was, however, less pessimistic. "If you look at the Proms and see the broader demographic, they're a big success. At the concerts of James MacMillan's music we've just held at the Barbican, the audience was cheering contemporary classical music to the rafters. I think you'd be hard-pushed to say that this country is reluctant to make the effort in time and thought."

Jonathan Reekie, the chief executive of the Aldeburgh festival, said his experience in recent years was of growing audiences that were willing to be challenged by intelligent programming. "Orchestral music is quite marginalised but I don't think that all pop music is evil or that pop equals cultural ignorance and orchestral doesn't," he said.

"The pigeonholes of old are beginning to dissolve and musicians are working with other artists and barriers are breaking down. But it doesn't mean that everything has to be crossover; there's also a place for what you might call pure classical music."

Indeed, Steven Isserlis, the cellist, warned against too many barriers being broken down. "Softened-down relaxing classics just gives the wrong impression. It makes people think they don't have to do any work so when they come to a concert that is challenging they don't like it," he said.

And Ty, a Mercury Music Prize-nominated rapper, said David Whelton was right about audience's listening skills but condescending in the way he expressed it. "There's a huge demographic of people who listen to music but don't really pay it that much attention," Ty said.

The best rappers or house musicians were often more aware of a wide range of musical influences than were the consumers of their music. He said: "I don't think that classical music has tried to contact or be involved with what the youth are doing so [classical musicians] shouldn't complain if they are not what the youth is listening to."

Julian Lloyd Webber, the cellist, returned to the issue of education. "If people are not taught music in schools they grow up without it. I believe this government is trying to do something because they have realised there is a problem, but we have lost a generation."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Prince and 3RDEYEGIRL are releasing Plectrum Electrum next month

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus brought her Bangerz tour to London's O2 Arena last night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
film
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis