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
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
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 hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee