Last week, in a press release of startlingly off-message honesty, the British Phonological Institute (BPI) and Gramophone Magazine revealed that the classical music industry is in peril. Again. According to a recent survey, 70 per cent of classical music buyers are male. Of these, some 60 per cent are 50 plus, which, if you consider the shorter life-expectancy of men, is worrying indeed. For Gramophone itself the figures are even worse: their readership is 87 per cent male, with an average age of over 50. (The only good news is that Gramophone's average reader is on £47k per annum and can therefore afford the subscription.)
What does this survey actually tell us? Not much without some further breakdown of the figures. If Gramophone Man is a mere 50 plus five, and has decent health insurance, the venerable periodical may have another 20 years of opinion forming without having to feminise or "big up" so much as a font. Then again, if Gramophone Man is 50 plus 20, it can't be long before something gives – though what, exactly, is anyone's guess. Centrefold posters of Maxim Vengerov? A relaunch as Cee*Dee: the Sounds that Surround? Advice on how to keep your marriage hot by Alagna and Gheorghiu? Or perhaps a policy that reflects the younger, hipper, talent that is already out there? Classical music is changing. You only have to look at the work done by Tom Morris at Battersea Arts Centre to see younger audiences emerging. And last week that dynamic swept through two of the most revered venues for serious art music: the Wigmore Hall and Glyndebourne.
If the BPI want to woo the under-30s, they could make a good start by promoting the Australian Chamber Orchestra on video. You might quibble with some of their tempi, but gosh they're exciting and they look good too. The ACO itself is 26 years old, and I doubt that many of their members are much more than that either. Picture the cast of Heartbreak High with violins, add in the confidence and ease of Kylie, the intensity and wit of Nick Cave, turn up the volume on a sound that cuts and soothes and twists like a viol consort on steroids, take a programme that stretches from Renaissance Italy to 1990s New South Wales, and you might just have an inkling of their impact.
Of course it helps if your director has a sound unlike any other modern violinist. Richard Tognetti's mixed strings of raw gut and steel have an eerily loose-limbed, ahistorical tone that slides deftly through the centuries between Gesualdo, Haydn, Mozart, Britten and Brett Dean, whose 1997 piece Carlo (for strings, sampler and tape) emerged from the final chord of Tognetti's own Gesualdo transcription, Asciugate i begli occhi. It was a smart choice as an opener, establishing instantly the brazen, didactic aesthetic of the group and its dark, gutsy, core sound. If I have any complaint about the evening, it's that there was little relaxation from that intensity, especially from the beefy cello section. In the Wigmore's rich acoustic even the wistful adagio of the Trauersymphonie sounded oddly astringent, and only a few scant minutes of Les Illuminations allowed tenor Steve Davislim to communicate his light, warm voice without effort. But this is quibbling. The ACO can make sampling seem natural in a venue like the Wigmore Hall and Mozart seem shocking to an audience saturated by polite playing. And if EMI or Universal don't get to them fast, Gap will.
So that's the youth market sorted out. But what about women? For evidence of this, look to Glyndebourne. Glyndebourne Touring Opera – one of the best showcases for new talent – has set off on its annual jaunt with revivals of Figaro and Fidelio. Third on the list is Jean-Marie Villégier's 1998 production of Handel's Rodelinda – the one with the tea trolley – which, by dint of its new conductor, Emmanuelle Haïm, deserves serious attention.
It's tempting to dwell on the fact that you can still count female conductors on the fingers of one hand but Haïm's inspiring British debut is significant far beyond her sex. Fans of Les Arts Florissants will know her sensitive and dramatic continuo playing. In Rodelinda, she proves herself a conductor to rival any significant Handelian. With no disrespect to leads Robin Blaze (Bertardo) and Emma Bell (Rodelinda), or the excellent comedic team of Jonathan Best (Garibaldo), Matthew White (Unulfo) and Jean Rigby (Eduige), this revival belongs to her. Haïm has an obvious fascination with the workings of Handel's score – a fascination she shares with delightful exuberance – a clear sympathy to each of his characters, and the most acute ear to each nuance of orchestration. Every detail is in place, every colour distinct, every note has a clear relationship to the notes before and after. The result of this passion and concentration is playing of the finest order from the GTO orchestra, a transformative account of an opera that usually seems oddly lumpy after Act II. If this is the future of classical music, I'm more than happy.
'Rodelinda', New Victoria Theatre, Woking, (01483 545900) Thursday, Theatre Royal, Norwich (01603 630000) 8 Nov, Milton Keynes Theatre, (01908 606090) 15 Nov, and touringReuse content