Dark days for light music

CLASSICAL music concerts may never be the same again. Whiling away a boring movement by watching the rest of the audience will no longer be possible under a plan being considered by the South Bank Centre in London.

The home of the Royal Festival Hall wants to turn out the lights when the orchestras play. Senior management have held a two-day brainstorming session on how best to increase audiences. They decided they had to 'improve the visual presentation of the classical concert'.

This could involve musicians formally trooping on to the stage rather than sauntering on while chatting, and, most importantly, playing concerts with only the stage lit.

Malcolm Young, director of event planning at the South Bank, said: 'We are agreed on the need to create a different mood, an atmosphere of something about to happen . . . we could create the atmosphere of a piece with stage lighting. With The Planets or Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique you could have a field day with lighting.'

Listening to concerts with the lights on - traditionally because high society wished to be seen as well as to see - has been an anomaly for more than 100 years. Opera, dance and theatre all keep the audience in darkness.

British classical musicians are likely to welcome being more in the spotlight. Gareth Wood, who stands at the rear of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with his double bass, said: 'The RPO has played at opera houses in Italy where the lights go right down and you are the centre of attention. If it's completely dark you force people to look at you.'

What the musicians wear is also likely to change. Nicholas Snowman, the South Bank Centre's general director, said: 'When symphony orchestras play contemporary work it is crazy for them to come on in penguin suits . . . what is wrong with lounge suits or polo-neck jumpers?'