David Lister: Audiences would soar if classical music concerts were more like rock gigs

The Week in Arts


I'm always a little suspicious of the frequently expressed concern that audiences for theatre and classical music are dying.

The stalls are not yet full of corpses, and there is, of course, the very real possibility that audiences refresh themselves, with people coming to appreciate these art forms at a slightly older age than they do to rock music and cinema.

Nevertheless, a glance round a typical classical music concert hall shows that the demographic does give some cause for concern, and it's good to discover that steps are being taken to see how the audience can be renewed, both for live and recorded performance. Recently, as a first step, a meeting of the great and the good of the classical world (and me) took place to discuss some of the ways this might be done.

My own view is that classical concert-going can be a rather anachronistic experience. Generally, most of us go to see either a celebrated soloist or a celebrated conductor. But if it is a conductor, then you won't actually see him or her. You will see his or her back. And yet, if the same concert is shown on TV, the camera is often, and rightly, focused on the conductor's always expressive face. There seems to be a double standard at work there.

So, I ask why screens are the norm at so many rock concerts, but are still considered infra dig at classical concerts. Surely it's possible for the audience to have the same view of the conductor that the musicians have. Conductors are the biggest and most expressive personalities in classical music. We need to be able to see their faces.

On the subject of conductors, I also treasure the memory of seeing Daniel Barenboim conduct a year ago at the Royal Festival Hall, and hearing him give a short talk about the music before the orchestra played. It was both illuminating and witty. He had the orchestra perform small sections of the piece to illustrate what he was saying. It enhanced the experience. Why can't that become the norm as well?

When it comes to atmosphere at a classical concert, there is little to touch the Proms. To a large extent, this is because of the fact that a section of the audience stands in front of the stage, as at a rock gig. And the tickets for those Prommers standing are a very affordable £5. The enthusiasm there is palpable, and while it would be a pity to dilute the uniqueness of the Proms, the mixture of standing and sitting, with cheap tickets for those standing, could help to provide a memorable atmosphere at classical concerts beyond the Royal Albert Hall in summer.

Those are three changes to the concert-going experience that might attract to classic music the younger audience that venues and record companies are increasingly exercised about. Older audiences might even enjoy them, too.

Stars should tweet more for good causes

The Evening Standard Theatre Awards tomorrow promises to be a glitzy occasion as always, with some interesting performers up for awards. I'm pleased to see Sheridan Smith in the running for best actress. Her transition from musical star in Legally Blonde to a poignant performance in Terence Rattigan's Flare Path was highly impressive.

Sheridan is a prodigious tweeter, and I enjoy following her on Twitter. In a recent tweet, she asked if anyone could help her to find a ticket for the RSC's musical Matilda, which opens in London next week, and which is also up for an award. Prices were too high for her to afford one, she said. It's a sad state of affairs when West End prices (and for an RSC show!) are too high for one of our leading theatrical figures to afford. Let's have more such tweets from stage stars, please. They might even shame producers into seeing sense and reducing prices.

Warning! This play contains acting

Is it another example of health and safety going over the top, or are theatres simply becoming too solicitous? Entering the auditorium to see the excellent Tamsin Greig in Jumpy at the Royal Court, I, like every other member of the audience, was individually warned by a kindly usher that there would be a loud bang in the second half. When a character held a gun in the second half, there was little room for ambiguity, after that warning, over whether she would fire it or not.

Where will it all end? I'm sure that some people are alarmed by gunshots, but others are probably disturbed by unpleasant events in the plot. Should the audience for Othello be warned that there is strangulation in the second half? Enough with the warnings. Put on the play and leave us the shocks.

d.lister@independent.co.uk / twitter.com/davidlister1

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