It's not what you do, it's the place where you do it.
Especially, it seems, if you want to bring in a new audience for a traditional art form. I have recently been to the Old Vic tunnels, a splendidly atmospheric warren of rooms way beneath Waterloo station, and saw two classical stars, pianist Alice Sara Ott and violinist Janine Jansen, performing to a young audience, some of whom were in front of the players, others in different rooms watching projections of them on the walls, still others in a different room just chilling, as they say in the best classical conservatoires.
Most were drinking; nearly all were standing. It was a classical concert, but not as we know it. It was classical clubbing with two of the world's great virtuosi providing a stunning backdrop. And, as I suggested a few weeks ago, they chatted to the audience.
This event, called the Yellow Lounge, owed much to the desire of Max Hole – chief operating officer at Universal Music, formerly a rock and pop supremo in the record company – to extend the boundaries of, and certainly the audience for, classical music. But he is not alone. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has also been changing the way classical music is delivered.
It has been running late-night, informal concerts aimed at the under-35s. Some were held at London's Roundhouse with screens, but others have been scaled down and held in pubs, with the conductors again talking to the audience about the music, between performing Bach, Purcell and Handel. The OAE even allows people to meet the orchestra through what it describes as a "speed-dating-inspired set-up", which boggles the mind somewhat.
I have advocated screens at classical concerts before, so that the audience can see the conductor's face and close-ups of the musicians. I have also suggested conductors and soloists communicate with the audience. It's good to see both these aspects beginning to take hold. They are, I am sure, the way to bring in a new and younger audience. But it is also becoming rapidly clear that the venue can be as important as the presentation in finding those new listeners.
Theatre and dance impresarios will, I hope, be paying attention. So much attention has been paid, and rightly, to attracting a new, younger audience. And the methods used to attract such an audience have been lower ticket prices (though not nearly low enough), and a repertoire thought to appeal more directly to the age group. But the right venue, and a different style of presentation within that venue, have to be priorities, too.
This year is ending with our most traditional art form being shaken to its core. The Royal Festival Hall and all the other traditional venues across the country will, of course, continue to host traditional concerts, but it is in the pubs and the tunnels that the next generation will be converted to classical music.
You don't need critics to judge the Booker
That fine actor and prodigious tweeter Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey) is a good choice as a member of the Booker Prize judging panel. But I wonder why the chair of the judges, Sir Peter Stothard, described him the other day as "an accomplished literary critic". There's nothing whatsoever wrong in having Stevens as a judge. As an actor and gregarious wit, his views on the year's novels will be refreshing. But tell it like it is. The fact that he happened to read English at Cambridge doesn't make him a literary critic. Sir Peter seems to be showing a little paranoia about people's reactions by trying to make such claims for Stevens. He is an estimable actor. He ain't FR Leavis.
How to make an upstaging exit
Some of the best theatre is to be found in the smaller, studio-style spaces around the country, but they do have one drawback. It is often impossible to leave early without walking across the area where the actors are performing. This is especially true in the case of Michael Sheen's Hamlet, currently playing at the Young Vic in London. I should stress that I would not have dreamt of leaving Ian Rickson's underpraised and tantalising production early. Sheen's performance is magnetic, and the concept of setting it in a mental hospital is intriguing.
But one woman in the audience, when I attended this week, did decide that she would get her train home a little early, and left just as the play was reaching its climax. As people at the theatre do, she assumed that if she crept out on tiptoe nobody would see or hear her. So off she crept across the floor space that was the stage, squeezing past Sheen as his Hamlet took his dying breath. "The rest is silence" – apart from those stilettos.
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