Kristjan Järvi: Noises Off

Classical performers need to stop being stuffy and get in the groove

Related Topics

Are classical musicians killing classical music? It's a big question. What is certain is that we classical musicians mustn't be so quick to snub our audiences.

It's difficult to generalise about centuries of music in the classical tradition, but it's undeniable that it has incredible class, tradition and style and its best performers are masters of it.

Audiences are thrilled to see it in its authentic form, as they will do over the summer at the Proms. So why is it that we performers have such stony faces? Classical music may be high art, but it is not exclusive and it should entertain.

Beethoven must be rolling in his grave. The great pieces should be performed as he and Haydn performed them. They thrilled their audiences and we must try to emulate their performances.

Classical music comes from a tradition of non-exclusive high art. So we must learn to be more welcoming, and we don't need to alter the music to make it more accessible – rather, it's the performers themselves who have the power to change how the audience feels about classical music.

We could start by looking outside classical music. I'm conducting a Duke Ellington piece in the Proms, for instance, and I've rarely, if ever, been to a boring jazz gig.

But even pop music has something to teach classical performers. Imagine Kylie Minogue or Robbie Williams going on stage and not greeting their audience once during the entire performance – but that's exactly what nearly all classical musicians do.

When I performed in Vienna recently, I spoke to the audience and was told afterwards that I should not do that, which is ridiculous – interacting with the audience puts them and the musicians at ease.

Absolute Ensemble, which I founded, pays close attention to the clothing and the lighting at our performances, even the way we come on stage – all to create a more complete experience for the audience.

If classical performers don't make an effort to connect with audiences I believe two things will begin to happen.

The first is that performers will over-popularise the music by doing more cross-over projects, which turn the repertoire into something cheesy with a beat – and nobody wants that. The second scenario is that classical music will become ever more exclusive, open only to an ever-diminishing club of high rollers and hyper-academics.

The Proms takes the right approach. I love the Proms because it embodies classical music with freedom. It has a structure behind it but there is no ambiguity about how the audience is meant to act. Many do not care what they are going to hear, they simply go for the experience. It combines the traditional with something hip – the best of both worlds.

Among other things, I will be performing three meditations by Bernstein which I think is one of the greatest pieces of all time.

My final piece will be Duke Ellington's Harlem, which is when we get to the real 'groove': groove is a feature of the music from Copland to Stravinsky and even the greatest master of all, Bach. In classical music you are not supposed to say 'groove', but groove is the rhythmic propulsion which is our spirit and soul – if you ask me, classical performers need to find their groove all over again.

Kristjan Järvi is chief conductor of the Vienna Tonkünstler Orchestra and founder of the Absolute Ensemble in New York. He will be conducting Prom 30 on Friday 8 August. The Proms season runs from 18 Jul to 13 Sept. Visit or call 0845-401 5040 for tickets

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Clean energy should be our mission to the moon

Martin Rees
Angela Merkel and David Cameron say goodbye in the Bundeskanzleramt after their meeting in Berlin, Germany, 29 May 2015  

The complacency of Europhiles could lose them the referendum

Steve Richards
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral