Kristjan Järvi: Noises Off

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

Share
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 bbc.co.uk/proms 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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'