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

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

PHP Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Develope...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Turkish women have been posting defiant selfies of themselves laughing at their deputy PM's remarks.  

Women now have two more reasons to laugh in the face of sexism

Louise Scodie
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star