Phillip Sommerich reports from the final day of events at Classical:NEXT 2014
‘Classical Music is Dead’
Appropriately, the final conference of Classical:NEXT was titled ‘Classical Music is Dead’, and speaker Brendan Walsh of consultancy Brending began in style.
‘We are gathered here today because we have lost somebody dear to us,’ he intoned. ‘At about seven o’clock this morning, classical music died.’
He proceeded to detail ‘Clara’s’ life from the supposed motherhood of Hildegard of Bingen through the various ages until the baby-boomer era, which ‘put her in a cage and insisted people come and hear her sing’. That evoked a response of ‘Crap!’ from one audience member, to Mr Walsh’s delight.
He proceeded to explain how classical music might live on in the age of Generation Y (today’s under-30s).
He cited Rheingold on the Rhine, a Dutch students’ venture staging much of Wagner’s Ring cycle on a freighter moored in the Rhine. Half the audience was aged under 50, despite hefty ticket prices.
Then there was the Concertgebouw Entrée venture, late-night club sessions in the Amsterdam venue’s loading bay that mix classical and ‘more popular’ music, Switzerland’s Ynights blending live performance with DJs and London’s Classical Music Raves.
All these offered classical music as an experience that would appeal to Generation Y, he said.
Nwando Ebizie, events development manager at Nonclassical, offered the results of a survey at a club-style event in 2012. From 350 attendees surveyed, 89% were under 35, 58% did not go regularly to classical concerts and 56% preferred clubs and gig venues to concert halls.
Nonclassical events presented contemporary classical music, even played by a string orchestra, in an ambience where Generation Y felt comfortable. ‘There is no dumbing down, it is just presented in a way people are comfortable with.’
Peter Wiegold, a composer who also presents club-style classical evenings in London, expanded on the earlier objection to Mr Walsh’s historical analysis. ‘Let’s not seek cheap applause out of knocking late 20th century music,’ he said.
While several audience members expressed approval of the alternative concert formats aimed at Generation Y, they also questioned whether younger people should not also be persuaded to try conventional concert-going habits of listening in silence.
Venerating venues: Alan Fletcher on institutionalism
In giving the closing speech of Classical:NEXT, Alan Fletcher, president and ceo of the Aspen music school, attempted to explain how the structures of music venues and organisations shape what is performed in and by them.
‘Our concert halls have become almost sacred places and we venerate them almost as much as we venerate the traditions of our music,’ he said.
Vienna’s Musikverein, he suggested, projected a traditional, aristocratic image; Los Angeles’ Disney Hall the vibrant and new; London’s Royal Albert Hall all-inclusiveness.
The sense of exclusivity projected by Carnegie Hall’s plush boxes even persuaded its management to see to seek a more ‘forward-looking’ image through rebranding.
How the sound is heard by musicians, issues such as loudness and reverberation, ‘influence not only how music is performed but also what is performed’.
An architect had offered to alter Aspen’s hall to make it emulate 5.1 surround sound. ‘We did not make that choice but it shows that the idea of the perfect salon is not static.’
He suggested two apparently contradictory principles:
‘We must not abandon the idea that the core of the repertoire is made to be listened to in an atmosphere of concentration, sustained focus and highly prepared attention.
‘Second, we must not ignore the many new ways our audiences are telling us they want to listen to music.’
He rejected the suggestion that younger people lack concentration, pointing to the sustained focus required by video games.
Mr Fletcher also challenged the idea that classical music 250 years ago was the equivalent of pop music. ‘Our music has never been aimed at the largest possible audience but those who are prepared to make a profound investment of their time and money. If only 15% or 5% or 3% do so, then we are still true to our calling.’
But he accepted that some people would want to listen to classical music in non-traditional ambiences. Bluebeard’s Castle or The Planets might lend themselves to multimedia treatment. ‘I’m not so sure about projecting video on to Brahms Four, but I do not refuse to listen to that either.’
Online media offered an opportunity to provide information about works before a concert and to enhance the social experience of concert-going afterwards through online interactivity.
Turning to the structure of orchestras, he cited Europe’s tradition of state subsidy which of late had proved to be ‘not necessarily guaranteed or sustainable’.
While many Americans nonetheless envied that system, Mr Fletcher was not among them. ‘Nothing could be more worrying to me than if the current US government were responsible for my work.’
He highlighted the recent industrial strife besetting US orchestras and called for more understanding on both sides. ‘The best model for us will be where everyone has a voice and a secure place.’
Agreements between managers and players, he said, should take account of the many roles performers filled not just in the orchestra, but in chamber ensembles, new media, education, film, dance and many other areas.
Classical:NEXT in numbers
More than 900 registered delegates attended Classical:NEXT at the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna, up from 850 last year and over 700 at the first event in 2012.
The number of exhibitors rose from 120 in 2013 to 170 this year, with more than 100 different concert and festival promoters; more than 150 press and media representatives; 150 artists; hundreds of labels and distributors; and representatives from the field of education.
More than 30 conferences involved 59 speakers from 16 countries, films were screened by arts audiovisual federation the IMZ, six daytime showcases and eight at night presented a range of young artists and the event closed with a performance by British percussionist Joby Burgess.