Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

The whole industry needs shaking up: Interview with Kevin Murphy July 9, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 3:19 pm
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I met Kevin Murphy whose paper ‘Classical Programming – what’s the message and who’s listening’ was submitted for his Clore Leadership research. He concludes with the question of How to transform the conventional classical concert experience to make it more engaging for a wider audience which has consequently inspired my Gold Arts Award project.

Some of my favourite nuggets of advice from the interview include:

It’s not the music but the notion of coming to a concert that’s the problem

Not enough evidence is presented that people are coming to these things [alternative music events]

Allow the music to speak freely | Let the music speak for itself

Stop calling it classical music

If the musicians are not switched on, how can you expect the audience to be?

Having come from a background of a classical musician (though erring on the alternative side) he now is Artistic Director of Music 55-7. He initially started thinking about this issue when considering why his programming wasn’t drawing a bigger crowd. However, he didn’t deliberately set off to challenge classical music but was open minded.

He emphasised that while 2/3 of the population state an interest in classical music only a very small percentage attend concerts. This made him think in turn what is it about the classical concert that isn’t attracting these people?

If you are new to classical music he argues that you can easily get lost attending a concert. It’s formal, you have to sit still, be silent, know when to clap as well as being judged on how well you listen. Even the programme notes are in a different language that the layman needs a doctorate in music analysis to understand.  He describes the process like a triangle where many may try out a concert but get knocked off along the way with only a very few persevering to the top.

Why isn’t the profession doing something about this?

The problem is the history of classical music and where it has brought us today. It is very rigid like a box! Valuing past traditions means that it is very adverse to change. Subsequently, this has formed locked perceptions of classical music and locked ways in which the industry runs.

Furthermore, the problem is not just the concert format but our education system, as the way in which our musicians are trained fundamentally effects what is seen and heard on the concert platform. Is the best way to initiate a concert novice by showing them a musician passively playing the notes written on the page? Also, the triangle process is seen in the way that we education children. There is no place in the musical work for those who have not reached the pinnacle of excellence and consequently they are abandoned on the roadside.


1)      Classical = traditional

2)      Lack of passion from musicians

3)      Exclusive musical culture

Kevin Murphy argues that if you want to re-energize the whole scene, something needs to change or at least be allowed to adapt. It is the responsibility of the programmers to refuse to accept the current situation and take the risk. However, this needs the fall support and backing of the music industry (especially if they are going to get any funding – though it could be argued that tickets sales would be higher if more people wanted to come to these events). Therefore, it takes a lot of nerve from a music director to be the first to take the plunge and try to do things differently.

He suggests that the approach may be slowing chipping away at the rigidity of classical music. He has already started to do this for Music 55-7.  There are signs that something will happen in the future and the boundary between classical music and music at large is started to be blurred.

We ended the meting by both looked forward to a shaking up of the classical music industry.


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