Tuning the Concert

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The Journey: Can classical concerts engage modern audiences? November 19, 2010

Filed under: 1D Summary: form and communicate a view — concerttuning @ 1:00 pm
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Having played the cello for over a decade and played in countless concerts I have to admit that I rarely attend concerts. If I don’t go to concerts who does?

I asked a number of people what they thought about classical concerts. Click the links below to read their comments about what they love and/or hate about concerts as well as their idea of a perfect concert:

I developed my view about what makes a good classical concert after listening to other people’s responses and attending events. Click the links below to read the articles:

You can read my final argument here which emphasises the need for concerts to diversify.

I shared my final argument on my blog, as well as on facebook and emailed it to all those who took part in the project.

I recieved the following feedback:

I think you comment about ‘uncool’ very perceptive Michael


I would like to say a few things. First of all, Classical music, as Bernstein said here ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmeOPAwMtqE ), it’s just the period that goes from the finals days of Bach > Mozart > Haydn and mids Beethoven (lot’s of composers in between). It’s a very formal kind of music, with eyes staring at the form and it’s architecture (I would say the highest point in “written formal music”, so high with beethoven that the crack in the climax led to romanticism and the future deconstruction of the form until atonalism and further).

So talking about “Classical” music is a bit misleading.

And another thing, I don’t think there should be at all a division between high or low art. Music is unique in many ways, as humans, as art. Dividing art is dividing the universe, which is the same as dividing by zero. Not good hah.

Nice blog BTW :D



The word Classical Music is used by different people in different ways- sometimes words have multiple meanings and when this happens it is confusing. So some use it in a musical sense – as the comment above suggests. Others use it as a social definition – i.e., the kind of music ‘high brow’ people listen to. The word is particularly problematic in that many people are perfectly happy with ‘film music’ but wouldn’t count it as classical music – even though such music appears on classic FM. My guess is the word is more of a barrier than a help Michael


I have no real way of describing it either. Honestly when I think of classical music, I think of music during the Enlightenment in Europe like Baroque. And of course, when I think of Baroque I think of Mozart, Vivaldi, and any other composers with a very elaborate style.

(Of course I love all the music prior to that, and a bit afterwards.)

I always loved classical music since I was small, but I just now realized I’ve been playing, listening and whistling to music my whole life.

Music is just my life.



I came across your blog the other day, and I just wanted to say that I really support what you’re doing. Many times have I gone excitedly to a classical concert, only to discover that I was the only person there under the age of 50. I would look around at the audience, in all their grey-haired splendour, and suddenly feel very out of place. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience. The classical concert format has long been outdated, so I’m glad there are people out there working on ways to bring it to life again, and it seems like a fun & interesting thing to be doing too.

I’m pleased to hear you’re expanding your musical horizons to include jazz, world etc. and I like the idea of buying random records from second-hand stores, you never know when you might unearth an absolute gem that no-one else has heard of. Enjoy those little shops while they last though, they won’t be around for much longer. It’s all about mp3′s these days, but even they’re being superceded by things like we7 and spotify – noone actually owns music anymore, it just floats around in the digital ether. Speaking of which, check out my website! Adam


Excellent project. Bravo. Paul


The “between movement” debate is a perennial one. They say there should be no clapping between movements because the pause is part of the performance, and so it should be left as silence to allow people to contemplate. If it was completely silent, fair enough, but it isn’t. There’s coughing, murmuring and people shuffling in their seats. I’d actually prefer to hear applause to mask all this.

During the music is another matter. Audience noise can ruin a quiet passage, break the spell. People can’t help coughing (although I usually manage not to even if I have a cold) but people who talk or whatever during the music are just antisocial. They aren’t the “true fans” of classical music, as in your Wimbledon example, they are people who have gone to the concert for whatever reason but actually find it rather boring so are restless. I think you’ll find the reason the vast majority of people don’t go to classical concerts has nothing to do with a stuffy image, but rather that they simply aren’t interested in the music – and I see no reason why they should be. Johnathan


This is a really interesting question – how do we express our emotion in concerts. I for one am often stuck as to what to do too – for example the end of Mahler’s 1st movement of his 3rd symphony – 35 minutes long – usually leaves the audience spellbound and amazed – it is so very intense. The audience is metaphorically crying out to express themselves, but protocol doesn’t allow them to! They are not meant to clap, shout, cry. Instead there is a feeble hum or sigh – which does little to acknowledge what they have just witnessed and heard.

And this is the problem – protocol – the appropriate way to behave at a concert. Rock concerts are completely different – they encourage the audience to express themselves very naturally – arm waving, singing, screaming, crying – the whole lot. And sure the musicians love it. The audience in rock concerts are essentially in a state of worship. Similarly classical music evokes that same desire to express ourselves – yet it is inappropriate.

I say lets revolt! Stuff the stuffy classical elite – the “musos” who tut-tut if someone coughs or clap between a movement. It is these attitudes which stop classical music enjoying a broader audience and following.

It is a bit like Wimbledon and the tennis. The best day ever at Wimbledon was the middle Sunday in 1991 where for the first time, due to rain delays in the 1st week, they opened up on Sunday to catch up with the matches. They had a free-for-all first come first serve ticket policy. What happened is you had the true fans, not the debenture seat holders arrive and the crowd started to express themselves. The first Mexican wave happened hat day in Wimbledon. There was far more cheering and raucous behaviour. It was fantastic – and the players loved it. I remember Martina Navratilova saying it was the best crowd she had ever played in front of at Wimbledon.

Do you think in Beethoven’s day audiences sat dead quiet? Some audience’s stormed out if they didn’t like the music – they certainly expressed themselves! I am not sure, but I do wonder if there would have been quite a bit more ambient noise in the auditoriums back then.

So let’s experiment – lets revolt! I am really hoping to get to see the Berlin Philharmonic tonight at the Proms – maybe I should do something radical! Ben



One Response to “The Journey: Can classical concerts engage modern audiences?”

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