Tag Archives: audience

Diversity is key: arts in the modern world

For the arts in the twenty-first century, for both practitioners as well as the venues that house them, the watchword is becoming diversity, as two recent articles demonstrate.

A recent feature in the San Franciso Classical Voice (via the ArtsJournal) highlights this from the point of view of a performer, cellist Zoe Keating, illustrating how diversifying has allowed her to sustain a career as a musician.

As she has found, using the Internet to your advantage is crucial, side-stepping more traditional means of engaging with a wider audience and finding new, media-rich ways of reaching them: social media, Facebook and Twitter, YouTube, and blogging. Classical musicians are also bloggers: Stephen Hough blogs for The Daily Telegraph, for instance, whilst the conductor Mark Wigglesworth blogs for Gramophone magazine. Keeping in touch with your audience and making them feel involved is important, whether you are an individual performer, an ensemble or a venue: it’s all about building a fan-base, and then sustaining it.

Artists are learning to manage the different avenues within their own careers: publicity, marketing, teaching, performing, workshops, educational projects, and making their own recordings. Using the internet is a cost-effective means of promoting yourself and doing your own promotion. Widening the musical genres across which you operate is becoming increasingly important, making you more employable (as well as harder to classify): simply pigeon-holing yourself as a classical or jazz musician is no longer helpful. Internationally-renowned pianist Joanna Macgregor performs across a wide range of genres, everything from Baroque to jazz and more, as well as being artistic director of the Bath International Festival.

Similarly, but from the perspective of an arts venue, an article in the New York Times discusses the importance of diversity to performance venues, in this case to the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in Newark.

As its President and Chief Exective indicates, “The basic economic model of presentations, tickets sales and fund-raising is beginning to break down.” Venues need to attempt to become the social and artistic heart of their communities, to weave themselves inextricably into those communities in which they are situated to make themselves economically viable as well as indispensable.

“The arts center has to be the town square of New Jersey. Corporate events, weddings, bar mitzvahs, poetry festivals, other nonprofits doing their fund-raisers here, graduations, job fairs. It has to be more than what’s on your stages.”

Being pro-active across a range of disciplines, as well as being able to see creative possibilities in more areas than just simply performing, can sustain a musical career in the twenty-first century, and keep an arts venue operating. Especially in the light of recent cuts to the arts and funding issues…

Attracting younger audiences to concerts

As reported in the Evening Standard today, research at concerts by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the London Symphony Orchestra and the London Chamber Orchestra shows that younger audiences are put off attending traditional concerts.

A survey of people aged between 24 – 36 showed that they feel alienated by concerts. With cuts to the Arts Council of 30% announced today, it’s getting more and more difficult for orchestras, ensembles and arts organisations in general to survive. Classical music needs to find ways to re-invent itself in order to continue, and the format of presenting music in traditional concert settings also needs adapting, if younger audiences in particular – the Ticket-Buyers of Tomorrow – are to be drawn in through venue doors.

The OAE has created the ‘Night Shift,’ concerts where audiences are encouraged to clap when they feel moved to do so, rather than waiting until the end of a piece, and ticket-prices are student-friendly and include the cost of a beer.

I’ve written before about expected audience behaviour at concerts, both in terms of applause and in terms of amplification and accessibility for younger audiences more used to rock gigs. Whilst there will always be a place for traditional symphonic concerts, there’s space as well for a more flexible and creative approach to concert programming and attracting new audiences to concerts.

And beer as well: now that’s an idea…

Suffering the Clap: how should audiences behave ?

Call me what you will, but I believe there’s an inherent snobbery about how concert audiences are expected to behave.

In the sacred cathedral that has become the Modern Concert Hall, audience members are expected to adopt an almost religious state of silent obeisance before The Music: they must enter the hall with trepidation and awe, with veneration in their hearts, and are expected to listen in a state almost bordering on ecstasy. Not until the end are they permitted to move a muscle, at which point they are then permitted to clap politely – nay,enthusiastically (although not too much of course) – and, if at a jazz gig or a promenade-type concert, they are occasionally allowed to whoop.

Now don’t get me wrong: I understand that listening to music is a deeply personal experience, and I can get as annoyed as anyone by inconsiderate or rude behaviour from someone in the same audience as myself. But if someone has been so moved by a piece that they feel the need to express this, why shouldn’t they ? I have a fantastic live recording of a performance of Walton’s First Symphony by the National Orchestra of Wales at the Albert Hall; for anyone who doesn’t know this piece, the first movement is of such epic proportions (it’s about fifteen minutes long) that it seems like a whole work in itself. It has pounding rhythms, stirring melodies, and a relentless energy that drives the music to a tremendous climax in a fierce final gesture, punctuated by timpani. In the recording, a smattering of enthusiastic applause breaks out spontaneously at the movement’s conclusion amongst some of the audience who just can’t help themselves: the music is so rousing, it just demands a response.

Yet the Apostles of the Sacred Mysteries of the Concert Hall frown upon those who don’t know any better than to actually clap between individual movements, rather than waiting until the piece is finished.  The slight rustling of a programme attracts fierce stares.

But perhaps it’s a cultural thing: after all, the etiquette of modern concert audiences is relatively recent. Until the end of the nineteenth century, audience behaviour was completely different; people went to be seen as much as to see the concert: it was a social occasion at which they talked, ate, and drank during a performance. Modern rules were laid down, according to Alex Ross in The Rest Is Noise, by the composer-conductor Gustav Mahler, who instilled in audiences the ideas of complete, attentive silence and no applause until the end of a piece.

And some semblance of the old culture still survives: Italian opera-goers give standing ovations (or vehement boos) after a particular singer has given a great (or disastrous) rendition of an aria. In the middle of an opera. It’s an accepted, even expected, part of the performance experience. Conductors will pause at the end of arias where they know this will happen, even if the music is supposed to carry straight on. The audience are expected to voice their reaction during a piece.

As long as their response isn’t disruptive, I don’t mind if someone is so moved by their experience that they applaud between movements. People go to concerts to be moved, to be emotionally engaged.

How do you think audiences should behave ?