A young musician speaks

Mark Simpson, 17 years old, was named the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year in Britain this summer. He’s a clarinetist, and also a composer; is principal clarinet with the National Youth Orchestra in Britain; played the Nielsen Clarinet Concerto at the major Sage Gateshead concert hall. And he’s working on some major compositions, including one for the new music group of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

And here’s how he was quoted, when I read about him in The Guardian on July 17:

I’ve stood in front of audiences, including at the Sage, and you just see a sea of white hair. When I watched the final [of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition] on TV, I could see only a few people who were my age — and they were mostly my friends. It annoys me so much that classical music is pigeonholed as something aristocratic and uptight, snobby and above itself. Ultimately things will have to change, because once the current group of concertgoers are dead, no one will be listening.

So. This supports reports I’ve heard about a survey of young British classical musicians, who said they didn’t want to go to classical concerts. Too many older people, they said, not enough younger ones.

And it also supports my own idea, which I’ve certainly talked about in this blog and in my online book, that classical music education won’t bring young people into the classical concert hall. The problem, I’ve argued, isn’t the music; it’s the atmosphere. Even if you love the music, you still have to buy into the ambience of classical concerts. Mark Simpson might be living proof of this. He loves classical music, obviously. But he seems to have major problems with the classical concert hall. And if he — a top teen classical musician — has problems, other people his age, without his commitment to the music, must feel the problems even more strongly.

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