Continuing from two days ago (and apologies for not delivering the post I advertised for yesterday)…
The event I went to — the final concert, featuring new music, two big works by Heiner Goebbels) — seemed to attract an audience from outside the classical world. As emblems of hipness, so to speak, I spotted Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson (though of course they’re substantial artists, to say the least). Plus many people from what looked like, pick one, the “creative class” audience that Richard Florida describes in his book The Rise of the Creative Class, or else the “intellectual audience” that Virgil Thomson used to spot at classical concerts in New York in the 1940s and ’50s. It was made up of people with a general interest in art, who went to very few classical performances, but could be attracted to some that seemed more than usually thoughtful.
So suppose the Tully Scope festival, all of it, attracted an audience like this? (As I think might be true.) Not the usual classical audience, but instead the people we’d like to attract, “culturally aware nonattenders,” as one buzzphrase has it, people who demographically (except for their age) resemble the classical audience, but don’t go to classical concerts.
What would this mean? Well, first it’s a triumph. It’s the future of classical music. We did it! We’ve started to find the new audience we’ve been looking for, for so many years.
Second — and very important, I think — Lincoln Center did it in a new way, or at least new for classical music institutions. They didn’t advertise programming or stars, didn’t stress the names of the performers or the composers whose music they were going to play. They marketed the festival. Which for me is crucial. People normally go out at night to have an experience. They want to do something that’ll be fun, or meaningful, something they think they’ll enjoy, that will mean something to them.
Classical concerts don’t seem to offer that, unless you’re into the conductors or soloists or composers they advertise. But a festival might, one whose marketing seems to say, “this is interesting, this will get to you.” Of course, there are variants of that — “this is hip,” “this is happening,” “this is weird and offbeat,” whatever. And the Next Wave, at BAM, has been marketing that for years. Or at least they certainly started that way. If you got on their wavelength, you could trust the events they programmed, and might go to see Pina Bausch, let’s say, even if you didn’t normally go to see dance.
(Hope I’m not being overoptimistic with that!)
So maybe, just maybe, Lincoln Center, with Tully Scope, did something like that with classical music. If so, it’s a lesson to other classical music institutions (the NY Philharmonic, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, so many more). Don’t tell people you’re playing Beethoven. Tell them you’re creating events. And then make them look, feel, and sound like events, whatever their content might be.
But there’s a third point to make, which — for mainstream classical music — might not be so happy. The new audience you generate, at events like Tully Scope, won’t go to classical concerts as often as the old audience did. And for big orchestras, let’s say, or big opera companies, that’s very bad news. They depend on people going several times each season. And if the new audience won’t do that — well, what will the NY Philharmonic become? You’d think it’d either have to shrink, or diversify.
And that, I think, is the key question facing mainstream classical institutions in the years coming up. Shrink or diversify.
And what would the new diversity be? (And when you ponder that question, are you excited — or worried?)