Still more on the new audience

What I’m going to talk about — but not quite yet — is whether this new audience could be found outside New York. 

But first, a summary. I’m reminded in a blog comment from my friend Aleba Gartner (who does publicity work with the triumphantly resurgent  New York City Opera) that City Opera’s Monodramas production — three atonal one-act, one-singer operas, currently in repertoire, and tremendously worth seeing — also drew the kind of audience I’ve been talking about. Which would be an audience of smart (and in this case, maybe trendy people) who don’t normally go to classical performances. 

Or in other words an updated version of the “intellectual audience” Virgil Thomson identified in 1950, an art audience that went to certain classical events, but by no means was a classical music audience. The present version of it, if it really has emerged, is a terrific bright light for classical music’s future.

Well, I know I’ve been saying this in previous posts. (Here, here, here.) But let me list the places where I know for sure or have heard that this audience has been seen:

  • At City Opera’s Monodramas. (Remember that repertoire like this — Schoenberg’s Erwartung, Morton Feldman’s Samuel Beckett opera, Neither, and a new John Zorn piece — doesn’t please the standard opera audience, and that the audience on hand for the premiere, when I went, was large, eager, and wildly enthusiastic, and so obviously couldn’t have been the usual opera crowd. And didn’t look like that crowd, and was quite a bit younger. The house was so full, and the crowd so massive, that the performance started 20 minutes late. This was an Event, capital E.)
  • At Lincoln Center’s White Light festival.
  • At Lincoln Center’s Tully Scope festival.
  • At the Tune-In Festival at the Park Avenue Armory (produced by eighth blackbird, and something I sorely regret that I missed)
  • Last season at the New York Philharmonic’s triumphant performances of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre (subscribers turned in their tickets, and the Philharmonic then resold those seats to excited, younger single-ticket buyers). And also, from what I hear, at other Philharmonic concerts where Alan Gilbert conducts new music.
  • Each spring at the annual Bang on a Can marathon
  • A few years ago at two concerts of contemporary orchestra music, produced by Wordless Music

Not a short list! And there may be more events that should be on it — maybe the Met performances a few years ago of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha, which the company marketed to an audience that’s not the usual one. Please, everyone, give me more — tell me anything I’ve missed.

So something really, really seems to be going on. But can it happen outside New York?

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  1. says

    Oh, definitely, and I’m sure many will chime in with examples in various locales. My particular example to offer is in our modest little city of Columbia, South Carolina, where the Southern Exposure New Music Series (curated by composer John Fitz Rogers) has, for several years now, packed ’em in for concerts ranging from Alarm Will Sound to Amernet Quartet doing Elliott Carter to So Percussion doing Reich’s Drumming with USC students. For a city this size, under-50s tend to be equal-opportunity consumers of alternative music, visual arts, theater, and dance. (The Columbia Museum of Art, for example, is tapping into this group by presenting a lot of what you might call cross-pollinated events). The Southern Exposure concert series, even while presenting concerts in a fairly traditional format (in a recital hall, printed programs, etc.) is definitely regularly bringing in audience members who have not been part of the traditional classical music audience in this community.

    Hi, Philip,

    Thanks so much! In the back of my mind was the thought that small cities might have the advantage you touch on — that everyone with an alternative point of view will go to everything alternative.

    When you say the concerts pack them in, how many people are in the packed audience? I’d love to know that, and anything else you can tell me. Thanks!

  2. Yvonne says

    It’s long been observed in Australia that whenever an orchestra here programs the Turangalîla Symphony it attracts a certain crowd (and it is a large one) of people who are rarely seen at other orchestral concerts but who appear to be willing to come out for this particular work.

    Hi, Yvonne,

    Fascinating! I don’t think anything like that happens in the US. The pattern — both I and my wife have seen it first hand — is that no alternative audience comes, and the orchestra’s normal audience streams for the exits during the piece. But what a perfect piece for the new audience! (If I’m wrong, and this pattern is changing in the US, please, anyone, let me know.)

  3. says

    what do all of these programs have in common? music that “the new audience” actually wants to hear performed live. program tired, canonical rep: you’ll get the same subscribers who have been coming for 20+ years. program interesting contemporary music: you’ll get an interesting contemporary audience. in fact, there is nothing “classical” about many of these programs except the venue and the instrumentation of the ensemble (save some of the programs on the tully scope and white light festival).

    and yes, i’ll argue that the early music programmed on the white light festival was *not* “classical”, inasmuch as it was paired with contemporary compositions (Paert) and is WORLDS apart from the tired 18th-19th century European rep that seems to be the mainstay of so many programmers’ playbooks. bravo to all of these large, institutional organizations who are finally programming vital new works.

  4. says

    Yes, it can happen, and it has been happening in Syracuse, New York since 1971 with the Society for New Music. They have many live concerts, including many with newly-written works and their own commissions. The Society also has an award-winning weekly radio program, “Fresh Ink,” that may be heard locally on 91.3 FM and online at 2 P.M. Eastern time on Sundays at

    Their website is at:

    They are also on Facebook at:

    Hi, Marie,

    Thanks! Could you tell me more about the Society for New Music audience? I had contact with the organization back in (gasp) the ’70s. I’m sure a lot has changed since then. Are you getting people outside the professional new music community?

  5. says

    Greg, I am not part of the Society, but if you can e-mail me, I will give you the e-mail addresses of the group’s founder, Neva Pilgrim, and the group’s vice-president, Diane Jones, who both broadcast for WCNY-FM. The broadcasts of “Fresh Ink” certainly have a loyal following, and many outside of our area listen online. As for whether the concerts get attention outside of the professional new music community, I would say that many of them do. The Society recently had a premiere of an opera about Eleanor Roosevelt by Persis Parshall Vehar, and a number of people came from outside Syracuse to hear it, including friends of mine from Buffalo. I’d guess the event that the Society has with the widest appeal is the annual “Cazenovia Counterpoint” series of concerts and events, which always has a lot of variety. I’m sure that Neva and/or Diane would be delighted to tell you more. Thanks!