Now the conductor Gary Brain, who lives in Paris, tells me that at a recent performance he was given a leflet with the results of a government survey showing that average attendance age at concerts and opera is 32 and the dress code overwhelmingly informal.
Classical audiences are up year on year by 30 percent.
So how do the French do it? Mostly, it’s a question of top-down attitude.
Instead of politicians and media projecting an image of serious music as elitist and expensive, in France they present it as both aspirational and enjoyable – a good way to spend an evening and an environment where young people are likely to meet people they like.
In addition, there is a great pride and affinity in such homegrown artists as Natalie Dessay, Emmanuelle Haim and the countertenor Philippe Jaroussky, household names who appear on mainstream media shows.
The Anglo-American style of talking up rock music as ‘cool’ and talking down the classics as archaic is alien to the French sense of proportion, and the foreignness of most rock music serves as a further incentive to embrace indigenous artists.
Patriotism can, of course, be self-limiting. When Michelle Obama takes the kids to London, they go see The Lion King, a slick Hollywood export that is not designed to broaden minds. When Carla Bruni-Sarkozy comes visiting, she wants to be challenged by the stylish and the unknown – modern dance, perhaps, or an opera – preferably but not necessarily involving French talent.
Curiosity, and a willingness to be pleased, is a vital ingredient in the French renaissance. Classical record sales in France amount, as I have reported elsewhere, to nine percent of the total market. In the US they are barely one percent. If there is to be a US arts revival, a much stronger signal is needed from the Obama White House.