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Did someone say classical audiences are dying? Not in England, they’re not…

Another set of cheerful stats from the John Myerscough report on BBC orchestras:

The box-office takings of the eight English symphony orchestras rose by 34% between 2005/06 and 2009/10.In Liverpool, the growth was 82%.

A broader indication of the change is the BMRB Target Group Index, which measures the percentage of adults currently attending classical concerts. This had dipped to a low of 11.6% in 1998/99., since when it has climbed to a peak of 18.1% in 2007/08 and subsequently remains at around 17%. The growth in interest applies to all forms of music, classical up 46%, opera 35%, pop and rock 71% and jazz 82%.

A run of new halls is part of the story, Sage in Gateshead, King‟s Place and Cadogan Hall in London, and the success of City Halls in Glasgow. The BBC Proms are a vivid expression of this positive development, with live audiences jumping from 271k in 2007 to 313k in 2010, including strong progress in attracting young audiences.

You want the good news? We bring you the good news….

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  1. Richard Hallam says:

    Good news indeed!

  2. Excellent – we need some good news.

    I’ve always been suspicious of claims that classical music is dying, although I’m not suggesting that everything is hunky dory.

    Can’t help wondering, though, why this isn’t reflected in BBC programming, apart from big chunks of “culture” when the Proms are on.

  3. Peter Freeman says:

    It is indeed good news, but I find it worrying that, Proms aside, a glance around at classical music events reveals a vast preponderance of white and grey hair, myself included. Even in Cambridge, there often seem to be nearly as many staff and senior townies as students. If el sistema takes a hold here it may entice interest earlier in life.

  4. RichardB says:

    @peter There’s a huge amount of evidence to suggest that attendance at all types of cultural event falls off between the ages of 18 and 40, for a range of reasons relating to lifestyle, disposable income &c. The massive take-up by young people of events such as Music for Youth, the continuing popularity of instrumental lessons (in the face of immense pressures) and our fantastic nationwide network of youth orchestras and choirs, as well as the fact that most music colleges are oversubscribed, gives the lie to the idea that young people aren’t interested in classical music. They are; they just choose to expres that interest through active performance rather than passive listening.

    Meanwhile, I’ve seen press clippings dating from as far back as the late 1940s bemoaning the “sea of grey heads” at classical concerts. And yet the sky still hasn’t fallen in. Meanwhile the youth orchestra (age group 14-21) I run has had 3 applicants for every one of its 110 places this year.

  5. RichardB:

    I think Peter Freeman has a point though. In my experience, moving in non musical circles, there are many people of all ages whose knowledge of classical music falls well below what I would regard as “general knowledge”. Hardly scientific I know but TV quiz shows (and I don’t mean the totally dumb variety) tend to leave the same impression.

    I get the impression that there are pockets of high interest in the genre, but little outside.

  6. I’m not very surprised by the U.K. numbers. I have always said that European orchestras have it easy audience-wise because classical music is part of the indigenous culture. Ask a Brit to hum Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance,” a German Beethoven’s “Freude shoner Gotterfunken,” a Frenchman the opening chorus of Charpentier’s “Te Deum,” an Italian Verdi’s”Coro di Ebrei” or a Czech Dvorak’s”Song to the Moon” and many of them will probably be able to do it.

    The Americans patronizing classical music from 1850 until recently were snobbish idiots, because they imported all their main talent from Europe and generally ignored domestic talent until the 1960s when things started to improve thanks to Bernstein. But even he promoted mostly European composers. In the meanwhile, Stokowski, Koussewitzky, Toscanini, Solti et al. were given free reins to promote the standard European composers and their European friends like Bartok, Martinu, Bloch etc. with the occasional Crumb thrown an American composer’s way, mostly Barber.

    As a result, Americans today don’t have a sense of an indigenous canon of composers or pieces, which is contributing to the neglect and disinterest in art music. Ask an American to hum something from “Porgy and Bess” and they’ll sing the Star Spangled Banner. The European canon was fine so long as there were first and second generation of immigrants from Europe around, but they’re gone and we’re now up to 4th and 5th generation ex-Europeans. They prefer Lady Gaga and Kanye West to MacDowell, Gould, Schuman, Antheil, Copeland, Ives and so many other American composers who deserve to be the core of American orchestral repertoire.

    Don’t count on Latin American and Asian immigrants to pick up the slack, since they’re mostly just as interested in classical music as European 5th generationists. You can’t get someone who used to earn $2 a day in Oaxaca State or fled China or Vietnam to avoid labor camps to suddenly like European Culture. African Americans tend to avoid European culture for the obvious reason that they tend to avoid most things caucasian, and few orchestras in the US have become intelligent enough to program even William Grant Still. In the meanwhile orchestral bread-and-butter caucasians are fast becoming a minority in the U.S.

    The Americans have totally missed the cueball on this issue, which is why they’re wondering why audiences are ageing and diminishing in the US even though the population grows. To paraphrase Clinton: “It’s the continent, stupid.” It’ll take a long time and much bla bla bla at ALoO annual meetings until musicians in the U.S. see the light. It’s going to cost a lot of orchestras and jobs in the art music industry until America can turn the sins of past patrons around.

  7. Michiel van der Kraats says:

    I go to a lot of concerts and find both attendance and performers to be a mix of young an old. Sometimes, venues do assume just a little too easily their visitors are older, for example, marketing materials for the Concertgebouw refer to going there “with your grandchildren” a lot. But the Concertgebouw also does things like concerts for 10 euros if you are under 30. There does seem to be a correlation between genre and age. I remember going to a Bruckner 5 and feeling very, very young ( I’m 33 ).

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