Max Hole, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music which produces one in three of all recordings sold today, is sharing his thoughts on classical music this afternoon with the annual gathering of the Association of British Orchestras. Here, exclusive to Slipped Disc, are some of the highlights of his speech.
Max Hole began: ‘I am someone who in certain respects represents a large swathe of the public who first and foremost love music, and who like the bits of classical music that they’ve been exposed to, mostly by chance, but who feel that it’s a world that they could never comfortably inhabit or be part of.
= Let’s not kid ourselves that the CD will be around for ever, it won’t.
= Manufacturers no longer fit CD players into cars as standard. The CD is rapidly disappearing from retail shelves in the high street and last week we heard the sad news about HMV going into administration, the last music chain that still carries classical music. The record industry is working hard with the administrators to see if there could be a future for this great British retail institution, as we want to do all we can to sustain the physical business as long as possible.
= On a more positive note, the digital world is a massive opportunity for us. The explosion of Smartphones, tablets and portable devices mean that we can reach literally millions of consumers in all parts of the world. In Christmas week it is estimated that globally 50 million new smart phones and tablets were activated.
= At Universal we’re working closely with iTunes to get the sound quality improved as we recognise that this is a concern of many classical music consumers and an obstacle in a greater take up of downloading. We pushed for the formation of a download only classical singles chart to stimulate all companies to produce more of their catalogues digitally and to generate sales.
= At Universal, we have also launched Sinfini. Sinfini is a website that represents all artists, not just those on our books, and our editorial is independent. It’s a straight-talking, fully Spotify, iTunes, Amazon-integrated website that aims to take the jargon out of the genre and present it in a clear and immediately accessible way. The format allows users to share their discoveries and engage directly with what they read, see or hear. It is part magazine, part shop, part streaming service.
= Moving on to the live experience, I am worried that the very traditions and institutions that seek to celebrate, promote and preserve classical music are in danger of causing the genre great harm and hindering its growth. I think it was Alex Ross who said “the problem with classical music is the word classical”. Exclusion from classical music is not just about social and monetary boundaries: it is equally about the physical and the architectural. The very buildings in which you play are often seen as forbidding and not places many people think they’d be comfortable entering.
There is nothing like the live experience. But, the communal shared emotional experience that can be had from great live music making isn’t being enjoyed by enough people because of the perceived elitism that’s perpetuated by unwritten etiquette that many find perplexing and intimidating. I was lucky enough to see Daniel Barenboim and the West Eastern Divan Orchestra perform Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Proms last year. For me, the 2nd movement is as an uplifting piece of music as The Who’s “Baba O’Reilly” or Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”. I wanted to jump on my feet and shout and yell, but even at the Proms, the most wonderful and friendly festival of classical music, there is silence. But actually, not even silence, there is a loud chorus of coughing and spluttering. I know I’m not the first to say this but there are too many “clap here, not there” protocols to abide by, for people to feel at ease. I’m not even sure classical music was ever intended to be listened to in this way.
= Much of the joy in modern music, whether it be rock ‘n’ roll or trance, comes in crowd interaction and shared experiences. Musicians interact with their audience, and the audience are able to interact with each other – they feel like a meaningful part of the event. But not often at a classical concert. I praise and encourage the good work that is going on in moving into the modern world, for example, orchestras are using their relationships with sponsors to get out of the concert hall and go direct to where people are who wouldn’t normally go to the concert hall. The partnership of BMW and the LSO last summer to provide a free open-air concert in Trafalgar Square serves as a brilliant example of how such partnerships can work.
Dare I say however, that orchestras could do more in the way they connect with audiences. Musicians need to think about the way they dress, and need to appear more excited and engaged with the audience. There’s more to it than just taking a couple of bows at the end of the concert.
For so long now, we have clung to tradition. While tradition is important and is to be respected, if we are to survive, we must also be comfort.