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Link: the concert format

Letter from England: Last week, the Times asked a group of musicians and presenters about ways to change, or simply approach, the traditional classical concert format. The headline ("How to sell classical music to the masses") is misleading: there are a lot of thoughtful ideas here.

What are your own thoughts on the way we tend to present classical music concerts? Is there anything you'd like to see, or try, that hasn't been done?

By Anne Midgette  |  March 8, 2010; 11:34 AM ET
Categories:  international , random musings  
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I'm eager to read the transcript of Alex Ross's Wigmore Hall talk on this topic when it becomes available online. While I doubt if he is truly the "world's most influential music critic," I do look forward to what he has to say.

Posted by: Lutoslawski | March 8, 2010 2:49 PM | Report abuse

You know, this topic, "How can we get more people interested in classical music?" keeps coming up, and people come up with all sorts of creative ideas that should be tried. But something I keep wondering is: are there any people out there really studying the issue?

There are professionals out there who study marketing for a living -- researching what people are interested in and how to get people interested in things they may not know about. Are there any classical music organizations doing marketing research? Any focus groups of people they want to target as consumers? Any surveys? I realize marketing research like this can sometimes be expensive, but classical music organizations could surely pull resources together to do this kind of research.

Or maybe they are doing this and I just don't know about it. But to me it seems like classical music people are mostly talking to just themselves about this issue.

Posted by: robertcostic | March 8, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Now is the time for the U.S. financial, social, and governmental sectors, together, radically to change the way American culture is funded, produced, and commissioned.

And with all due respect to the ailing, but now recovering, Placido Domingo, it is also time to re-nationalize the Washington National Opera.

Also see:

"How banks can help the world's poor" by Alexander Friedman

Posted by: snaketime1 | March 8, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Hi Robertcostic- there are indeed many, many people out there trying to work out this little dilemma with varying success. One of the best, coincidentally, is Greg Sandow. Who also happens to be Anne's husband! I don't always agree with his theories, but his blog is very interesting reading (don't have the link on me, but google his name and its like the first thing that will come up).

I think this should be tattooed on every arts manager for the next few years, Anne Meredith in that Times piece:

"Experimenting for the sake of it is as bad as not experimenting because you’re scared of it. You’ve got to consider whether presenting the programme in an unusual way will highlight the music or is just gimmicky"

For me, as one of those danged young audiences everyone wants (under 30!), things I would like to see:

*If a performer, conductor or composer can actually speak in a seemingly off-the-cuff, enjoyable manner, for god's sake get them up on the podium before the piece. If they can't, keep them as far away as possible without putting them in the parking lot.

*Lunchtime concerts. YES.

*Don't pretend to be anything you're not. If the orchestra is a bunch of middle aged white people, don't try and sell it as a hip, international outfit. Anyone under 30, and more so under 20, has grown up on advertising and will see through this in a heartbeat. Creating false expectations doesn't help anyone. I see this a lot in opera- operas being marketed as alternately gory, pulpy or sexy to try and pull a crowd when they're obviously not.

Posted by: ianw2 | March 8, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

Hi ianw2. I follow Greg Sandow's blog on, and I like a lot of his ideas. But to be honest, he strikes me more as someone in the classical music world trying to do marketing, rather than someone in marketing trying to push classical music. He accumulates ideas from people who do classical music, and sometimes people try out ideas with or without his help, but there doesn't seem to be any rigorous analysis of what's working. Moreover, it isn't apparent to me that he actually talks or surveys people outside of classical music. The most I ever see him do is make some anecdotal observations of how some audience members react to a concert.

Point being, when it comes to marketing, yes, there is a time to do brainstorming, but there's also a methodical analysis of those marketing techniques so that you can build up a collection of tools that you know works. Maybe Greg and/or others do this, but from where I'm sitting I don't see it happening.

Posted by: robertcostic | March 9, 2010 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Is that the same Greg Sandow who a few years back said that he didn’t support public television broadcasting of opera, especially American opera; and who cited a Foundation research study (the Knight Foundation?) which I recall concluded that given the ‘abysmal’ interest in opera in America (contradicted by robust research by the N.E.A., for which Sandow was an outsider consultant for over a generation), rather than broadcast opera on public television, it would be cheaper to send free cassettes of taped opera broadcasts to the few thousand remaining U.S. citizens interested in opera on television? (Remember what happened when Charles Ives vastly underestimated the American interest in classical music and offered his songbook free for the asking?)

Robert, there must be hundreds upon hundreds of arts marketers and researchers here in the U.S. Many secured their tenured positions during the relatively flush eighties, nineties, and aughties.

You may or may not be interested in reading one such research report, Dr Thomas Wolf’s “The Magic of Music Final Report: The Search for Shining Eyes’ commissioned by the same Knight Foundation.

Also, see the typical new audience polemic of Opera AMERICA insider Ian Campbell of the San Diego Opera entitled “How to increase audiences”:

Who wants to volunteer to research how the so-called (by the Washington Post) provincial Mariinsky Opera company managed to sell out completely the Kennedy Center Opera House for two performances of a mid-twentieth century opera?

And speaking of provincial opera companies …

Posted by: snaketime1 | March 9, 2010 4:20 PM | Report abuse

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