Entertainment & Arts

Pianist calls for shorter classical shows to attract younger audiences

Stephen Hough Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stephen Hough was made a CBE in 2014

Pianist Stephen Hough has called for classical concerts to be overhauled to attract younger audiences.

Performances should be shorter with no interval, he argues, while orchestras could drop their formal dress code.

The musician, who plays the BBC Proms next week, says the lack of new audiences has become critical.

"It's important to address this issue if we want to refresh the experience of hearing great classical music live without resorting to gimmicks."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption London Symphony Orchestra attracted crowds by playing in the capital's Trafalgar Square in May

Writing in the Radio Times, Hough accuses the programmers of becoming stuck in their ways.

"At some point in the early 20th Century we settled into a pattern: Concerts should start early evening and last roughly two hours with a liquid interval, either to drink a glass of wine or visit the ladies / gents.

"I think we should consider removing the interval and starting either earlier or later than 7:30pm - 60 to 80 minutes of music, then out."

Hough adds that he played such a concert with the Los Angeles Philharmonic a few months ago, "and it felt charged with an energy that the traditional concert can sometimes lack".

'A bit of a chore'

The question of how to attract younger audiences has vexed classical musicians for years.

The focus usually turns to new ways of presenting music, such as last year's blockbuster Ibiza Prom; or educational outreach programmes, like the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's "In Harmony" project, which uses music-making to improve the health, education and aspirations of children and young people in Everton.

But shorter performances have proved effective in attracting new audiences for the Montreal Symphony in Canada, which holds an annual festival called "Viree Classique" (Classical Spree) every summer.

The event boasts 30 concerts in 30 hours, all within walking distance of each other, with reduced ticket prices and a time limit of 45 minutes.

Reviewing this year's event, critic Paul Wells observed that the children he brings to the concerts "like classical music well enough, but like a lot of ordinary people, they find a regular-length symphony concert a bit of a chore".

"But at the Viree classique, at just about the time an ordinary person starts to wonder when the concert will end, it ends."

In his Radio Times column, Hough points out that shorter performances could even allow for two performances in one evening, boosting revenues for concert halls.

The pianist plays at the BBC Proms for the 25th time next Tuesday, 23 August, with a programme featuring Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev. There will be an interval.

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