The endangered concert

The endangered concert

According to a European Union study, the number of people involved in concerts is falling: both audiences, organizers and performers.

We have been observing for a long time that the general public is decreasing the frequency with which they go to concerts or that their average age is increasing.

This is not helped by the “crisis”, nor by the increase in VAT on cultural activities, nor by the problems affecting music education. However, what kind of concerts are you referring to?

In Spain in particular, flamenco and jazz enjoyed much less activity 30 years ago. Are we a less “cultural” continent because we go less to classical music concerts, ballet or opera?

At the outset it would be necessary to define what those who carried out this study understand by “culture”.

Perhaps they refer more to “high culture” or what they call in German “Hochkultur” to refer to classical music, theatre, ballet, opera or museums.

There, despite the image we have of Germany as a land of culture, only 9% of the population is interested in “Hochkultur”.

As for the classical music concert, the “crisis” may be a small part of the explanation, but certainly not all. Salzburg, the city where I live, is considered a paradise of classical music and culture.

However, at a recent seminar of the Mozarteum Foundation we were told how the audience has been declining over the last 20 years, especially in terms of chamber music or piano recitals.

I have had the opportunity to see the type of audience that goes to these last concerts and is divided into two very marked groups: people of advanced age on average (60 years and older above all) and music students. The generation gap is more than evident.

In the United States, according to this article, 13% attended at least one classical concert in 1982, 11.6% in 2002 and 8.8% in 2012.

It also explains that in 1937 the average age at a Los Angeles Orchestra concert was 27. What is the average today? I feel far from those 27 years.

The classical concert

The classical concert, as we conceive it today, has remained practically unchanged for many decades: canonical repertoire of a few composers in halls where a kind of ritual to which we have become accustomed occurs: applause in very defined places, listening motionless, in silence and coughing between movements.

Many halls where classical music is played today began to be built after 1870: the Carnegie Hall in New York, the Royal Albert Hall in London or the Musikverein in Vienna. In Spain the Palau de la Música Catalana was opened in 1908.

Despite all the changes in recent decades at all levels, the concert venues remain the same. The repertoire in turn has remained very immobile and above all the format remains the same as it was over a century ago.

In the end it results in a snake biting its own tail: if I programme a very innovative concert my usual audience does not come, but if I do not change and experiment that audience slowly decreases.

Social issue

These spaces have therefore remained somewhat anachronistic and alien to much of society. For us musicians it is obvious to go to an auditorium, but it is not so for a large part of the population. I recently invited a friend to the New Year’s concert of the Orquesta Ciudad de Tres Cantos.

He asked me how I should dress, with some concern about not giving the note and finding myself out of place in this social group. This anecdote is much more common than we might think.

I myself can feel somewhat out of place in a concert in a flamenco peña, even though I love the music I listen to.

At the end of the day a concert is a social act and many variables come into play besides the music itself. The ritual of a concert is not the same for classical, jazz or flamenco.

Not even in classical music, where the opera has its own place, often with its own audience and its own rules.

Are we less cultural?

I don’t think so. I think we access culture in a different way. To give an example, who is more cultural than these two options?

In 1980, Javier played 30 concerts: 28 classical and 2 jazz. He bought 12 CDs during that year which he listened to repeatedly along with others from his collection.

Year 2013, Laura has gone this year to 20 concerts: 8 of classical music, 7 of jazz and 5 of flamenco. Every day she listens to music through Spotify and watches videos on Youtube.

Is Laura less cultural than Javier?

Is it less cultural to watch a YouTube video of an entire concert on a Saturday afternoon and then go out to dinner, than to go to the auditorium in your city to listen to the programme for that day?

On the other hand, on the Spanish scene, jazz and flamenco have taken on a lot of prominence in the last 20 years, with many spaces emerging for them.

As we explained in the welcome post, the institutions are gradually giving them recognition, incorporating them into the official centres of musical education. All of this with a younger general public that has also demanded and supported these genres.