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RESEN This book aims to rethink live classical music. To do so, it presents more than 40 inspiring cases from around the world of pioneers – composers, performers, directors and presenters – who are reinvigorating the classical music concert. Each of their solutions shows us how we can make the music more exciting, relevant and approachable by rethinking how we present the music. Together these practices form the undeniable proof that we can reconnect audiences to classical sounds. Everyone who is serious about the future of live classical music should read this book.

‘Finally a book that examines one of the essential artistic issues in classical music today: innovation. Idema has compiled a compendium of perspectives that will be invaluable to all who care and value the progress of classical music through the 21st-century. A vivid and vibrant resource.’

PRESENT! Johan idema


Joseph V. Melillo, Executive Producer BAM

‘The way to present live classical music is not something static. I strongly recommend musicians, presenters, marketers and arts managers to read this book. It inspires us to think about the right formats that will enable the music to flourish in the best possible way.’ Simon Reinink, Managing Director Het Concertgebouw NV

ISBN 978 94 6190 849 0

9 789461 908490

Fresh concert formats for the 21st-century

More than 40 cases of inspiring innovation

FOREWORD BY Norman Lebrecht


Another Time, Another Place


Tell Us Why


On a Mission


Story Time


The Eye Hears, the Ear Sees


Entering the nightlife


For Real


Slow Listening


For All Occasions


The Sweet Spot


What is Happening?


The New Old

Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

‘It has often been argued that classical music cannot easily be taken out of the concert hall – a shame, given that some of the most memorable drama and visual art of recent years has been site-specific, created outside traditional galleries or theatres.’ - Charlotte Higgins, The Guardian Bach Pavilion, page 152

‘Nico and the Navigators bring to life a piece of music which until now was most likely to end up being performed as the most mundane of choral concerts.’ - Christiane Tewinkel, Tagesspiegel

Photo: Maik Schuck

Small Mass, page 90

‘The mood of Swelter was contemplative over all. The performance was as much an urban happening as an outdoor concert.’ - Anthony Tommasini, New York Times

Photo: Darial Sneed

Swelter, page 126

‘Is there a problem in imposing Berg’s private drama so overtly on to the performance? I do not think so. As soon as you know the story, you start imposing it on to the music – but at an ordinary concert performance the drama would be in your head as you listened rather than on stage.’ - Pierre Audi, The Guardian

Photo: Jan-Olav Wedin

Lyric Suite, page 66

‘Concerts last approximately two hours and provide ritual, spectacle, and organized transcendence. Here, though, for eight hours each day in a sanctum, The Forty Part Motet offers a fourteen-minute bath of warm Renaissance counterpoint – a sauna for the mind.’ - Justin Davidson, New York Magazine

Photo: Markus Tretter

The Forty Part Motet, page 128

‘The Kronos Quartet takes hold of the entire concert-going experience, not merely chunks of music framed by coughing, chair-shifting, and clapping. Lighting works for truly moving visual effects and spotlights, and amplified sound design massively expands the string quartet’s aural possibilities. Recorded music was played in the hall as the audience filed in, setting a different tone and preparing the audience. The Kronos Quartet walks on stage accompanied by electronic sound effects and turned-up recordings in lieu of the conventional applause procedure. The entire production leaves an impression, not just the musical message.’ - Be’eri Moalem, San Francisco Classical Voice

Photo: Kronos Quartet

Awakenings, page 140

- Jochem Valkenburg, NRC Up-Close, page 96

Photo: Joost Rietdijk

‘Film, music and acting often merge impressively, but despite that it remains on the whole a cello concerto, with explosive moments as well as melancholy lyricism.’

- John Baron, The Guardian Water Music, page 150

Photo: Lizzie Coombes

‘It was a picture book scene – dozens of swimmers of all ages took to the water in a beautiful Edwardian swimming pool to listen to Handel’s Water Music played live on a floating stage.’

‘This dazzling theatrical collaboration offers both an impressionistic mosaic of the life of Shostakovich and a deeply moving performance of his final string quartet. Purists may argue that this is irrelevant to the music, that the quartet, grave, slow and death-haunted, needs no contextualizing. But I found the work’s expressive pain heightened by the encapsulated evocation of the composer’s life.’ - Michael Billington, The Guardian

Photo: Sarah Ainslie

The Noise of Time, page 82

‘It was a surreal experience. I have rarely been to an event where the audience was so mesmerized – no one was speaking. Perhaps, like me, they were haunted by the experience.’ - Nicole Berry, Accessible Art

Photo: Photo Enid Alvarez © Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, 2011

T.1912, page 122


Innovate, innovate, innovate! Foreword by Norman Lebrecht


Kissing Sleeping Beauty Awake Introduction


Another Time, Another Place Mixing things up for the better


Late Night Rose Limelight Nachtmusik A Suite in a Suite 25


Tell Us Why Along with the listening, bring in the learning Mail from Mozart Classics Declassified Scherpdenkers Annette’s DaschSalon Lyric Suite


On a Mission The performer behind the performance

Story Time Revealing the drama behind the music The Noise of Time The Pianist The Infernal Comedy Bach Cantatas Small Mass



Up-Close Wrench Dracula

Zapp 4 Newspeak Jozef van Wissen


The Eye Hears, the Ear Sees Showing what music can look like

Entering the nightlife Concerts as 21st-century events


3D Super: Une Nuit Urbaine Radiale Nacht Night of the Unexpected

For Real Breaking out of the concert hall


Svadebka! T.1912 The Veil of the Temple 27


Slow Listening The spiritual side of classical

What is Happening? What today’s world sounds like

Swelter The Forty Part Motet Inuksuit

Confessions One-Minute Operas Into…

For All Occasions Whether for joy or grief, music leaves its mark


Lecture Songs Requiem for a Car Park Awakenings 1969



The New Old Don’t repeat, but re-invent


Falstaff Rivisto Barock Lounge Absolute Bach Re-Invented Lunapark plays Aphex Twin

The Sweet Spot Finding the place where the music belongs Apollo Water Music Bach Pavilion






Innova t e , innova t e , innova te!



Why the world has gone off classical concerts is a mystery in which almost every reasonable assertion is disputable. Take the attention-span thesis. Many in the concert world believe that audience decline stems from the public’s flickering tolerance for prolonged concentration. If politicians speak in sound bites, how can we expect voters to sit through a symphony? It is a persuasive argument but one that I have come to find both fatuous and patronizing. Around me I see people of all ages who sit gripped through four hours of King Lear, Lord of the Rings or a grand-slam tennis final but who, ten minutes into a classical concert, are squirming in their seats and wondering 32

what crime they committed that resulted in them being held captive, silent and legroom-restrained. If the shrunken attention spans are not to blame for the classical turn-off, neither is the price. Many concert tickets now cost less than cinema stubs. The London Symphony Orchestra once adopted an impulse price of five pounds but failed to attract first-timers. Let’s face it: in a busy metropolis with multiple counterattractions, most people won’t be dragged to a classical concert at any price. So what, precisely, scares people off? In two words: concert ritual. The classical concert has stultified for half a century. It starts in mid-evening and last two hours. 33


The formula cannot be altered without inconveniencing the musicians and alarming the subscription audience so nothing changes. The concert hall is a gerontocracy with its decorum enforced more rigidly than in places of worship. Its exclusiveness is innate. The greying of the audience is an admitted fact of concert life. Small wonder that the concert hall atmosphere is about as lively as a cruise liner, and its intellectual magnetism as potent as a pension plan. What can those who love classical music do to support a healthy future for the music? Innovate, innovate, innovate! Look for artists who do things differently, because there are ways to change the 34

concert experience. Create a multimedia theater piece out of a Shostakovich string quartet. Perform Händel’s famous Water Music in the stunning surroundings of a historic swimming pool. Use cutting-edge technology to turn a 16th-century motet into a contemporary art installation. Commission mini-operas based on a major news event and broadcast them during primetime. This book offers an impressive array of new and exciting ways to present classical music differently. If there is a genuine will, it can be done. Arts flourish where there is invention, die where there is none. Classical music needs no longer to live within the walls of concert halls or the restraints of concert rituals. 35


Cuts in arts budgets represent an empowering opportunity. Some ensembles may die – but only from an excess of caution. Those that seize the moment to innovate and claim creative independence will emerge from the economic downturn more virile, diverse and versatile than they ever dared to dream of. Music, in crisis, has nothing to lose but its chains. Norman Lebrecht cultural commentator and novelist






Who wants to sit still in a concert hall for two hours listening to music from decades, if not centuries, ago? Unfortunately, only very few still do. The latest research will even tell you that across the world there is a sharp – and in places, alarming – decline in the attendance for classical concerts.¹ Of course, a fair number of people still visit classical concerts and we should be glad they do. However we should also realize that many of them only do it for the tried and trusted ‘classics’ and the associated prestige. They are visitors to what I call the ‘Museum of Classical Music’ – a place that may preserve an art form but does very little in adding new vitality.

Classical music is in a continuous state of innovation.

I don’t believe those who hold the music responsible for the shrinking audience numbers. Classical music has been in a continuous state of innovation for many ages, as composers seek to create new and exciting works. The genre’s drive for fresh sounds continues to be admirably strong. However, the quest for the new only goes in one direction: through the repertoire. This focus of vision is classical music’s greatest strength, but – to be honest – has also become its greatest weakness. How many of us – composers, performers and presenters – truly look beyond the music to think about how we should offer this ¹ In the United States paid attendance for classical music has declined by eight percent between 2002 and 2007. If recent participation trends remain unaddressed, the audience for live classical music could decline by an additional 14 percent by 2018 (League of American Orchestras). In the Netherlands the attendance has diminished one percent each year over the last 20 years (The Netherlands Institute for Social Research).


The drive for fresh sounds is classical music’s greatest strength, and its greatest weakness.

music to our audiences? Most of us have come to regard the way of the standard concert formula as the only way. This is remarkable, since this is the very attitude we must directly challenge if we want to reinvigorate live classical music. Classical music performances should be extraordinary experiences. However, when I read the season brochures of concert halls and ensembles, it sometimes feels that this aim has been watered down into a simple, easy-to-market two-hour construct – something that we call a ‘concert’. Of course, a concert can be profoundly enjoyable and inspirational. But the current situation raises fundamental questions: Have classical music concerts become too much of a predictable commodity as a result of formulaic programming strategies and practices? Or, even more alarming, is live classical music losing its competitive edge within the abundance of other arts and entertainment choices? One thing is certain, audiences are opting to spend more of their free time away from the concert hall… The classical concert is holding itself hostage At classical concerts, I often observe performers and presenters focusing entirely on the music. By following a single formula of virtuosity, tradition and formality, it is almost as if they are holding themselves hostage to a fixed idea around what a performance is. ‘Musicians and conductors are concerned with just reading parts correctly and creating a pristine sound,’ says conductor Kirstjan Järvi (the son of conductor Neeme 41


Järvi). This approach may lead to sublime performances that many enjoy, but also to what significantly more people have come to regard as an formal and passive concert experience. Many have come to feel that the imagination and drama of the music is often at odds with the presentation. In addition, the contact between classical performThe imagination ers and their audience is often minimal when compared to other and drama of musical forms. With so little direct the music is engagement, it is perhaps no wonder people grow alienated from classical often at odds music. Even those who are passionwith the ate about the genre, can come away from a concert feeling unsatisfied. presentation. A sleeping beauty The reason behind classical music’s current decline is understandable. We all recognize that the world is changing rapidly, which is just something all businesses have to confront if they want to survive. What I find surprising is how even though there are countless potential solutions out there, most of us classical music professionals actually spend little time in finding, creating, analyzing, testing and evaluating them. Our overreliance on performance traditions somehow prevents us from experimenting with new directions. ‘Live classical music has become a sleeping beauty,’ one presenter I spoke with noted. ‘It has great potential but it is in a deep sleep.’ If we want to counter the trend of decreasing audience numbers, we need to reinvent the classical concert. We must develop more new and challenging ways of truly connecting 42

We need to truly connect the music with its audience.

the music with its audience. Of course, some are already engaged in vigorous experimentation and innovations. However, no matter how exciting these efforts may be, they remain only admirable exceptions. As a group, performers and presenters are far from spending the recommended minimum of 10 per cent of the time and resources that every business should dedicate to research and development. Moreover, the interesting successes (and failures) that have occurred, most of us have hardly heard about because – let’s be honest – we do little when it comes to sharing our insights with others.

This book makes a fundamental first step by getting specific.

This book gets specific Many of us are aware that classical music needs to develop new ways for the future. Our first challenge is to formulate what this specifically means. This publication is unique in making a fundamental first step by getting specific. It presents and analyzes real cases of how to present classical music in innovative ways. The selected practices, brought together in this book for the first time, all represent promising strategies from performers and presenters worldwide. Some are big and bold, some are small and simple, but all are imaginative potential solutions that point the way forward. All who care about the future of classical music should get to know these cases. I trustthat everyone will be inspired and learn from them – not only from the results, but also from the attitude that produced them. 43


Kissing the classical music concert You could read this book as a manifesto against traditional classical concerts and concert halls. Is is not. Fresh practices are never going to replace the Concertgebouw, Carnegie Hall or the other large and small concert venues worldwide. This book is a testimony to the idea that brilliantly performed classical music and rapt we can audiences are also possible, often even reconnect more so, outside of conventional forums and formats. If we want to keep our audiences audiences and attract new ones, we to classical need a much greater diversity in where and how we present classical music. music. Everyone who is serious about rethinking live classical music should read this book. I take both a critical stand – please, be ready to have your assumptions challenged – and present inspiring solutions. I urge you to read the conclusions, as they show that the cases are, understandably, far from perfect Still, each one contributes to the undeniable proof that we can reconnect audiences to classical music. The cases inspire and activate us to do so. They are the gentle kisses with which we can awaken the classical concert. Johan Idema


please note before reading this book

This publication is for composers, performers, presenters, artist managers, music critics, journalists, teachers and all other professionals involved in the classical music business. It focuses on live classical music while mostly excluding opera and family concerts. The book is divided into twelve categories, each covering up to five cases. The cases focus on product innovation (how music is performed and presented), and exclude the marketing. Each of the practices is described from both practical and audience perspectives, focusing on what it entails, what makes it special and what we can learn from it. The cases have been collected and examined based on research, interviews with experts, the author’s experience as an arts consultant and, of course, by attending concerts. The analysis is straightforward to appeal to a broad target audience of international classical music professionals. Therefore, this book should not be regarded as an indepth or scientific study. Due to space limitations, the cases mention the performers, but not necessarily all of the parties involved (such as the composer, presenters and funders). As much as possible, the cases were selected to be part of a group that represents a diversity in genre, geography and type of innovation. The book doesn’t focus on differences in disciplines and genres (such as baroque or orchestral music), as the essence of the challenges in innovating the presentation of classical music is identical for each genre. Most of the cases come from Europe and the United States, where, as it turned out during the research, most of the relevant cases were to be found. Moreover, in many other countries, classical music fulfills fundamentally different roles, which pose challenges outside the scope of this book. Nevertheless, the cases in this book can also be of interest for classical music professionals outside of Europe and the United States.


Story Time

REVEALING THE DRAMA BEHIND THE MUSIC The Noise of Time The Pianist The Infernal Comedy Bach Cantatas Small Mass

story time

The Noise of Time The theater of Shostakovich’s last string quartet


to begin with, carried the weight of oppression on his trembling shoulders.’ Once we are fully immersed in the dying Shostakovich’s delirium and world, we have no choice but to hear the quartet through re-tuned ears. The Noise of Time is a successful theatrical presentation of a complex classical music work. It is based on the notion that to understand Shostakovich’s music, we must understand him and his world. ‘Noise builds a beautiful and enlightening bridge into one artist’s sensibility.’ - Ben Brantley, New York Times Photo: Sarah Ainslie

It would be hard to imagine a better way of telling the background story to music, than The Noise of Time by the Emerson Quartet and the Complicite theater group. They use Shostakovich’s final, and most devastating, string quartet, written in the hospital a year before he died, as the climax for an extraordinary 80-minute multimedia theater piece. In the first half, Shostakovich’s life comes to us through a lightning-speed montage of radio snippets, film newsreels, photography, choreography and spoken narrative. As the Los Angeles Times described it: ‘We are transported back into a society in which music was dangerous, in which Stalin could act as a lethal music critic, in which Shostakovich, a neurotic man


Concept, research and text Johan Idema

Editor Steve Korver

Design Studio Annemarie Mosterd | Anouk Voogt

Printing Platform P

Sales Music Center the Netherlands Additional copies of this book can be ordered via Contact the author at This publication was made possible with the generous support of Music Center the Netherlands (MCN) and the Performing Arts Fund NL. It serves as a follow-up to the conference ‘Reframing the Classical Music Experience’, held during the Dutch Classical Music Meeting 2012.


Many thanks to: Michael Nieuwenhuizen and Job Spierings (The Netherlands Music Center), Frank Veenstra (Muziekgebouw Eindhoven), Joseph Melillo (Brooklyn Academy of Music), Robert Kloos (Consulate General of the Netherlands), Zach Layton (Issue Project Room), Ronen Givony (Le Poisson Rouge), Jan Van den Bossche (Festival Old Music), Christoph Drescher (Kultur Konzepte und Produktion), Peter Chang (WU PROMOTION Co), Norman Lebrecht and Diane Ragsdale (Erasmus University Rotterdam). All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author. Although every effort was made to find the copyright holders for the illustrations used, it has not been possible to trace them all. Interested parties are requested to contact the author through Music Center the Netherlands. ISBN 978 94 6190 849 0 © 2012 Johan Idema, Rotterdam


About the author Johan Idema has extensive experience as an arts consultant, specializing in strategic planning, concept development and innovation management. He worked at several cultural institutions and obtained a Master’s degree in Performing Arts Administration at New York University. Johan is a fierce promoter of the innovation of cultural institutions. Most recently, he published Beyond the Black Box and the White Cube, a call to rethink the architecture of museums, theaters and concert halls.


Present! – Rethinking live classical music  

Johan Idema's book Present! – Rethinking Live Classical Music is a call to rethink live classical music. To do so, the book presents a uniqu...

Present! – Rethinking live classical music  

Johan Idema's book Present! – Rethinking Live Classical Music is a call to rethink live classical music. To do so, the book presents a uniqu...