For years now, the word on the street has been that the increasing age of concertgoers means classical music is doomed. But what do the statistics tell us?
So are classical music audiences actually getting older?
In a word, yes. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal a steady rise in the proportion of 65-74 year-olds attending classical music concerts. In 2005-06, 11.8 per cent of people in this age group attended classical concerts. By 2009-10, this had increased to 13.6 per cent. In comparison, just 6.1 per cent of 25-34 year-olds attended classical concerts in 2009-10, down from 7 per cent in 2005-6.
Why aren’t young people going out to the concert hall anymore?
The dearth of young people in concert halls may be a symptom of a wider malaise: classical music audiences are in decline. In Australia, the audience figures make for sobering reading. Classical music attendance dropped 9.4 per cent between 2004 and 2010, according to industry body Live Performance Australia.
Does this mean classical music will eventually have no audience?
Greg Sandow, an American music critic and composer, says that some commentators, wondering whether anyone in the next generation will still listen to classical music, look at the classical audience and consider that its age – 50 or so – isn’t a problem.
The theory is that because classical audiences have always been 50, new 50-year-olds will emerge to replace them. But, Sandow warns, “the Baby Boom generation is different. Maybe we’re more strongly tied into rock and popular culture, and our children won’t follow their parents into the classical music audience”.
Is it just the case in Australia?
The aging classical audience and shunning of the concert experience by young people are not limited to Australia, with research in America, the UK and France painting a similar picture. In America, research commissioned by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation found that the potential audience for classical music is large, with 27 per cent of adults meeting the criteria for being prospective symphony orchestra attendees. But most of those who expressed some interest in classical music did not regard the concert hall as the preferred place to listen, with the car the most frequently used “venue” for classical music, followed by the home.
In the UK, a study published by the Association of British Orchestras found that older people are over-represented in classical music audiences. While the proportion of classical music attendees aged 55 and over was 38.4 per cent, the proportion of those aged 55 and over in the general UK population was 31.9 per cent. In France, a 2008 Ministry of Culture study of classical concert attendance found that 50 per cent of concertgoers were aged 55 and over.
Is there anywhere in the world where audiences are growing younger?
China is a bright spot. Put it down to the Lang Lang effect – a nationwide surge in music lessons. It’s estimated that between 30 and 100 million children in China are learning the piano, violin, or both. The music critic Alex Ross recounts a performance by the China National Symphony Orchestra, watching as a gaggle of teenagers, “outfitted with bejewelled BlackBerrys, A.P.C. jeans, and other tokens of new wealth, grew excited by the orchestra’s noisily energetic rendition of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique, leaving aside their text-messaging to applaud each movement”.
All-night classical dance party
An innovative way to lure young people into the concert hall was devised by American conductor David Zinman. As music director of the Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich, he established the Tonhalle Late concerts, which combine a classical concert with a dance party.
The idea came about because Zinman once asked his son, a teenage boy soprano, why he never went to classical concerts. His son replied that he didn’t go to concerts because none of his friends went to concerts, as they didn’t want to be seen with their parents. The concerts are aimed at young people aged between 16 and 25, with no parents allowed. They start at 10pm, end by midnight, followed by a dance party until the early hours.