Back to the Future for Classical Music

by Jess

Classical Music….

Out dated. Boring. For old people.

I DON’T THINK SO!

Unfortunately, these are however some of the typical stereotypes we often hear when talking about classical music. Those of us that love the music know this not to be true! But how do we convince the non-lovers?

It is a sad fact that the world of classical orchestral concerts is fading away and people don’t go to as many classical concerts as they used to. Which is why the orchestral world needs a rethink – how can we keep this fantastic music living on?

A classical orchestra concert typically consists of an overture, a concerto and then a symphony in the second half. This has been the structure for many years, and yes, it works for the audience that currently watch it. But as we know, that audience is getting smaller and smaller and we want to bring new listeners in.

So I thought I’d have a little delve into some of the ways orchestras have been trying to tackle the problem.

What exciting new concert programmes have they come up with?

Have they collaborated with non-classical artists?

Have they varied their repertoire?

The inspiration for this research started when I played in a concert with the Notting Hill Orchestra the other week, an entire concert dedicated to film music. Not necessarily your standard Classical rep but it was ACCESSIBLE to the audience and brought in a full house. The pieces were relatively short and easy to listen to but what struck me most was HOW the orchestra put on the show.

Yes, I say show because that is truly what it was.

The orchestra were sat traditionally in the middle of a beautiful, high ceilinged church with spot lights surrounding them. Alongside the music, there was a light show that complemented the storylines and action within the music. It made the whole event really exciting and a very visual and successful way of introducing people to an orchestra.

Any die hard Metallica fans would also know that they have used an orchestra. Heavy metal meets classical symphony orchestra?! 7

What?!

Back in 1999 they recorded “Symphony and Metallica” (or S&M) with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. The bassist from the band, Cliff Burton, came up with the idea to “combine heavy metal with epic classical” (I love that classical is described as epic!) and actually a lot of inspiration for Metallica songs before this album he took from the work of Johann Sebastian Bach – who knew?

Back to the year 2017, the BBC Philharmonic orchestra (in Manchester) have been collaborating with Radio 1 Live Lounge to create a series called “Live Lounge Symphony” where they join forces with pop acts, adding the “epic classical” sound (I’m going to keep using epic!) to their famous chart topping songs. Last year it was with Clean Bandit and Jess Glynne!

Something else I’ve spotted in the concert halls recently is symphony orchestras playing film scores alongside the showing of the film. Just a few days ago the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra played John Williams’ score for “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone” at the Royal Albert Hall. Imagine not only watching the film on a HD, 40-foot screen, but having the full spectacle of an orchestra at the forefront of the stage.

“an unforgettable experience for Harry Potter fans”

…and music fans!

Let’s hope we get more of these!

On the same theme as bringing a film to stage, orchestras have also been collaborating with actors and storytellers to bring famous children’s stories to life with live music. What a great way of heightening the imagination of young people as well as introducing them to the sound of the orchestra and the setting of the concert hall, with stories that they will know so well.

Finally, the one thing we have missing from the above collaborations and concerts is the use of traditional classical music repertoire.  

I’m happy to say that the concert programmers seem to be finding a way of broadening their audience for this too. Flicking through the Hallé Orchestra’s concert programme there are titles such as “Russian Spectacular” with music from Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich and “Never Mind the Weather” with music by Gershwin.

I like the idea of a theme to a concert, with some pieces the audience will recognise and some new ones they will be introduced to. I feel it’s a non-daunting way of getting people to watch and listen to classical music.

Hopefully ideas like these will continue and classical music and symphony orchestras will stay in the concert hall for many years to come.