New World Symphony Presents New Nightclub Style Concerts in Order to Draw in Younger Audiences
One of the trending topics here at String Visions is the current state of the American orchestra. Many are worried that symphonies are in a state of irreversible decline. Audiences are simultaneously shrinking and aging, leaving a lot of empty seats that some organizations have been trying frantically fill with younger listeners. Strategies include shorter “rush hour” concerts, chamber music offerings in unusual venues such as pubs, and the use of screens and other media in classical music. Some tactics have been more successful than others, but one thing is clear among members of the orchestral community: the art form needs to adapt to our changing culture or prepare to be left behind as a relic of the past.
One organization that has made valiant efforts to change the way it does business and attract new concertgoers is the New World Symphony, which is based in Miami, Florida. Recently they played a concert to a sold out audience that turned the usual conventions of symphonic etiquette upside-down. Audience members were free to walk about and talk during the performance, which featured not Brahms or Beethoven but electronica styled music set for orchestra. The idea was to create an environment similar to the nightclubs that attract so many young South Beach residents. Hopefully, the more up-to-date concerts will encourage audiences to attend more traditional settings as well, helping to cultivate the next generation of symphony patrons.
At the moment, the events themselves, called Pulse, have been quite successful. While the first event a year ago drew only 900 attendees, the second event four months later sold out all 1,500 tickets a week in advance. The audience at Pulse, which was comprised of a noticeably younger demographic, also seemed to be very excited, citing the informal, social atmosphere, and the feeling of integration gained from being able to interact with musicians interspersed throughout the building.
The success of the Pulse events in the long-term perspective, however, remains unknown. Some commentators, such as Lawrence A. Johnson of the Chicago Classical Review, expressed doubts that this approach would really hook younger listeners on classical music:
I think a lot of people are attracted by the social or club atmosphere…Whether people who attend events like this will also attend an unplugged Brahms symphony is another question. I like the idea. And anything that gets new audiences or young people interested in classical music is great. But if people are talking and drinking, then they’re not really listening closely, and it becomes background music. I’m not sure this combination produces terrific music, and ultimately it’s the quality of music that brings people back.
The New World Symphony certainly has something going for it with Pulse. The ticket sales prove that. But the concern that this style of concert might not be able to turn younger listeners into regular concertgoers is a valid assertion. This kind of innovation is definitely necessary, but is this the right direction? Should the New World Symphony follow this path in addition to their regular concert offerings, or should they be going in a different direction entirely? Share you opinions below!