A young musician announced to me recently that the problem of classical music’s dwindling audiences would be solved by moving concerts into exciting new locations not associated with classical performance.
For example, she mentioned the MultiStory project, an orchestra which performs in a multi-storey car park in the London district of Peckham. Their car park concerts have attracted large audiences. They don’t only play in car parks, but their mission is to ‘forget fusty concert halls’ as a Times review put it.
I confess that when I hear this kind of thing my heart sinks, because I know from my experience with Domus and its dome that merely providing a startling location is not enough to keep audiences faithful in the long term. I do believe in the potential of certain site-specific events, pairing a particular piece of music with a setting which enhances it – be it a cave, a warehouse, a ruined chapel or a forest. If the unexpected setting has good acoustics, so much the better. I can imagine that some settings will open everyone’s ears to new meanings.
But even if audiences like them, I do wonder whether the novelty of wacky locations is enough to sustain the musicians themselves. So much instrumental skill and dedication is required to play these very demanding, complex pieces of music: thousands of hours of practice behind the scenes are necessary. Will the musicians be motivated to put in the work if they feel the main selling-point of the performance is the novelty of its location?
The gimmick will be attractive, but what happens when the surprise has worn off? What if the orchestral sound is lost on the wind and in the din of passing traffic? What if the musicians’ hands are too cold to play? Novelty only works for a moment. After that, we need to be able to hold the audience’s attention by means of the music itself. The big question is: having enjoyed the concert in the car park or the London Underground tunnel, will listeners be inspired to follow the musicians into the conditions in which they prefer to perform – in quiet, sheltered spaces perfect for playing and listening to music?