Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Orchestras need to wake up and smell the coffee
That photo was taken in Concerto Records - a candidate for the best record store in the world - in Amsterdam on Monday. It shows part of the extensive range of new and reconditioned (Thorens etc) turntables on sale in the store, a range that is complemented by a wide selection of vinyl LPs. High end audio stores have majored on turntables for some time, but their appearance in mass market outlets is significant. The resurgence of vinyl can no longer be dismissed as a fashion fad. No one is suggesting that digital formats will be replaced by analogue LPs. But, as reported here recently, vinyl sales increased by the same percentage (40%) in the first half of 2014 as streaming, and vinyl presses are currently at maximum capacity to keep up with demand. Of course vinyl is fragile and non-portable. But let's drill down below the obvious. Consumers are embracing (re-embracing actually) a music format that defies the 'music to go' movement. They are voting with their wallets for a format that demands, to quote Britten, "some preparation", or, to quote Copland, requires the listener "to pay attention and to give the music [their] concentrated effort as an active listener". But it is the rock/alternative sectors that are capitalising on this trend, while orchestras and classical labels continue, lemming-like, to give their music away as effortless sonically-challenged digital streams.
There is no clearer confirmation of this lemming-like behaviour than the forthcoming annual conference of the Association of British Orchestras. At the January 2015 conference the keynote speaker will be Helen Boaden, director of BBC Radio. Ms Boaden has absolutely no track record of winning new audiences for classical music. Her rise in the BBC was in current affairs and business programming. As head of news she was criticised by the BBC commissioned Pollard report over her involvement in the Jimmy Savile fiasco: the following is a quote from the Guardian: 'The Pollard report also said she failed to take responsibility or act decisively even as her news division was in "virtual meltdown" in October"'. Despite this Ms Boaden was promoted to director of BBC Radio in February 2013 by new director general Tony Hall, who had been appointed following his predecessor's resignation in the wake of the Savile scandal.
In the twenty-two months since Ms Boaden became director of BBC Radio the audience for classical network Radio 3 has continued to shrink and Proms attendances have dropped 5%. During her reign the controller of Radio 3 has departed in opaque circumstances, and a successor has been appointed with zero broadcasting experience, and, to judge by his first pronouncements, zero understanding of classical radio. But I may be doing the Association of British Orchestras and Helen Boaden a disservice. Perhaps the theme of her conference keynote speech will be "How not to win new audiences for classical music".
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