Can Beethoven connect with a new audience in 2020?

Classical music wants a new, wider, and younger, audience. Yet celebrations for the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth this year are relying on unimaginative 'complete works' projects and quasi-scholarly diatribes extolling his humanity. Both of which preach to the converted and are unlikely to reach out to that vital new audience. The big win for classical music in 2020 would be connecting Beethoven and his peers to a wider public. But there has been very little discussion of how that can be achieved, and the few innovative projects shooting for that goal risk being consigned to the oblivion of contemporary entartete musik by the new classical elitists.

There is a very large and young audience for electronic dance music; which is something that the increasingly reactionary classical industry needs to understand. If art music is defined by its ability to change consciousness, then electronic dance music is art music because its huge appeal lies in its power to literally entrance audiences. And that dance music is art music is another uncomfortable truth that the classical thought police need to accept.

Tomorrowland is one of the leading dance music festivals, and more than 400,00 people attend its summer performances in Belgium, plus many more at overseas venues. (The summer Tomorrowland festival at the appropriately named Boom in Belgium is held on two weekends. By comparison the eight week BBC Proms season has an audience of around 300,000.) Since 2015 Tomorrowland has been experimenting with classical and dance fusion. In 2019 an orchestra of conservatoire students conducted by Dirk Brossé took this experiment a stage further by combining orchestral and pre-recorded sounds curated by two on-stage DJs.

The Belgian French-language news site La Libre headlined their story on the project 'If Beethoven was living he would play Tomorrowland' - see translated extract below. This report is a veritable ode to the joy of musical discovery and conveys a sense of connection notably lacking in so many other classical projects targeted at a younger audience. Nobody is suggesting DJs in the Albert Hall for the inevitable Ludwig van-fest at this summer's BBC Proms. But is there really nothing the classical music industry can learn from Tomorrowland's brave experiments? Read this extract and remember how Classic Rock reached out to a new audience in the 1970s and 80s.

We live in the 21st century, there are other genres than those of Mozart or Beethoven. You have to be open and understand why electronic music is so successful, "said [Dirk Brossé] who has worked with many international ensembles. Even if he admits that he does not listen to this musical style at home for pleasure, he remains curious. "If Beethoven lived today, he would be at Tomorrowland. He would certainly have been interested in the event. Perhaps he would have been found next to a DJ. He was an avant-garde, a modernist. experimented, tried things, "says the one who worked with Toots Thielemans, Hans Zimmer and Maurane.

The dance audience came to discover this project en masse. All the phones were out to film it. People clapping, dancing to the music. Noises that don't bother Dirk Brossé at all. "We are all together, it gives unity. The beat brings people together. It breaks the barrier that exists normally with classical music, for which there is an intellectual and spiritual relationship but not physical", he explains.

"But it's crazy!" Exclaims a spectator who regrets not having arrived earlier. "What was more important than the concert was how people were going to react, what they were going to remember this moment," says the conductor who had chills throughout the concert . One of the vocations of the 59-year-old music director is also to arouse public curiosity about classical music. "I think a large part of the audience has never heard of a symphony orchestra. Maybe that will make people want to be interested in it." According to the reactions of the crowd, it may well be that the challenge is taken up.
Header photo via flickr. New Overgrown Path posts are available via RSS/email by entering your email address in the right-hand sidebar. Any copyrighted material is included for critical analysis, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).


The unimaginative 'complete works' projects pose quite a mistery for non-insiders in the music industry as myself. As somebody who regularly visits CPO's online shop, I was astonished at seeing none less than three huge Beethoven huge boxes come into the market at more or less the same time. The smallest, Warner's, comprises 80 cds. The biggest, DG's, far more than 100. All the three in a row and just at the time of what seemingly is a quite meaningless date (250th birth anniversary? Are you kidding?).

The questions I ask to myself when confronting the phenomena of big boxes, whether composer-, conductor- or performer-centric are:

* Who buys these boxes and why? What pushes them to by them?
* How long does it take to sell them out? How many copies are print?
* How much does it cost to produce such boxes?

My best guess is
* old men with plenty of money and spare room on their shelves
* some of them apparently sell out very quickly (DG's Messiaen Edition or Decca's Britten Complete Works, for instance), the less attractive... who knows
* it's all reissues, so I guess the main cost is packaging and printed material; no idea what the gains per boxset are

Any insight into this issue would be much appreciated.

Recent popular posts

The Berlin Philharmonic's darkest hour

Does it have integrity and relevance?

Why new audiences are deaf to classical music

Master musician who experienced the pain of genius

Why cats hate Mahler symphonies

Classical music has many Buddhist tendencies

Elgar and the occult

The paradox of the Dalai Lama

I am not from east or west

In search of 'le point vierge'