The latest analysis of concert statistics by the German Orchestra Association (DOV) highlights a significant shift by the country’s orchestras, which are increasingly moving beyond traditional symphony concerts towards other kinds of performances.
Orchestras are taking music to the public
The figures for 2013–14 – the DOV collects data every two seasons – show in particular how important music education has become in the orchestras’ activities. The number of concerts and events for children and young people increased by 10.8 per cent from 2011–12, reaching almost twice the number reported in 2003–4. By contrast, the amount of foreign touring dived 30 per cent from 2011–12 levels, taking the total of symphony and choral concerts down to its lowest number in more than ten years.
The DOV statistics don’t include figures for open-air concerts, church concerts and classical crossover concerts organised by commercial providers. But the association’s director Gerald Mertens says the latest survey indicated the increasing diversity of concert formats and the innovative ways that orchestras are taking music to the public. ‘Back in the 1990s we had the symphony concert, the chamber concert, the schools concert, maybe a children’s concert and maybe a family concert.
That was the extent of any orchestra’s offering,’ he recalls. ‘Today we have a huge range of different concert formats, reaching every age group.’ He cites ‘side-by-side’ concerts (involving partnerships between professional orchestras and youth orchestras) and concerts of video-game music as among the most successful formats to have emerged in the past ten years.
Mertens dates the rise in German orchestras’ social awareness, and the start of public awareness of music education by orchestras, to 2002 and Simon Rattle’s arrival in Berlin.
Rattle brought in the London Symphony Orchestra’s music animateur, Richard McNicol, to create a comprehensive education programme for the Philharmonic, an initiative that proved enormously influential. ‘Orchestras across Germany looked at what the Berlin Phil was doing,’ says Mertens, ‘and considered what they could do in the same vein.’ The timing squares with the experience of another venerated institution, the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Its director, Andreas Schulz, went to the city authorities in 2002 requesting more resources for music education.
After a year of discussions, funding for a dedicated music education department was secured, as Schulz recalls: ‘We immediately hired a specialist who developed several new formats. Now we have three members of staff dedicated to music education.’ In Leipzig, as in Berlin, new chief conductors brought with them fresh ideas about how the orchestra should engage with its community.
Herbert Blomstedt had already introduced family concerts to the Gewandhaus season when he succeeded Kurt Masur in 1998, and when Riccardo Chailly took over in 2005 he added ‘Discovery Concerts’, which include on-stage discussions with a composer before the performance of a new work.
The education of musicians themselves has also been a factor in the development of orchestras’ education and community programmes. Mertens points to the growth in opportunities, at conservatoires such as those in Detmold and Hanover, for musicians to study to become full-time music educators, or Musikvermittler, in orchestras and opera houses.
Schulz also recognises the increasing openness of younger members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra to going into schools and speaking about their work, their instruments and their music. ‘I still think that the Musikhochschule can do much more to train musicians in how to talk about music,’ he says. ‘We’re now discussing how we can help players who want to do this kind of presenting, but who don’t feel they have the right training.’
Shift from traditional symphony concerts to more diverse programming
Commercially, education and community projects have proved increasingly attractive to sponsors, many of whom see more value in long-term social initiatives than in momentary glitz. ‘Five years ago we had many more requests from sponsors for special gala evenings, or for us to invite star soloists,’ says Schulz. ‘But a lot has changed, and more and more requests today are for projects involving schools and kids.
It’s much easier to find a sponsor to support an education project.’ The Munich Philharmonic’s education programme, ‘Spielfeld Klassik’, has been sponsored since 2011 by one of the city’s biggest business names, BMW. ‘You have to find the right partnership,’ says Spielfeld Klassik director Simone Siwek. ‘Some sponsors will want to support a foreign tour, but a big player like BMW sees how important our educational programme is for Munich, for the social fabric of the city.’ The programme comprises around 150 events each season, reaching more than 34,000 people in and around Munich, from kindergarten pupils to university students and beyond.
But the programme also includes a project at the Kampala Music School in Uganda, a reminder that orchestras are extending their educational activity beyond their immediate community, whether that be with special projects such as this one in Uganda, or with educational work during tours and residencies, such as those undertaken by the Gewandhaus Orchestra in London and New York.
For Mertens, the shift from traditional symphony concerts to more diverse programming does not represent any kind of cultural ‘dumbing down’, but is about tailoring the same high-quality concert experience to different age groups. ‘What orchestras are doing now with their education programmes and new formats is simply responding to developments in society,’ he says. ‘We will always have symphony concerts, but every format will find its audience. With all these formats, the guiding principle is that the art itself must be untouched.’