Universal chief hits out at “exclusive” classical music, calls for more adventurous programming

Speaking at the Association of British Orchestras conference in Leeds, Universal Music chief Max Hole has called for more adventurous programming to break the “exclusive” world around classical music.

The Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group International used his keynote speech, entitled How I Learned To Love Classical Music And Why I Fear For It, to encourage attendees from the classical world to embrace the opportunities of digital distribution, streaming, social media and other innovations.

He told Classic FM’s Anne-Marie Minhall, “the classical music world needs to change and be more adventurous in the way they try and attract not just a young audience, but a bigger audience.”

In the face of declining physical sales, a drop in CD player production and the challenges of getting people to concerts of new music, Hole called for conductors and orchestras to interact with their audience. His comments also defend the use of new technology such as social media that more traditional listeners and players can sometimes view as a threat that will dumb-down down the art form. “The over 50s are one of the fastest growing sectors for people interested in social media and acquiring tablets and mobile devices.”

Youth is important though, as is the need to switch on new music listeners to the charms of classical music. Hole suggests that changing the format people first interact with classical music could be the way forward:

“The young multitask: listening to music, chatting to their friends on Skype and doing their homework. They like tracks and bits of music rather than necessarily a whole work. I think that’s something we should embrace. Classic FM embraced it 20 years ago … if you can interest people in a bite-size piece of something great, maybe they will go on to like the whole thing.”

New works and new attitudes needed?

The CEO also bemoaned the lack of new works being recorded and performed, and the exclusive attitudes that can sometimes pervade classical concerts. For a total beginner, the strict protocols and intimidating venues can put some listeners off the whole experience of listening to classical music live. Instead, classical music should appear to be more welcoming to people outside of the circle:

“The public face of an orchestra is the conductor. Its not enough anymore for the conductor to be a genius – of course he’s got to be brilliant artistically – but he must also be someone who can engage with the audience both in the concert hall but also online and in social media, interviews, and all kinds of ways we can get to the consumer.”

“I find it extraordinary that I go to classical music concerts the conductor rarely speaks to the audience, and they when they do its fantastic.”

“Why don’t we do more concerts in venues that are more attractive? We have an initiative that we started in Germany called The Yellow Lounge which is presenting serious, core classical musicians but in club environments. It’s really successful: we’re doing them all around the world now – from Tokyo to Sydney, to Paris, to New York.”

You can watch the full interview between Max Hole and Anne-Marie Minhall below:

What do you think of Max Hole’s comments?

Are his ideas based on a misconception of classical music traditions or do we need innovation to keep the field as vital as it should be?

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