This post is written by Katy Hamilton.
I hugely enjoyed the thrilling performances of the BBC’s Young Musician of the Year Final, aired earlier this month. But it was utterly baffling – to me at least – that almost nothing was said about the pieces we were hearing. This was a majority female composer line-up, in three non-standard concertos which even the conductor, Mark Wigglesworth, admitted were new to him. Yet we were given no information about the people who produced the music; or when the pieces were written; or even whether they were in more than one movement, to help the audience follow along as it listened.
As one of very few high-profile classical events still aired on a mainstream TV channel, this seemed like a missed opportunity. If those who infrequently (or indeed never) attend classical music events find them intimidating because they don’t feel as if they know the ‘rules’, shows of this kind provide a chance to offer some simple, demystifying facts and figures. As we re-emerge from a period of largely digital, screen-led musical performance into the ‘real world’, there is the potential to reach out to a much broader audience base for classical music by using the very technology (a voiceover to a livestream; a short supplementary film with information for first-timers; supporting web content) that we have had to embrace because of the global pandemic.
We have a chance to go beyond the standard models of learning and participation events (where activities, and also funding pots, are largely aimed at children) to encourage the curious but tentative non-attendee to give it a go. So what tactics should we be discussing? What formats, in-person or digital, could help to reach new listeners? And how do we find a way of balancing presentations to help people enough, without succumbing to information overload?
Katy Hamilton is a freelance researcher, writer, and presenter on music.