We are in an era where art forms are breaking out of their traditional boundaries; where museums, cultural centres and concerts halls are popping up all over the place, desperately calling for greater audience numbers; and where culture is increasingly being seen as a necessity, and not a luxury (yes, ooh controversial).*
It’s nice to see that some classical music orchestras, who perform what is usually regarded as one of the more stubborn art forms, have responded to our changing circumstances with great enthusiasm.
In recent years, many orchestras around the world have been running schemes to try and get new and younger faces through the doors. While some schemes fall short (think flimsy screen in the corner or sad light shows), some have taken off.
London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (one of my all-time favs) has been running The Night Shift for about 7 years now. By staging short late-night concerts (occasionally at unusual places), where drinks are encouraged throughout the night, snippets from their full concert performed earlier in the evening are played with introductions given by a respected popular figure, and an after-party creates a time and place for concert-goers to document and remember the experience, OAE have really helped breakdown the stuffy stereotype of a classical music concert. Great too is that they aren’t presenting a tailor-made programme (no ‘dumbing down’ argument) though undoubtedly they schedule these nights on evenings of easier listening.
Then there’s Hong Kong Philharmonic’s 9pm Swire Denim series (whose title is clearly aimed at challenging the stereotypical dress code, but arguably ends up reinforcing it…) For these concerts, they play a light-hearted accessible programme that is nominated/voted on by their target audience of ‘urbanites and music lovers’. At the last one I went to, they even made the effort to have an after-party. Unfortunately it wasn’t within the venue grounds (a venue closing hour issue I assume), so they lost me and probably many others too. Getting audiences to stick around is hard! HK Phil also runs Swire Family concerts (great work Swire!), which are similar to the ones London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra run. A musical petting zoo, bring your own instrument and join in segment… loved and adored by my 3-year old nephew.
But what actually prodded me to write this post is because I went to the Hong Kong Sinfonietta’s McDull ‧ Sentimental Little Stories (fantastic!) concert this past Sunday. A variety of easy-listening tunes were played in perfect sync with projected animations, together conveying ‘love is simple, love is kind’. They really managed to pick the perfect tunes and organize the music and footage such as to accentuate the ironic humour McDull cartoons have… it was awesome.
Sure, it helps that I love McDull (who doesn’t! :)), but actually HK Sinfonietta has got it right on. McDull is a Hong Kong brand that appeals to the Hong Kong sense of humour… what better way to introduce classical music to Hong Kong kids than with McDull? A particularly nice touch too was that Yip Wing-sie and members of the orchestra narrated the stories – it’s not just another concert, they truly believe in bringing music to young people. And from the looks of it, the concert was successful in achieving its aim. It brought in and captivated a young audience, who giggled and cheered throughout. Perhaps (with lots of funding), it can be adapted into a long-running format and become a must-see for all young people, local and visiting?
So the natural question here is, well which one did I enjoy the most? But actually, I think the more important question is, which series in the long run will breed a classical music attendee, a lover of symphonies, arias and concertos? Which scheme, if any, will actually change the face of the art form – both on and off stage? Hmmm.
*And someday soon, where hopefully being an artist or having a career in the arts is widely accepted, sustainable and encouraged!