How journalists can fill concert halls

The debate: Classical music and media. © Charles Thibo
The debate: Classical music and media. © Charles Thibo

Since the Cross-Eyed Pianist aka Fran Wilson is debating tonight with guest speakers Jessica Duchen, Dr Mark Berry, Mary Nguyen and Simon Brackenborough the role of journalism as a mediator between arts and the general public today, I thought that – being a former journalist reborn as a classical music blogger – I might as well add a few thoughts!

Boulez mediators wanted

One of the goals of writing about classical music today should be to explain and promote music by composers of he 20th/21st century. As much of the audience is used to listen to classical music written 200 or 300 years ago, ears and brains have been educated in a certain way leading to a certain concept of aesthetics. This prevents many listeners from enjoying music written by Schönberg, Messiaen, Ligeti, Boulez, Saariaho or Rihm. I experience this regularly in Luxembourg, when after the pause a third of the audience has left if the program director has dared to schedule a contemporary piece for the first half of the evening.

This type of music needs to be explained, it needs to be set into a context. Program notes are not enough, media need to engage potential listeners in every possible way, especially on social media (chats with modern composers etc.). Isn’t it weird that most of the classical music listeners prefer music whose social context they cannot possibly understand since they don’t live at the time of Monteverdi, Mozart or Schumann? Why don’t they listen to music reflecting the present time? Do they deem that message to be irrelevant? The music is certainly no worse than anything written by Beethoven or Debussy.

But the audience is not to blame. It is in this field, that journalism can make a difference. In the occasional reviews of occasional concerts of contemporary classical music, I see experts talking to other experts, all well expressed either in technical lingo or in hollow platitudes. The authors seem to be driven more by their vanity to show off than by the desire to explain whatsoever and to be a mediator between composer/performer and the audience.

Explain, explain, explain

Finally, if we want to have full concert halls in 50 years, music journalism has better shape up and present classical music – any classical music from baroque to today – in an intelligible form. Explain, explain, explain. If I manage to raise my eight year old daughter’s enthusiasm for Schubert’s songs and Mussorgsky’s symphonic poems, journalist should be able to reach a wider audience in a much more efficient way and raise its interest in the why and how and when of this or that piece.

Journalism has made much progress in coming up with popular ways to explain science and politics – which I did years ago for a living – but the realm of culture seems to immune to any progress in this respect. Classical music will become marginalized if knowledgable authors do not transmit their knowledge to the next generations of listeners. That would be terribly sad.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

Writer, photographer, piano student, music enthusiast. And a lot more. You are welcome to follow my blog.

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