For ten years now (with interruptions due to Corona), the Classical:NEXT arrived in Hanover (Germany) for four days in May 2022 after former stops in Munich and Rotterdam. The birthday was duly celebrated in the Lower Saxony State Opera. General sigh of relief: finally live and personal again! More than 900 participants from 50 countries took part in the capital of Lower Saxony. These included exhibitors, label representatives, publishers, associations, artists, artist agents, specialist speakers and international journalists.

10 years Classical:NEXT celebration at Staatsoper Hanover (Photos: Gerald Mertens)

The international panel discussions and project presentations were thematically tailored to the current situation after “What’s next after the pandemic”. In several “Global Orchestra Meetings” it was clear that the orchestra management staff in particular are exhausted after two years of the pandemic. In Great Britain, only 70 percent of the audience is back in the concert hall, and the massive increase in inflation is leading to greater pressure on personnel costs while ticket sales are falling at the same time, as Mark Pemberton, CEO of the Association of British Orchestras, pointed out . John Kieser from the New World Symphony Miami reported on a recent study of his orchestra. The bad news: 15-20 percent of the older audience will not come back permanently after Corona. The good news is that online usage figures are increasing among older music lovers.

Aubrey Bergauer on horrible bosses in the arts sector

Consultant Aubrey Bergauer (pictured – formerly San Francisco Symphony) favoured more agility for the further development of orchestras (“People don’t believe in brands, they believe in individuals.”) Projects and formats that work poorly or are less successful should be stopped. This gives more space for new ideas and formats. The personal responsibility of employees in management and orchestras should also be increased in order to bring about a change in the mindset and the personal commitment of all employees and in the external image of orchestras. However, the growing problem of recruiting qualified management staff and even student assistants for new challenges was also pointed out. The music business doesn’t seem to be doing differently than other sectors of the economy, which are desperately looking for new qualified staff members.

In a further discussion, it became clear that the formation of an inclusive orchestra audience is necessary because of demographic changes, since older visitor segments in particular are disappearing. A problem that apparently affects almost all orchestras worldwide. Even the Berlin Philharmonic are advertising their concert subscriptions again after many years. It was also interesting that conservative programs (Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms) are currently less popular than unusual programs, which are often almost sold out.

Four areas were identified as essential for a restructuring of the orchestra business: organization, leadership, marketing, communication. More diversity in staff, audience and program results in new potential for this. It seems particularly important to involve the members of the orchestra as well as representatives of audience groups in discussions and planning. In the field of youth orchestras, the question was raised in Great Britain as to how young orchestra members can be even more role models for their generation in the audience. It also became clear that developments and changes in orchestra operations require time, sufficient staff, a budget, as well as a plan and patience.

A dramatic lack of young audiences was reported from Spain, since there is practically no introduction to classical music at school. The attendance of orchestra concerts is often worrying, since there is a lack of young audiences in particular. The presentation by the manager of the privately financed Medellín Philharmonic Orchestra from Colombia was rather interesting: her orchestra – like many others – selects new members solely on the basis of artistic quality in auditions behind the curtain, but implements specific personnel development measures with the new orchestra members after the trial period to develop all the potential (not just the musical one) of the musicians.

In a panel entitled “Crisis as an Accelerator of Change?” Karsten Witt from Berlin drew a rather gloomy picture of the future of classical music from the perspective of a private organizer and agent and made this clear, among other things, from the reduced tour business. However: Many black paintings may apply to the private organizer market against the background of the Corona pandemic, but for the publicly funded cultural sector alone, the extinction of the classical music audience was predicted decades ago and still did not happen. After all, almost all orchestras and concert halls have taken numerous effective activities in the field of audience and subscriber development over the past 15 years. These will resume in full force post-pandemic, which is a good thing.

The question of whether orchestras can learn to (re)gain audiences from NETFLIX was exciting. Hannes Tronsberg from Future Demand (Berlin) questioned the value of investigative data (visitor surveys) versus behavioral data (personal motives, preferences). Buying tickets for a specific production or series are strong indicators of customer preferences. For this, an orchestra or concert hall must have a good CRM and record data from ticketing, a web shop and product details (which program, which soloists, conductors?). The crucial question is: WHY is someone interested in a certain concert, not WHO. Can further context data be used on the other leisure activities of concert goers? One possibility is a short survey after the concert on site: Why did you buy a ticket for today’s concert? All in all, it’s about moving away from the perspective of people (according to age, place of residence, etc.) more towards their interests. This is crucial for digital advancement and the predictability of customer decisions.

Kate Whitley during theit presentation

Kate Whitley (pictured) provided an example of the real relevance of orchestral work in a city with her “The Multi Story Orchestra” ( Developed as a student project by professional musicians in London Packham, the orchestra plays in public car parks in the summer and reaches underprivileged sections of the population there. It is not a classic education or outreach project, but rather the discovery of the cultural roots and musical potential of a local population. It’s about the ideas of the community about their own forms of music and expression and not about “imposing” on classical music

Before the performance, the musicians spread out in the multi-storey car park and meet with individual audience groups. Depending on the piece, they rehearse individual passages in which the audience is directly involved. One effect: the musicians then play even more enthusiastically and already have their fans. One problem initially was that the shows were attended by middle-class white people who had recently moved to the area, while the coloured community, who had lived there for many years, stayed away. This barrier was overcome, among other things, through newly written plays involving children from the local elementary schools.

The tickets cost five to ten pounds, a 30% subsidy comes from funds from a supporting association, the rest from foundations and sponsors. The orchestra members all feel like community musicians who get more out of working with the residents and children than they give. The musicians receive further training for their commitment and pass on their experience to the next generation of musicians.

A panel on the fair payment of composition commissions was also illuminating. Anne le Berge from the Netherlands demands that composers, publishers, ensembles, orchestras, promoters and festivals belong at one table for the future of contemporary music. Who ends up raising the money? The musicians, the ensemble, the composer? When it comes to project financing for independent ensembles, composers are often paid too little. In the Netherlands there is at least a tariff scheme from which reasonable fees for compositions can be derived (according to cast, duration, type of work, etc.). Jørgen Karlstrøm from the Norwegian Composers’ Union pointed to a structural discrimination: female composers often get smaller, less well-paid and overall fewer commissions. According to the Danish representative Sine Tofte Hannibal, Denmark has only 20% female composers, who receive only 10% of royalties. Overall, however, the data is insufficient to document the situation of female composers and the awarding of orders for new works in such a way that real arguments for politics and administration can be derived from them. Young composers in particular often do not know exactly what they can or should ask for a commission, since too little is said about it. However, it is even more important that clients (foundations, orchestras, concert halls, public funding programs) know what is appropriate. One hoped for a new generation of decision-makers.

UNESCO MUSIC CITIES from Tallin, Hanover and Brno on the floor

Another round of talks was about the UNESCO Cities of Music, of which Tallinn, Hanover and Brno were represented. Brno is seeing an increasing number of visits to festivals organized under the UNESCO City of Music label. Visibility and branding UNESCO City of Music is helpful for communication and promotion, but does not receive any additional funding from UNESCO. Each city is called upon to fill the title with concrete contents. In Tallinn, there was initially an inventory, in which 1,700 music companies were recorded in the broadest sense. The city donated an extra budget of around 400,000 Euros for the title acquisition. Another aspect was the international cooperation with other City of Music cities. The process as such is more important, since all areas of music, including rock-pop, jazz and music clubs, are involved in the development. There were considerations as to how, for example, the UNESCO City Charkiv in the Ukraine could be helped from the network after the war.

One can look forward to the developments and progress until the next Classical:NEXT 2023. Then there is the issue of sustainability to be tackled more in depth.

Gerald Mertens