On @GCcomposer's blog Killing Classical Music @Pattyoboe asked this seemingly perennial, and thorny, question:
"It's always been a puzzlement to me; we try to do new music and we lose the older audience. Sure, we want the younger ones in the door, but guess who are the largest contributors? So how do we deal with this?
I'll never forget the 1975/76 year in my city; we brought in American composers or groups for each concert: Copland, Cage, Hovhannes, Harry Partch Ensemble, Chavez ... it nearly killed off the symphony because renewals for the following year dropped horrendously. Sad, but true.
So how do we solve this, I wonder? Doing new works is (mostly) wonderful. It is also extremely expensive compared to doing the old stuff that is already in our library. We either need to convince the wealthier, older donors that that is true, or we need to convince younger people to start donating. Or both."
A really complex question, with many issues swirling within it. And it is important for classical and conservative music organisations, hose audiences are, quite literally, dying off.
Obviously marketing, new modes of performance, new media, and suchlike are partial answers to the question as to how to engage a broader audience. The Australian Chamber Orchestra, for instance, stands as a stirling example of how to simply promote classical music more effectively.
But I don't think this gets to the root of the question. At root, it's an issue to do with the meaning music has; the function it plays in the broader sweep f peoples' lives. The context in which music is heard has a much more significant impact than we like to admit. For instance, audiences that will boo and hiss Messiaen at the symphony (I heard it happen in New York in 1989) will just love the same music as a movie soundtrack.
But there's another piece to the puzzle: recording. Younger audiences are using recorded music more and more as their mainstream musical experience. What I mean is, older audiences will go to a Beethoven concert and then maybe buy the recording as a sort of memento of the live experience. A second-and version, in a way. But for younger audiences steeped in the pop paradigm, the recording IS "the music", while attending a live performance is an exciting optional extra.
In a way, this is good news. As I ask my students, "how many new recordings of Beethoven's fifth symphony are going to get made?". There will come a time - maybe it has come already - in which there are diminishing returns. Now it's cheaper and cheaper to record, more new music is easily available on iTunes ...
One final thought to add into the mix. Younger audiences are less interested in the passive consumption of music (and the typical concert is the most passive experience one could imagine) than their older counterparts. But there is a groundswell of participation in all types of music performance. I conduct a university choir in which there are many young people who would be much less likely to learn to get to know and love a classical work - Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem, say - by attending a concert performance than they would through participating in a performance. We have just performed a concert of music by Australian composers, nearly all living. By the end of the experience, all the participants had become advocates of new music, despite their initial reservations. I think participation in music-making, not just passive consumption, is the key to engagement.
I offer no answers, just some partial thoughts. But answers are required; large orchestras and opera houses will start to fold unless they adapt to the changing nature of music, music technology, music participation. They will have to embrace the new in more ways than one.