Audiences want more modern concert experience, says RPO survey
Shorter concerts, advance digital programmes and more informal dress codes were among the most popular suggested innovations
More than three in four adults (76%) say they would be more likely to attend an orchestral concert if orchestras took steps to modernise the concert experience, according to new research.
The study, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO), considered a number of potential innovations to the classical concert experience, and asked respondents how much they would like to see these changes. Shorter concerts (endorsed by 27% of respondents), more matinee performances (24%), conductors speaking to the audience (20%) and being encouraged to keep phones on during a performance (11%) were among the other things that people people would like to see at orchestral concerts.
The findings follow a successful 2023 BBC Proms, in which ticket sales rose above pre-Covid levels, with 350,000 people attending a show across the eight-week season.
The RPO survey backs up these encouraging statistics, revealing that the number of people that say they would like to experience an orchestral concert has hit a five-year peak. Where a similar survey in 2018 revealed that 79% of respondents would like to experience an orchestral concert, that figure has now climbed to 84%.
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With clear signs that the orchestral audience is diversifying to new and younger audiences, the RPO asked a representative sample of 2,071 adults which innovations would make them more likely to attend an orchestral concert. The findings revealed that people’s responses varied according to their level of experience of classical music.
Overall, 91% of longstanding orchestral music enthusiasts would most like to see modernising steps taken, and their top suggestions centred around making the orchestra more open and accessible. This group was most likely to want to see more daytime or matinee concerts (34%), 'meet-and-greets' with soloists or orchestra members (27%) and conductors talking to the audience before a performance (27%).
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Music students, a younger cohort of respondents, were most interested in allowing audiences to experience concerts in a more modern style and to use social media and other technology.
For example, music students were most likely to want to see audiences being encouraged to react on social media during a concert (28%). This group also wanted audiences to feel free to take photographs or film clips of a concert with their phones (21%) - and being encouraged to applaud between movements, or whenever they wanted to (19%).
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Elsewhere, those relatively new to orchestral music were most interested in having access to digital programmes ahead of concerts (37%), allowing them to read up and understand the music better. Complete newcomers, or those considering their first orchestral concert, were most interested in a more casual dress code (37%) and shorter concerts of up to an hour (31%).
Interestingly, some traditions still remain populat. For example, only 6% of respondents said they would like to change the formal dress code for orchestral performers.
Huw Davies, the RPO's deputy managing director, explains the reasoning behind the survey. 'As we embark on another exciting season of concerts, we wanted to take a moment to ask audiences about the steps that could be taken to make a concert experience more attractive.
'From the results there was no black and white response, rather people’s responses reflected where they were on their orchestral journey. People new to the genre had suggestions that supported their learning; music students were passionate about digital engagement – themselves young ambassadors for a new generation – and more established audiences wanted the orchestras they loved to be more accessible.
'At the RPO we are already making progress in many of these areas and these steps form part of our mission to present orchestral music to the broadest possible audience.'
Top 10 innovations that would make people more likely to attend an orchestral concert (national average results)
1. Shorter concerts of an hour, rather than having them in two halves – 27%
2. Having access to information before the concert so I can understand the music a little better - 27%
3. More daytime or matinee concerts, so I can take family and friends – 24%
4. Not having to dress up to go to a concert – 24%
5. The conductor speaking to the audience before a performance – 20%
6. Meet and greets with the players / soloists after a concert – 17%
7. Digital programmes I can access in advance on my tablet or device – 12%
8. Being allowed to take photographs or film clips of the concert with my phone - 12%
9. Being encouraged to applaud between movements, or when I want to – 12%
10. Being encouraged to react on social media during the concert – 11%
Steve has been an avid listener of classical music since childhood, and now contributes a variety of features to BBC Music’s magazine and website. He started writing about music as Arts Editor of an Oxford University student newspaper and has continued ever since, serving as Arts Editor on various magazines.