Statistics say that concertgoers are becoming older and older. Initiatives such as 'resonanzraum' in Hamburg counter this with new concepts and lure the younger generation into concerts. A model with prospects.
Before, of course, everything was better and a lot was also easier for the concert organizer. He set a time and a classical program, without outliers from other genres, took care that there were enough subscribers present, and then the music was performed and after the applause someone dutifully switched off the lights. Although things still function this way in many classical concert halls, and although some rising new buildings have the ambition to do it better than the top dogs, one question worries the industry: what should we do and omit today and all the more tomorrow so that we don’t show ourselves to be, out of a pure sense of duty to the tradition, expendable and from yesterday?
Concert halls as spaces of possibility
There is only one way to remain contemporary and relevant in the balancing act between entertainment and serious music: venues must transform themselves into spaces of possibility, away from traditional formats, away from rigid evening slots. For a musical snack a little concert would do as well. Away from stiff subscriptions structures, which smack of compulsory attendance. Away from “chalk and talk” instruction in emotion. Away too from some cherished formulas for concert menus, particularly the now stale sandwich model with the indigestible avant-garde between more popular pieces of music. Instead: use what you have, do as much as you can with the site and the site-specific options. New concepts and longer-term, tailor-made artist residencies.
No other new concert house construction in recent decades has caused so much turmoil as has the Elbe Philharmonic Hall. It can be considered as Hamburg’s attempt consistently to re-group itself and to derive a commitment to musical excellence from its own tradition, from the Gänsemarkt Opera of the Baroque to the beer-showering punks of the Electro / Hip Hop band Deichkind. In the autumn of 2012 a performance of tremendous symbolic power already showed the hanseatic audience how much seductively creative energy can be generated in a place when you exploit its unique character. Ironically, it was not Christoph Lieben-Seutter, the general director of the Laeiszhalle and the the Elbe Philharmonic Hall, but the Hamburg Theatre Festival that imported from the Radialsystem in Berlin Jochen Sandig’s Human Requiem
. The music of the Deutsches Requiem
by Brahms, a son of Hamburg, staged as a theatral spatialization in the Philharmonic’s so-called plaza. Thirty-seven meters above the Elbe, the Berlin Radio Choir performed the piece, thrice sold out.
In October 2014 an ambitious alternative concert house experiment was started in Hamburg. With a great deal of luck, bold capital injections and the backing of the Hamburg cultural policy, the Ensemble Resonanz (ER) found a new home in Europe’s largest high-rise bunker in the Feldstraße. The brutally chunky concrete block stands between the Reeperbahn and the trendy quarter Karolinenviertel and the also near Schanzenviertel. It is filled with, among others, creative companies, the studio of the internet radio station ByteFM and the club Uebel & Gefährlich (i.e. Bad and Dangerous). And the resonanzraum (i.e. Resonance Chamber): a mini-concert hall with a well-concealed orchestra infrastructure behind the large swinging doors. Its design is a far cry from noble and classic, and is instead rough and hip, there is a bar directly next to the seats. The resonanzraum is a classic club for a clientele of twenty-somethings and late-thirty-year-olds.
Here this age group is quite natural to stop by a concert of the “urban string” series for a cold beer and some late Beethoven. There are drinks and short concerts, DJ sets in between, and the word “subscription” comes from a parallel universe. At the opening ceremony, the members of the ER could hardly believe, after years of roving through the city, how well this 650-square-meter location fit their intentions, much more their target group. First they played Bruckner, then lounge music from a laptop, after that early classical by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. In the dim light of the bar a barmaid, with a revolver tattoo on her forearm, stopped serving. She wanted to listen.
“urban string” at resonanzraum, source: Ensemble Resonanz / Youtube
Cooperation instead of demarcation
Since then things have gone well for the ER. The concertgoers are as young as they are consistently excited. There are a dozen “urban string” concerts a year; the percentage of seats sold, with 230 to 250 visitors per evening, is one hundred. And then there are the concert series of other organizsers, including even the public service radio broadcaster NDR. Through a cooperation with ByteFM, the ER has gained a fine little information platform.
The resonanzraum is a “giant step”, thinks the ER manager Tobias Rempe, “for the city, to a whole new audience, to ourselves. The combination of good acoustics for chamber music and the club atmosphere is unique and ensures an overwhelming response. On the basis of this experience, we’re very much looking forward to the next big step: the opening of the Elbe Philharmonic Hall and our residency in its Chamber Music Hall. In the tension between these poles – the residency at the Philharmonic and the home base in St. Pauli – lies a fascinating opportunity for us in the music city Hamburg.”
Can Hamburg in general and the concept of the resonanzraum in particular serve as models? That is a difficult question. After the forbidding planning and cost disaster of the Elbe Philharmonic, municipalities barely still dare to plan new concert halls. The debate about the construction of a concert hall in Munich takes a long time, in spite of purported decisions. The new Music Centre in Bochum contains, as befits a new building, a multifunctional hall; but the decisive thing will be what is done with it.
For the Ensemble Resonanz, on the other hand, this is the beginning of exciting times, because the Chamber Music Hall of the Elbe Philharmonic will become their new home in January 2017. This is a clever move in several ways. On the one hand because it executes an image transfer from an off venue that could give the Elbe Philharmonic, a grave of alleged billions, a good dose of coolness. On the other hand because the string ensemble then will be in the enviable position of being able to tailor-fit even better its offerings and concepts in the dazzling freestyle grey zone between repertoire and risk to the respective venue. A win-win situation for classical music, which could hardly be more classical.
Education programmes – for almost a decade now there has been hardly a concert house in Germany that has not taken up activities in the field of musical education for the young. The goals are similar, the paths to sustainability different.
Superficially considered, it is about a new generation of audiences. Yet is the concern about the concert-goers of tomorrow really the only one driving organizers? Naturally it is also about awakening the joy in music, here and now. The trend of recent years is astonishing. If formerly there were at most monthly flat rate ‘children and young people’s concerts’, in the last roughly ten years musical education programmes have been shooting up like mushrooms. Rüdiger Beermann of the Festival Theatre in Baden-Baden emphasizes that ‘neurological research has only recently brought forth objective evidence for the positive effect on children of performing music. At the same time, especially classical music has been disappearing from the everyday life of many families. Many parents feel overburdened by making music with their children’.
The goal of sustainability
Promotion of young musical interest is no longer a fixed idea of organisers alone but has now found broad support. More and more concert halls therefore waive age restrictions. The Düsseldorf Tonhalle and the Alte Oper in Frankfurt, for example, offer concerts from ‘0 years of age’ on. ‘We don’t view children in isolation. They come to the event with their families. We hope that this shared experience can be stimulating and broadens horizons’, says Ariane Stern, a concert educator for the Tonhalle. Düsseldorf therefore deliberately works with various age groups: ‘We’ve developed five concert series that cover the age span from 0 to 12’.
All event organisers rely on the lasting effect of their education programmes. This effect is achieved, according to Jan Boecker of the Dortmund Concert Hall, by delivering ‘the highest quality, continuity and broad appeal’. One example would be the exhibition of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s multi-media installation ‘re-rite – You Are the Orchestra’, which affords insights (practical as well as theoretical) into the interaction that takes place in an orchestra. It had nearly 10,000 visitors, young and old. Cooperation with schools is in some cases closely connected to the curriculum. One current school project is concerned with Alban Berg’s opera ‘Wozzeck’, coordinated with the preparations for the 2013 school-leaving examination in the subject in which Büchner’s drama ‘Woyzeck’ is the focus.
In Cologne, the idea of sustainability includes close contact with the schools. ‘Our offering is now an integral part of the school curriculum’, says Othmar Gimpel of the Cologne Philharmonic Orchestra. Musicians go to schools and present their instruments and repertory and prepare the children specifically for concerts, for participation and independent response. ‘The children creatively treat substantive aspects of the concerts by dancing, painting, filming, composing and writing.’ The spectrum of topics is varied and rich, ranging from ‘Norwegian legends’ to ‘film music from other galaxies’ and ‘African voices’.
Baden-Baden attempts a form of early musical education that teaches not only a reverent listening but also active participation. ‘The path to music begins with us on the stage’, says Rüdiger Beermann. ‘From the start children learn a respectful relationship with artists. Since they themselves sing and dance, a broadening of horizons is pre-programmed.’ So as to pursue this approach even more intensively, a music house is being built at the cost of several million euros and will display instruments in oversized dimensions. The recorder flute, for instance, will measure about two metres long. But the instrument will not be a museum piece. Those who blow into it will generate original tones. Musical experience as holistic experience.
The children-play-yourself orchestra exploring Prokofiev's 'Peter and the Wolf' at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden. | Photo: Festspielhaus Baden-Baden / Andrea Kremper
Even the broadcasting corporations, whether WDR, SWR or BR, have recognised the responsibility and potential that lies in early musical education. In the end, it is not only about a particular target audience but also the hope of inspiring later adults for classical music. It is of course clear that these efforts will not automatically lead to more subscribers flocking to concert series; they therefore aim at isolated successes on the one hand and at a long-term expansion of general musical awareness on the other.
Financial partners: important helpers
Whether in the creative field, in direct encounters with orchestra members, whether in the promotion of young talent, in the collaboration with schools and other institutions, or whether in the inclusion of children and young people from social flashpoints, the networking of early musical education has been given increasing importance. The education programme of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is lucky enough to count the Deutsche Bank as one of its loyal financial sponsors, has been growing for years. In times of scarcer public funding, efforts to gain partners from the business world for such programmes will surely increase.
The U16-Orchestra of the Young Tonhalle Düsseldorf, source: Tonhalle Düsseldorf / Youtube
To the question about what share of the budget individual institutions allocate to early musical education, the answers are often not very specific. Either no information is given or it is pointed out that the financial expenditure depends on seasonally changing needs and planning. In Cologne, according to Othmar Gimpel, the sum ‘budgeted to the musical information team’ is estimated to be nearly € 200,000. ‘If you take the musical information services as a whole, the amount is much higher.’ Overall, not only the quantity and intensity of early musical education has steadily increased in recent years, but also the quality. This has contributed to the growing acceptance of classical music by a highly critical audience. Thus we can already make out the initial success of the programmes.