Keith Clarke
Keith Clarke, Contributing editor, Classical Music

Well done, brave orchestra managers, for surviving another Association of British Orchestras annual conference, held in Leeds 23-25 January. A report will appear in our March issue, but for the time being readers can rest assured that there was no rush on the defibrillators during this year’s keynote address. Delegates still talk darkly of the chap who turned up a couple of years ago to tell the assembled arts bosses that public money for the arts should be scrapped and spent on children’s playgrounds instead.

This year’s keynote speaker, Universal Music’s chair and CEO Max Hole, had less shock value, and appearing immediately after shadow arts minister Dan Jarvis’s party political broadcast on behalf of the parliamentary Labour party he could probably have read from the telephone directory and got a decent reception. As the man in charge of the world’s largest record company, he naturally views the music business through the narrow lens of how to maximise profits from it. Fair enough – that is what he is there for. He spent a lot of his time talking about the live music experience. His message (one of them, anyway, much condensed) was let’s stop slapping people round the head for clapping in the wrong place at concerts. And let’s loosen up the whole approach to listening to live music. Delegates had heard it all before, of course, but Hole saved his argument from wide-eyed idealism by stopping short of suggesting that all concerts should henceforth be changed into cool gatherings where everyone loosens their stays. That’s ok then.

Classical music in a relaxed environment is doing rather well, as it happens, but while there is still a demand for traditional all-buttoned-up concerts, let’s have them too. What possible argument can there be against running separate concert series – some for those who like to sit in reverential silence, and others where cool dudes can loll about, chilling, smoking dope, wearing their pants on their head, or whatever. From the players’ point of view, the important thing must be that the work is there, and that people actually listen to what they are doing.

Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that the new age concertgoer listens any less intently than the grey brigade – one venerable music business worthy told me how he went to a hip and cool Yellow Lounge event and got shushed by two 20-somethings. Some traditions are clearly just too good to ditch.