Orchestra: snobby, elitist, generally something which makes you feel distinctly uncomfortable?  If you would rather go to the library and do some extra reading than go to an orchestral concert of an evening then you would definitely not be alone. The stigma surrounding orchestras and classical music in general has become so powerful that most young people encountering the idea of an orchestra would lock it away in some stuffy church hall in their mind and throw away the key.


Photo by Daehyun Park on Flickr

However, as a self-confessed “Orchestra Nerd” I can confirm that it is far from snobby, far from stuffy, and distinctly removed from the grey realms of boring. So what went so wrong? People who reject classical music don’t realise that it is an extremely colourful, creative and subjective form of art. Orchestral music accompanies our lives more than we realise. Without music how would great films such as Pirates of the Caribbean or Lord of the Rings fare? Not to mention the TV themes we all know and love like Downton Abbey.  And it’s not only the modern stuff which has made the cut. Tchaikovsky’s famous ‘Swan Lake’ has graced our ears recently in Black Swan, and is one of the elements which makes the film so effective. Tchaikovsky’s ballet music was also used recently in David Attenborough’s Africa as deer were shown leaping gracefully across the plain. In fact, Africa was full to the brim with moody and beautiful classical music which made the already breath-taking filming even more spectacular.


According to a recent article in The Independent, orchestras “must ‘ride the wave of change’ or die” (Nick Clark, 24th Jan).  The new head of Universal Music believes that the key to making this change is to make classical concerts more accessible by removing the conventions around clapping, (ie: allowing applause between movements of a piece) and the performers engaging with the audience more.  He believes that to do this, the musicians need to “appear more excited.”


Although I agree something needs to be changed to make orchestras more accessible for a wider range of people, the issue is not, in my opinion, that the players look uninterested or that the audience have a burning desire to clap between movements. The key to engaging an audience is to connect with them through the music itself.  Every piece has a story to tell; the players need to believe it themselves to convey it. Like all forms of art, the connection to the audience or reader is about the feelings it evokes. You wouldn’t necessarily encourage someone to connect with a piece of artwork by putting it in an exciting frame. Verbal communication is also key to making the audience feel more relaxed, a lot of orchestras just play through their repertoire without a word in-between. This doesn’t help with the “snobby” reputation.


The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, based in London, is over-throwing the stuffy image by playing with original Baroque instruments, getting rid of conventions such as having a single conductor in charge, but most of all their difference is in the unique way they interpret their repertoire. Their by-line is “not all orchestras are the same” and that is exactly what people need to realise. Like most forms of art, it won’t be for everyone, but you never know until you give it a try! There are some great concerts happening this term right on your doorstep, including Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s “Hollywood Concert” on 14 Feb, and Exeter University Symphony Orchestra’s concert on 19 March, both in the Great Hall.


By Emma Pidsley

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One Response

  1. Rick Robinson (Mr. CutTime)

    Thanks for exposing some of the problems with symphony concerts! That nagging perception of exclusivity is there for many reasons, inc. the competition for orchestras to tacitly compete for the “BEST” title. As a former member musician of one, I began transcribing symphonic favorites for a mixed octet. Then I started composing Romantic styles for string sextet that folded in popular urban, jazz and folk styles, inc. Latin, R&B and hip-hop. These have let us directly inspire (infect) audiences who won’t come to Orchestra Hall in their schools, churches and now clubs and pubs. Look for Classical Revolution (.org) chapters in London and Manchester! Start one near Exeter! Everyone deserves the beauty, adventure and redemption of classical.


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