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Classical Music in the Provinces

Last night I went to see the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in Portsmouth Guildhall for a programme of Mussorsky, Scriabin and Berlioz. It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, but it did set me thinking and wondering what sort of future exists for classical concerts in places like Portsmouth.

The venue was nowhere near sold out, but at a guess about two thirds of the seats were sold. This is probably enough to make the event pay, but needs to be seen against another, rather more worrying observation. At nearly 60 years of age I was quite definitely amongst the youngest in the audience. Without a younger audience it won't be many years until a similar concert is only half sold, then maybe a third sold and it becomes uneconomic. Without a younger audience concerts like this will eventually die out. There does not seem to be a similar problem in London, or indeed in other major cities such as Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham. In fact at London concerts I sometimes seem to be at the older end of the audience spectrum. What seems to differentiate these places is that they have three things.

  • They have at least one if not several institutions teaching music.
  • They have a more cosmopolitan popolation
  • They have a resident orchestra

Another thing that seems to be typical of these slightly smaller cities is that programmes tend to be very unadventurous. They are the guaranteed crowd pleasers that everybody knows. Rarely does a programme feature lesser known works or lesser known composers.

All this leaves me wondering what can be done to secure a future for classical music in places like Portsmouth. I hope I am wrong, but it seems to be under significant threat, and I would like to see it turned around. However I am not optimistic. Music features less on the school curriculum than it used to. Grants and subsidies to support events are drying up and the audience is aging. I fear that we are not many years from a time when classical music has all but vanished from all but our most major cities. I fear that the more innovative and offbeat performances already has vanished.

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