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Understanding and Respecting Your Audience

I recently came across an article on Interlude about a response to Andras Schiff's controversial thoughts on the modern audience. Here is a quote from the concert pianist's book, Music Comes Out of Silence:

“….the quality and general culture of audiences has diminished in equal measure……The average listener of today has hardly the faintest idea about what he is hearing. He neither knows anything about new music, nor can he differentiate between outstanding, moderately good and poor performances.” Sir András Schiff (source: The Telegraph (UK), 8 March 2020)

I am very much in agreement with Frances Wilson, author of the Interlude article (she also interviewed me a while back on Meet the Artist Series), who astutely points out how she feels that Schiff is being rather unfair to the audience. I would like to briefly offer my thoughts and views of how the audience plays a vital role to classical musicians.

Firstly, I want to dispel the notion that only people with specialized training can understand and appreciate classical music. In my opinion, this type of elitist and condescending attitude is hurting the general growth of the industry. I believe, now more than ever (especially during COVID-19 era), that the arts need to be inclusive, and it is the musician's responsibility to nurture this environment in concerts. Without the support and interest of the audience, we would be performing for an empty concert hall! Something else to consider: many concert presenters are beginning to use box office sales to determine the artist's fee. Respect your audience! Instead, find ways to bridge the gap without belittling them. It doesn't matter if you are performing for Chamber Music Society for Lincoln Center or in a retirement home; everyone can appreciate great performances and they don't need a music degree to do so.


One of my favorite cellists, Pablo Casals, once said: “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart..” For me, and I hope many of you will agree, memorable performances are the ones that elicit powerful emotional responses. I may not necessarily have to like everything that the particular musician is doing, but something about his or her playing speaks to me in an emotional way. You don't need a music degree or sufficient knowledge to be taught how to feel or react to a performance; it just happens inherently. That's why I love the controversial pianist, Glenn Gould. He wasn't afraid of regulating himself to the musical norm. I will admit––some of his performances are downright wacky, but regardless, they always speak from the heart and are truly personal.

As Wilson points out, all one needs to appreciate classical music is a willingness to listen and learn. To me, it's really that simple. Concert attending is all about experiential learning––the more you attend, the more you will learn.

Classical music has a perception problem. So what can performers do to engage audiences and make them feel more welcomed? That's for another post...stay tuned.

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