The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Veteran American conductor David Zinman reveals ways for symphony orchestras to attract young audiences | May 26, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

How do you attract young listeners to classical music concerts?

Whether you are a performer or an audience member, a presenter or a sponsor, the question is an urgent one.

The question is also constantly and hotly debated these days, and so are the solutions.

Play more new music, say some, and live more  in the present culture.

On the contrary, play the old standards and great masterworks that young people need to know and hear live for once, say others.

Play in non-traditional venues like bars and coffeehouses.

Play in concert halls, but offer cheaper tickets.

Book young performers and soloists that young audiences can relate to.

Program more crossover music with echoes of rock, folk, bluegrass, jazz, blues and world music.

So, just what is an orchestra or other classical ensemble or preenting organization to do?

Well, NONE of those well intentioned ideas are really the way to go, says veteran Grammy-winning conductor, the American David Zinman (below) who leads the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra but guest conducts and tours around the world.

Zinman — who also is famous for championing a modern and seemingly more austere approach to Beethoven (see bottom) — has different ideas.

He got them by simply going to his young 16-year-old son for suggestions.

And he got what he asked for: ADVICE.

Start late, exclude parents, allow casual dress, play anything and host a post-concert all-night dance party.

But he didn’t just ask and listen, and then ignore the advice.

He acted on what he heard and implemented his son’s suggestions – with outstanding success, he adds.

So, do you want to know more about  the “secret” solutions Zinman heard and implemented?

Here they are, as he told a reporter in New Zealand where was preparing to conduct “An Alpine Symphony” by Richard Strauss.

Here is a link to his revealing and optimistic interview:

Read what David Zinman says and tell The Ear what you think of the suggestions – especially if you are a young person or know young people and whether you think his suggestions would work or not.


  1. Reblogged this on Reed Pros.

    Comment by reedpros — June 3, 2012 @ 12:40 am

  2. Sounds like David Zinman did the basic thing we all ignored and communicated directly with young audience. I would love to see one of his programs. Focusing on music in concert halls was always difficult for me. However I hardly find any other time just to sit and enjoy music without doing anything else…

    Comment by ltgmusic — May 26, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

  3. I would be interested in seeing some of Zinman’s programs, lists of what music was played, and whether he used any arrangements rather than original scores. Not that I think for a moment he would “dumb down” any music, just wondering. And actually, orchestral arrangements of rock can be some of the worst sounds out there, in my opinion.

    Many churches are now created on a model similar to Mr. Zinman’s – participation through movement and singing, no tradition-imposed dress codes, modern music presenting scripture in a manner compelling and uplifting rather than ponderous and repetetive. Some of these churches, including the one I belong to, are very exciting and welcoming to every age of people.

    Personally, even with my lifelong love of music, I find sitting in a concert hall extremely trying. Instead of focusing on the music, my mind wanders. I love music when I am working in my studio, letting others’s work inspire my own. Obviously I am what the Victorians used to refer to as “a Philistine.” Oh well…

    Comment by Nan Morrissette — May 26, 2012 @ 7:33 am

    • Hi Nan,
      All the point you make are great.
      Most of all, I too would love to see a few sample programs.
      I would also love to hear reactions directly from some of the young people who attend and find out what they think and whether the experience will push them towards mainstream classical events.
      Overall, I also think concerts should be shorter — 1-1/2 to 2 hours max with a very short intermission, if any, included
      Have g great holiday weekend.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 26, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

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