Covid bringing new audiences to music

A report for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra shows that Covid lockdowns, while starving orchestras and musicians of much needed income, have driven new audiences to classical music.

“During the unprecedented era of home working, isolation, and social restrictions, many people connected with music to help them get through a challenging period” says the RPO’s managing director, James Williams, in the report, published today. “Some escaped through music, and others used it as an essential and enriching tool to help maintain health and well- being. Across the board, engagement with orchestral music grew.”

Image shows the RPO playing al fresco at Wembley Park

The research, done for the RPO by Maru/Blue at regular intervals between December 2020 and January 2022 with a sample of 2,000 adult participants, found that engagement with music actually increased over the period, via radio (up 3%), television (8%) and online (2%).

According to the report, as a result of finding arts connections drying lockdown people are looking for new ways of getting involved in the arts, both as audience and participants, and particularly found music calming, soothing and helped in recovering from grief during the pandemic.

It shows that the public is more aware of the plight of the arts and its funding since Covid, that there tends to be more interest in business sponsorship for an organisation that can prove youth involvement, and that people had more confidence in their cultural enjoyment after a single concert.

As significantly, ethnic minorities emerged from an arts experience as having felt welcomed – 63% against a national average of 58% - and that while they were unfamiliar with classical music were not unenthusiastic about it after their first experience. BAME respondents also felt that music should be taught as a core subject in schools, 5% above the national average.

The closures, Williams says, were painfully challenging for orchestras, made up as they are of freelance musicians, and despite the £2bn Cultural Recovery Fund throwing a lifeline to organisations – “which fundamentally saved arts organisations” he says - the RPO lost £430,000 in 2021 alone and has had to reduce its head count and fixed costs, although only one musician from the ensemble left.

“In effect the government has called a day on the pandemic and we are moving to living with Covid” Williams told AI. “What we as an organisation are doing is finding a way of building back audience confidence here, building back our musicians’ confidence and starting to become operationally sustainable as an organisation again. This orchestra receives less public subsidy than any other symphony orchestra so we really need to get back that quantity and level of activity to remain financially sustainable.”

The RPO has rationalised by relocating its headquarters to Brent, absorbing itself into a multi-ethnic community there that has 149 different languages, as well as maintaining its residency at Cadogan Hall in London and recently re-establishing its association with the Royal Albert Hall.

Look out for TaitMail this Friday which will be returning to this story

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