Sunday 4 August 2013

Classical innovation and old-fashioned digital

8:51, Friday morning, 2 August 2013, the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, and Evan Davis interviews Emma Stenning, executive director of Bristol Old Vic, and Max Hole, chairman of Universal Group International. The question is what innovations are needed to make classical music more popular.

The proms at the Bristol Old Vic have introduced a screen allowing the audience to see the conductor in the same way as the orchestra does. That seems eminently sensible, but not innovative – Evan Davis and Max Hole agreed that rock concerts have had big screens "forever".

They have also introduced a standing pit for the promenaders. Again, eminently sensible, and ticket sales have gone up by 20% as a result, but not innovative – Emma Stenning made the point that this was actually a return to the way the theatre was in 1766. (When America had only just ceased to be a British colony ...)

In between these sensible points there was a bit of talk about digital innovation, new technology, digital opportunity and the promenade concerts being made more accessible by exploiting the analogy of a concert with computer games and digital environments in which avatars respond to the music (3'22" to 3'47").

Admittedly someone was driving to a funeral while this piece was broadcast, and was feeling mighty sour, but the digital innovation drivel sounded tired, old-fashioned, tawdry, gratuitous and past its sell-by date. The horse is dead and it's a waste of time to keep flogging it.

How boring an old fart have you got to be to still find computer games exciting?

"Digital" doesn't mean "open" or "welcoming" or "warm" or "informal" or "accessible" or "engaging" or "popular". It doesn't even mean "modern" any more.

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