Thursday, February 2, 2012

Statistics on the Asianification of classical music

With the median age of concertgoers rising, fewer than one in 10 adults reported attending a classical concert in 2008, according to a periodic survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, a 28 percent drop since 1982. The financial state of orchestras today is roughly comparable to that of Blockbuster Video post-Netflix. Ticket sales are dropping; layoffs and bankruptcies abound. ...

But there is one group that still likes classical music and, what’s more, pays to hear it performed: Asians. Of Asian-Americans ages 18-24 responding to the same survey, 14 percent reported attending a classical concert in the past year, more than any other demographic in that age group. Despite classical’s deserved reputation as the whitest of genres, Asian attendance rates match or surpass the national average up through the 45- 54 age range. ...

Asians make up just over 4 percent of the U.S. population, but 7 percent of U.S. orchestra musicians are Asian, and the figure rises to 20 percent for top orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic. At the elite Julliard School for music, one in five undergraduates—and one in three Ph.D. students—is Asian. ...

However circumscribed the music may be, Asia is one place where classical artists can be genuine pop stars in ways long forgotten in Europe and North America. “Whenever I play in Korea, I feel like I’m at a rock concert,” says [violinist Joshua] Bell. ...

Faced with the unenviable task of trying to make the most hidebound of music traditions hip and relevant to kids, the survival strategy of orchestras has mostly been to throw up their hands and pray that their remaining season ticket-holders cling to life another year. Instead, they might prepare for a future in which their subscribers look a lot different than they do today, and cultivate leadership, outreach and programming which reflect that.