May 30, 2013

Classical:NEXT Keynote

To launch the 2013 Classical:NEXT Conference in Vienna, world-renowned violinist Daniel Hope was engaged to give a keynote speech.

The premise of holding such a conference is of course to address the "crisis" in the the classical music world regarding shrinking and aging audiences. Early in Maestro Hope's speech came my favourite moment when he said "To hell with doom and gloom!". This is very much in keeping with my own view on the situation; I'd rather focus on creating than on wringing my hands in worry. Not that I am (nor is Daniel Hope) complacent or in denial about the very real difficulties classical music organizations and classical musicians are dealing with. Daniel Hope pointed out that the root of the word "crisis" lies in the Greek word for "turning point", which means that this is a time of opportunity and (pardon the pun) hope.

He pointed out that much of the problem lies in the fact that "younger people have less and less chance to discover this music". In former times, more exposure to classical music would have been the norm through "Hausmusik"(music at home) and widespread music education in schools. Mr. Hope suggested that the crisis lies in how we as a society have disregarded this music in the last decades and that concert halls have lost their important role as social meeting points in our lives. He equated the need to get people back to concert halls with a "call to arms".

In Daniel Hope's own youth he doggedly pursued performing opportunities, and he encourages today's artists and the organizations who support them to do the same. He told of how he wrote to 2,000 music clubs while still a teenager and got only six gigs from the exercise. Clearly his determination paid off as he is now an artist with an international career. His other advice to artists is to avoid "milking" musical presenters for large fees without contributing to educating young artists and building audiences.

It is for the higher good of all when our communities are artistically vibrant. The arts are valuable from a financial point of view (he cites a 6:1 return on arts patrons'/donors' investments), but the real purpose of the arts and arts education is to produce complete human beings while fostering creativity, ingenuity, and innovation. As Daniel Hope stated, the "role of culture needs to go beyond the marketplace and focus on value".

Maestro Hope's address ended with further urging the audience to be proactive in promoting classical music; as with most people in attendance, music for Mr. Hope "defines his day". After the speech, the audience was treated to a performance by violinist Benjamin Schmid, who was then joined by Daniel Hope (who just happened to have his violin with him) in a duet; a very appreciated encore.

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