Are the arts dumbing down to win YP’s? Yes, says Stephen Hough

Stephen Hough doesn't believe in coddling potential young audiences
Stephen Hough doesn’t believe in coddling potential young audiences

It seems as if many arts groups — from museums to symphony orchestras — are trying to attract Millennials and Young Professionals with all kinds of perks, from parties, wine tastings and backstage tours, to offering them positions on boards. Concerts may be shorter, and sometimes with beer tastings attached. (See the new Chamber Orchestra season.)

But star pianist Stephen Hough, who performed last week on the Xavier Piano Series, believes that the arts are bending backwards way too far to attract new audiences. The result, he says, is dumbing down the art form. Here are some of thoughts that did NOT make the interview that ran here.

Hough: “If an elder person thinks they know what a younger person wants, they’re always going to be wrong. I see people in their 50’s who say, ‘We’re going to do this in a young, groovy way’. But young people have changed styles twice since you’ve said that.

“Yes, let’s have the accessibility, and make it affordable. But tell people that these composers were not from the establishment. They were usually poor, often rebels, and not the stuffy thing that people think.

“I wrote an article about this not so long ago. Classical music is difficult to listen to. You can’t say, ‘Come in, it’s really easy.’ No, tell them to come in, and you’d better be intelligent. You tell them that it may be difficult to listen to this music. The analogy I made was, if you say to a teenager, ‘This is the hardest mountain to climb in the country,’ then that’s the mountain he or she will want to climb. If you say it’s really easy, they’re not going to listen.

“So why are we saying to people, ‘It’s easy, we’ll just play one movement, because you haven’t got the concentration for more.’ No, tell them, ‘This is tough, and I hope you’ve got the energy to listen to this.’

“I really think that’s where we’re going wrong. Rather than dumb down and dilute everything, instead say this music is the highest achievement that humans have had. Let’s go for it.”



One thought on “Are the arts dumbing down to win YP’s? Yes, says Stephen Hough

  1. Stephen Hough has some good points, but somewhere between his Spartan (like Athens and Sparta) points there is an intermediate ground which can be pursued. We should respect and honor the youth, teach and encourage them, but not pander to them. We are dealing with these issues on a daily basis at Cincinnati Opera, and I am happy to say that not only are the ABC’s of Opera popular (Aida, Boheme, and Carmen) but also consider the sell-out performances the past two years of La Calisto, and Galileo Galilei. Here are two baroque oldies (neither ever seen here) that were grasped by the young audiences and there were more young attendees there than I have ever seen congregated for Opera before. Together we march on!

    Liked by 1 person

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