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June 15, 2009

Report suggests that young audiences for classical music are booming in France

You may want to have your Morton's salt box handy, but the ever-provocative Norman Lebrecht recently wrote a column on his ArtsJournal blog that cites a survey revealing the average age of concert- opera-goers in France to be 32. That would make audiences over there way younger than on this side of the Atlantic, where the prospect of bringing huge numbers of under-40s to symphony, opera and the like on a regular basis is only the stuff of dreams. Tres interessant.
Posted by Tim Smith at 1:43 PM | | Comments (5)


I've been a few times to the Paris Opera... I must have gone on the wrong nights as the audiences were not that much younger than in larger US cities (thinking of NYC and Chicago) where audience mix is less gray than in Baltimore.

A little healthy skepticism does seem in order, but it is intriguing to think that classical music might actually be cool in at least one country. TIM

One just has to wonder whether this is a trend or merely _trendy_, especially if you take into consideration the _missing_ specifics (this "leaflet" for a "government survey"). How comprehensive _is_ the data? What levels did this survey cover: professional, semi-professional, academic, community, and/or volunteer? What's the urban/rural slant in this data? I would consider any generalization here to be woefully misguided.

While France is known for having a healthy (if sometimes silly) disregard for commercial culture, particularly of the _American_ persuasion (I _can't_ say I disagree with them, not one bit!), I doubt that these "statistics" reflect the true nature of the general consciousness. IMHumO, even if the conclusion is accurate, the young'ns are going to the op'ry and the symph'ny because it's the "hip" thing to do, especially for young professionals. (Gotta maintain that "cultured" image, which has little to do with actual culture, of course, just the "illusion" of culture. That's certainly the case locally...)

As for the dress code, who cares anymore? I tend to wear a nice suit and tie, though I'll likely ditch the jacket once I'm seated (usually too much body heat in the hall!), but younger folks definitely are tending toward being comfortable, and I have _no_ problem with that, especially for _long_ programmes. Looking trashy is another matter, but I'm certainly not going to complain about casual/informal: we're there for the music, hopefully, not the, "My outfit blows yours out of the water!" nonsense.

I'm pretty sure classical music is still fairly cool in Japan, even if the Japanese might not _appear_ to be as rabid about it now as they were 10-20 years ago. In general, I'd say that they have a _very_ healthy respect for classical music, but that's just my opinion. ;^)

And you opinion is what we're after here. Thanks for commenting. TIM

Not just in France. I have been to concerts and the opera in the Czech Republic and Poland where quite a large proportion of the audience were under 20 years of age - even at a performance of an obscure (to me) Smetana opera and Der Rosenkavalier.

Maybe these more enlightened European countries could start exporting taste. Thanks for sharing your observations. TIM

I noticed the same trend while in Vienna...saw a performance of Bruckner 9 with the Vienna Phil. Not only was the audience much younger on average, but I was amazed at how little people cough when the are involved in the music. You could tell from the body language of the people around us that they knew this piece inside and out!

If young people are flocking to Bruckner 9, there is hope for civilization after all. Thanks very much for the report. TIM

Please bear with me on this--I'm not trying to make everyone and everything cannon fodder today.

I think it's becoming increasingly cliched to think of classical audiences in the U.S. as only gray. Yes, many of the most well-known, active, and generous patrons of classical music are advanced in years; but as Louis above mentioned, audiences in NYC and Chicago do have a fair number of "non-gray" members (I'm paraphrasing loosely). I participate as a commenter on a few opera blogs, and there is a very good mix of older and younger posters. We're out there, but between being told that we are "ignorant" of classical music by the same institutions that wish for us to patronize them over the course of our lives--it becomes a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario as a "younger" audience member.

Also, if you remember your opera history, opera attendance was a major social event along with salon attendance (similar to the "hip....young professionals" comment above) on social calendars during the 18th and early 19th centuries. It's not a new phenomena, and purists/performance-practice sticklers previous audiences were not.

And has the classical music industry in the U.S. ever considered that perhaps its cynicism and snark isn't doing anyone any favors? After all, we're discussing something that many performers that perform on both sides of the pond have known for years.

Thanks for sharing your views. Personally, I don't think of the classical biz as particularly snarky or cynical. I see constant efforts to reach out, to make things less formal and intimidating. But there's always room for improvement.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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