World renowned orchestra reaches out to youth

Ati Metwaly, Saturday 11 Dec 2010

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment appears to have found the right formula for attracting new and young audiences to enjoy the classical genre. Ahram Online speaks to the orchestra's William Norris

The Night Shift at the Queen Elizabeth Hall
Thirty years ago, interest in classical music among young audiences was significantly higher. This problem is well recognised by orchestras internationally trying to find their audience, and the same applies to the Egyptian music world. Audiences of orchestras worldwide are growing old. It is time for musicians and managers to look to the near future and start searching for and implementing strategies to attract young listeners.  

A perfect example of an orchestra working hard to attract a young audience is the world renowned Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, based in the United Kingdom. 

This orchestra was founded in 1986 and performs on period instruments (original instruments or their close replicas). Today, the orchestra’s repertoire includes works from the Renaissance and Baroque through to Mahler, performing mainly at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. 

The orchestra doesn’t have a permanent music director but rather a few principal musicians. Sir Simon Rattle, world renowned English conductor, is one of the principal musicians and supporters of the orchestra, and one of its regular conductors.

Recently the orchestra initiated The Night Shift, a groundbreaking concert series attracting a new and growing audience. The orchestra’s outreach is versatile and include activities targeting the under five’s. The orchestra has toured Europe, the US and visited the Far East on several occasions.

William Norris, communications director of the orchestra, gave an interview with Ahram Online speaking about the orchestra's work, especially the The Night Shift series.

Ahram Online (AO): Do you think young generations are no longer interested in classical music?

Will Norris (WN): It is not that they are not interested. Young people did not get an opportunity to get to know classical music. They do not try to walk away; they just do not know how to choose.

AO: In Egypt, the lack of interest among youth in Western classical music can be partially blamed on cultural background. But in London, too, you experience problems in finding young listeners. What are the reasons behind this decreased interest?

WN: I cannot say that there is no audience. There is, but there could be definitely more. A 60 or 70 years old, the British person has usually a good knowledge of classical music. This is not the case with the young generation though. Finding an 18-year-old who didn’t attend one classical music concert is not rare. I think that general knowledge of classical music has decreased. Classical music is not a part of an education anymore.

AO: But public schools in UK do have music lessons, don’t they?

WN: They do, yet today’s music education is not as profound as it used to be 20 or 30 years ago. There is not enough emphasis put on actual classical music presentation and teaching. At the same time, young audiences are taken by other, lighter musical genres — pop etc.

AO: So how do you manage to attract young listeners?

WN: Four years ago, we launched The Night Shift concert series. Concerts aim to attract a young, new and growing audience. The concerts begin later in the evening, around 9pm. Apart of the core classical music event, evenings also include guest artists and DJs after the concert. As such, The Night Shift aims to reach young people, mostly under 30, targeting those who have very low or no interest in this music genre.

AO: What repertoire do you present during The Night Shift series?

WN: The Night Shift goes on in parallel with our regular concerts. We perform at 7pm and then present the same repertoire later in the evening, but with a different setting. The audience is not expected to follow any dress code. Often during the concert there are additional folk, classical jazz, or contemporary sounds added. Also, the audience is offered drinks.

AO: Do you include some educational elements?

WN: We don’t really give formal education during our concerts. However, we add some educational information during our regular 7pm concerts: we talk a little about the composer, etc. The Night Shift is different and more relaxed. There is not talking about music. We do not expect the audience to be formal. They are allowed to clap and enjoy the performance in the way that makes them comfortable.

AO: Over the span of four years, has the number of the young audience increased?

WN: We gained a great young audience in The Night Shift. It seems people started enjoying it and they talk about it a lot. They bring their friends along. We started having regular a Night Shift audience which is also growing.

AO: What promotional tools do you use?

WN: We do some marketing. We do some postcards. Direct mails are also effective. The language that we use in our promotional material is informal, quite chatty I’d say. Lots of our promotion is online. We have a Facebook group, we are on Twitter, Flickr, etc, which I think are very important tools to show the audience what we do. The Night Shift website is a little old fashioned, but we’re working on making it better. You’ll also find us on YouTube.

AO: Apart of the concert setting, what else do you do during the evening to make it more attractive to listeners?

WN: A variety of things. One of them is that during the concerts we ask the audience to take pictures. Actually, we give out a few cameras and ask audience members to take pictures and return the cameras after the concert. You’ll find many pictures taken by our audience on Flickr. It’s our way of getting friendly with the audience. We get a lot of direct feedback.

AO: Do you interact with the audience?

WN: We do, after the concert. We do some interviews, we listen to their direct comments and opinions.


“At The Night Shift we don’t believe in putting music in boxes. What we do believe in is great live music, and letting you enjoy it the way you want. We don’t care about the ‘classical’ rules, we just care about the very best live music,” is a statement written on one Night Shift promotional postcard.

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