In a recent article at radiotimes.com, British pianist Stephen Hough addressed the issue of shrinking and ageing classical music audiences. Admitting that it’s a complicated issue, and acknowledging that many ideas have been floated – better education, more creative repertoire, lower pricing etc – he went on to focus on one of the more practical aspects of the subject: the intermission.
On tour, Hough has noticed that the default starting time for concerts can be very different, depending on which country you are in. But one common thing is the 20-minute intermission: “Who decided that a concert should last roughly two hours with a gap in the middle so we feel we’re getting our money’s worth?” During one of his recent performances, slightly shorter than average and without the usual loo break, Hough felt that the concert hall was charged with a special energy:
“When you play for an appreciative, concentrating audience, there can be a cumulative emotional effect in the hall as you all enter the powerful world of a composer’s mind and heart. An interval’s descent to chit-chat can bring everyone down to earth with a bump and then require the engines to be started up all over again.”
The suggestion that we should consider removing the intermission has sparked a lively discussion. Some have been slightly alarmed by the fact that a person like Hough would want classical concerts to be shorter. Others, like the “Cross-Eyed Pianist” Frances Wilson have pointed out that these ideas are hardly new – tradition is already changing, and there is a lot of experimenting going on, “from rush-hour concerts at 6.30pm to Wigmore Lates, 45-minute lunchtime concerts or lecture-recitals.”
Another thoughtful response came from blogger Andrew Eales (Pianodao), who noted an apparent contradiction in Hough’s article: “On the one hand he seems to rail against the established norm of the 7.30pm concert, while on the other hand praising the success of Proms concerts which follow that pattern to a tee.” Eales went on to suggest that real challenge “is not to offer a novel concert schedule, but to help generate a lasting enthusiasm for the music we love”.
What are your thoughts? Are concerts without intermission better, or could the break in the middle be more important than we think? Would more or less people find their way to concert halls if we ditched the intermission?
Please post your comments below and cast your vote in the poll!