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Is there any chance that crowds of youngsters, who do not like anything previous generations did, would want to visit various classical music events? More and more artistic companies and institutions have recently been trying to attract them to attend performances, but some tricks are still required.

The youth of today do not go to classical music concerts – this is clear. We need a magnifying glass to find people under 30 or 35 in most of the institutions which do not offer world or popular music in their repertoire. However, there is still some hope. This is proven by brand new initiatives, which still seem to be able to attract youngsters to “forlorn music” programmes that they have clearly avoided so far, by simply offering something radically different to a specific age group than to everyone else. With an “if the mountain does not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain” attitude, it seems increasingly certain that they have won youngsters over.

At the Budapest Festival Orchestra (BFO) we truly believe youngsters do like classical music, but they very rarely have the chance to listen to it – says Orsolya Erdődy, the Festival Orchestra’s Deputy Executive Director. This was the reason BFO launched their Midnight Music concerts two years ago, where you can barely find an empty beanbag in the audience these days. Yes, beanbags, not chairs. The plush bags used as “club chairs” play a key role in shaping an informal atmosphere – this is one of the keys to their success today.

An hour and a half of goose bumps

As the BFO understands, youngsters can be attracted to listen to classical music if the following three conditions are met: low prices, a late enough start so their parents’ generation is not likely to be there, and the afore-mentioned alternative circumstances – no velvet chairs and elegant outfits.

Dora was asked; she would not go anywhere else but to the BFO to listen to classical music, but she repeatedly sits down and makes herself comfortable among musicians at the Millenáris. “I sit in the music, it embraces me” – she says, enthusing about the beanbag idea, and explains that the initial spontaneous idea to include the orchestra within the audience makes every performance cultic; “I have goose bumps for an hour and a half each time I am there”.

What’s cool?

“We have constantly been thinking whether our next move or next production would excite them and whether they would attend” – says Orsolya Erdődy when asked what triggered the launch of Midnight Music. Éva and Balázs are there due to the musical selection, and they go to concerts as well as to the opera whenever they can. While they are listening to Haydn wearing jeans in an audience that continuously rearranges itself, they might even be drinking some beer.

Consequently, the plan to sell the same piece of music in the same quality to young adults – which the suit-and-tie middle-aged audience listened to at the Müpa earlier in the evening – proved to be a success. The Deputy Executive Director has an obvious explanation for this: informal research has been conducted on what younger generations want to see, and what would bring performances even closer to them.

Iván Fischer’s name in itself is fairly appealing to them; the conductor’s comments and brief explanations, which are part of the event, the discounts offered for those arriving by bicycle, the venue at Millenáris Park, which is easily accessible even at night, but most of all the fact that events are flexibly organised – we can even pull our beanbags next to the timpani – makes it all successful.

Instead of ending Sunday, Éva immediately sees the performances finishing in the small hours as starting Monday, while Balázs hangs around with his pals. Both say yes to guest artists, to those wearing a pink fox mask to advertise the event at clubs, and to low prices as well.

It was also the latter that helped them to attract more and more of their friends to the night sessions: “If you pay loads of money for something, you still want to like it even if you didn’t really enjoy it” – says Éva, referring to other high-priced classical concerts. She thinks there is no such problem with Midnight Music. Low-priced tickets would permit this “recognition” if someone truly decided they didn’t like classical music. But Éva’s friends have somehow never considered this; even more of them now attend.

Experiencing sensuality

The Hungarian State Opera has opted for a completely different and new method to reach out to young people. Their target audience is not necessarily young adults but everyone over 18. The State Opera’s new production was strictly an 18+ series which began at 10 pm, even adding some eroticism.

The composition of its audience reflected the vision of the programme’s creator: in addition to young people, middle-aged people who are open and continuously searching for impulses and inspiration wait curiously in front of the chamber music hall in the later hours, just like Andrea, for example. “It moved and rejuvenated me, triggering my senses. I will definitely think of the sensuality staged in the second act many times; women of all ages are moved by visuality” – she says, adding that the performance’s real-life examples created special value for her. Both herself and her daughter felt they received some help in transposing the passion seen on stage to real life.

The Chief Executive Director of the Opera House characterises the Mozart Late Night performance as a one-off idea of his, which was staged six times at the Academy of Music in February (as one of the performances of the “Rolling Opera” it will be taken round the country next year, what is more, it will be included in a refined form in the Opera Adventure series in the spring). Szilveszter Ókovács’s latest experiment will focus on aesthetics, lust, humour and less-known Mozart pieces which, for example, pose a challenge to singers and dancers and are refreshing for audiences, something out of the ordinary repertoire of operas, which is often considered museum-like.

Mozart Late Night, which launches in February, is a musical comedy, exactly like the author wanted it to be; but the prose parts were rewritten by Gergely Litkai. As part of the piece, artists from the Hungarian National Ballet were on stage in addition to opera singers, presenting the lust of singers sung in Six Nocturnes: this composition turned into a special lyric epilogue to the evening, a counterpoint to the colourful stage play.

Szilveszter Ókovács hopes Mozart’s music will be a good choice for their first non-traditional series of performances because the author’s name, in addition to that of the admired artist, resembles the image of the lascivious, somewhat childish and jolly figure. Almost all those who purchase a ticket for the night show can identify with what he says as well as his bodily lust. And why only the first? The Executive Director talks of one of his other confidential plans: they are preparing to stage a new, and if we can say so, even more erotic performance next November entitled FrenchLateNight, including single-act performances of French romanticism. If they can keep getting into the Solti Hall of the Academy of Music every season with two blocks, they want to stage non-traditional chamber productions, reminiscent somewhat of opera examinations with the spirit of renewal and almost without means, which he himself was part of too. We would like to make a real series of chamber hall performances for a relatively small, exclusive audience which can associate classical music with eroticism.

Agreement on objectives

Both Orsolya Erdődy and Szilveszter Ókovács mention mutual objectives and similar means when the future image of classical music in Hungary is discussed. Both acknowledge that we are still in a relatively favourable position when it comes to musical education, but there are some omens, therefore music lovers must be addressed when they are children, thereby raising our own future audiences.

Orsolya Erdődy fears that due to the lesser role of musical education in the new national curriculum, there will not be as many musically educated people in the future. Many of the BFO’s and the Opera House’s initiatives aim to prevent this with programmes mainly for children and young adults, who are expected to occupy an increasing number of audience seats in Budapest as frequently as possible. Her concepts are backed up by Dóra too, who promises to go to Müpa too if she “grows up”.

Where the elderly get hooked instead of the young

Young people could not be evenly reached everywhere, however. Müpa’s programme entitled Workshop Talks, which is organised every two weeks and was not initially intended for a specific age group, started addressing young people when it introduced a sea change a few years later. Gábor Fenyő, creator and moderator of the programme, wanted to attract young people to his audience which mainly consisted of the elderly, so the programme’s style and whole atmosphere changed for a time along with the way he spoke to his guests about the pieces which soon made it into Müpa’s stage productions. He did everything he possibly could for success, the programme was advertised at several nearby universities, it was renamed, the host changed his outfits, and he even invited young co-hosts to work with.

To no avail, however. His audience continued to be the same very enthusiastic, old generation as before. Müpa’s management and Gábor Fenyő drew their conclusions: the programme was stopped for a few months but later returned to its roots, and is again trying to reach everyone without a specific age group; the organiser is happy with the occasional refreshing sight of youngsters among the older audience. ‘It still makes me happy if I see young people in the audience; it is always a strong motivation to keep going’ – he says.