Classical Music as an Economic Barometer

Even though markets wobble and finances are often still precarious (heaven knows what will happen when interest rates start edging up), I wonder if recent – albeit rather unscientific – indicators in the classical music world suggest a light at the end of the current crisis. I refer to the giving of flowers to performers at the end of concerts.

When the crash happened in 2008 it was very noticeable, in London at least, that bouquets rapidly seemed to be disappear from being presented at the end of concerts. With public funding supporting almost all British orchestras there was an implicit realisation that when economies were needed, such fripperies should be the first to go. But now they are being presented again. I’m not talking about the Russian audience members who have always come forward at the end particularly of a concerto performance by a fellow Russian to present a small posy of flowers – just as someone did from the middle of the stalls (and, indeed, the middle of a row) at the end of Natalia Gutman’s recent performance of Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall.

No, I’m talking about staff from the venue or ensemble coming from back stage with armfuls of floral festoonery. I was particularly reminded of the fact watching the DVD of Robert Wilson’s beautifully lit but baffling stage version Adam’s Passion to music by Arvo Pärt, recorded in May 2015 at the world première in Tallinn. At the end – enshrined on video – is the rather chaotic delivery of flowers at the end, bearers crossing the artists, composer and director while taking their bows. I know often ‘curtain calls’ on concert platforms are uncoordinated, but here the flower giving should also have been rehearsed.

Of course, it may be that artists – especially the younger generation having known little other than our recent, austere times – might not know what to do with flowers. At their recent Royal Festival Hall performance of Messiaen’s Turangalîla Symphony with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, both soloists and conductor were given generous bouquets. Ondes Martenot player Cynthia Millar and conductor Gustavo Dudamel seemed unfazed, but pianist Yuja Wang immediately gave hers to the (male) concertmaster, who in turn passed it on. Last I saw this blossoming bequeathing had continued to the back of the second violins… Mind you, Wang was wearing a scintillating silvery dress that looked as if it was really made of the shiny metal: perhaps she was worried it might rust? I have to say, it was rare to see a man receiving a bouquet. I think our Wigmore Hall has got it right. There the women still mostly get flowers, but the gents get a bottle (from the looks of it, champagne too).

Whether or not all of this means that they should start employing musicians to be on economic think tanks, or boards of banks, I leave up to you – but remember it was not only the late Gilbert Kaplan, who made his money in the financial market, who had a love for music and put his money where his mouth was.

More anon.

© Nick Breckenfield, 2016

Nick Breckenfield has worked in and around the classical music industry over the last 25 years - at venues, agencies and as a programme note writer and marketeer. He was Classical Music editor for Whatsonwhen for 13 years, and current clients include the Borletti-Buitoni Trust.
Author: Nick Breckenfield
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