Why is the wider media failing classical music?

Martin CullingfordThu 17th April 2014

Classical audiences are engaged, inquisitive and there for the long haul. So why are they increasingly ignored?

Attend classical music concerts – be it at Southbank Centre in season or at the Proms in the summer – and you’d be forgiven for thinking that the appetite for classical music remains as strong as ever. Both venues buzz with a surprisingly wide range of people thirsting for a profound artistic experience. So does the Barbican. And Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. And the Berlin Philharmonie. Pre-concert anticipation retains its thrill, and equally rewarding is the chance to pore over the performance afterwards as the crowds linger in places that increasingly see themselves as destinations in their own right, not merely concert halls. Classical music – even when the actual music is hundreds of years old – feels vibrantly alive, and that’s something you’ll always find celebrated in our pages as we explore and assess the recorded side of music-making.  

The wider media, however, doesn’t seem to see it like that. Newspapers are, increasingly, marginalising the coverage given to classical music. In recent years many newspapers have reduced the number of critics on their payroll and the space afforded to those that are left. Websites allow newspapers to see how many people are reading what, and to make their editorial decisions accordingly. It is, of course, self-fulfilling: if you don’t give the space to classical music then people won’t read about it and the audience shrinks. The arts – let alone classical music – will never, sadly, generate as many hits as other fields. Chasing clicks for clicks’ sake – or, in the case of broadcasting, audiences for audiences’ sake – always risks pandering to the lowest common denominator. 

Of the titles covering London, Time Out dropped the post of classical music editor late last year, and the morning freesheet Metro has now stopped publishing daily concert reviews. London is one of the great cities in the world for music, so these seem very depressing steps taken by those purporting to survey the city scene. Music – of every genre – is one of the UK’s great success stories, and classical music a significant part of that. The Metro says it will still cover the arts through features, but daily reviews act as an important barometer of the musical climate. The situation is even worse in America.

There are exceptions, both in print and on the airwaves. BBC director general Tony Hall has just promised ‘the biggest push we’ve made for the arts in a generation’ – it’s a bold and encouraging claim, and one that whoever succeeds Roger Wright as controller of Radio 3 should hold him to. 

Those making decisions about the place of classical music in the wider media should visit events such as Radio 3’s recent Southbank Centre residency and look around them. They’ll see a substantial audience that is engaged, inquisitive, passionate and there for the long haul (during which they will happily part with substantial amounts of money to pursue that interest). 

People want to know more about classical music, and Gramophone will continue to offer informed, considered and contextualised opinion and advocacy for it. It’s a position I’m proud we hold – but I just wish we weren’t so increasingly alone in doing so.


Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is Editor and Publisher of Gramophone - brought up in Britten country on the Suffolk coast, when not practising the guitar he can often be found enjoying Evensong.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2014