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In Search of the Public: Exploring Contemporary Performance Practices of Classical Music in the Netherlands

Classical music performance is widely associated with grand concert halls and an elitist audience and has increasingly been critiqued for not maintaining contact with the wider public. Some even speak of a “crisis of classical music,” (Freeman 2014; Behrman 2009; Lurvink 2006) as it becomes more challenging to raise sufficient funds, and, due to declining subsidies, to sustain a visiting public. Recently, the art sector (not only) in the Netherlands has gathered its energies for profound restructuring and change. Difficult conditions contrast with the still widely held image of the Netherlands as a thriving innovative environment for the arts, known for its bustling ensemble culture of around 1000 diverse groups ranging from small chamber music ensembles to symphony orchestras (beroepkunstenaar.nl; Cobussen 2000). Is live classical music no longer relevant in a fast-paced, technologically oriented contemporary society? What and who determines its relevance? And which strategies do musicians generate in order to counter such unfavorable developments? In this research project, drawing upon several academic and artistic methods, a number of case studies, constituting potential alternatives to the traditional concert practice, has been investigated. These include bringing music to new and transformed locations, increasing audience participation, or turning the performance into a multi-sensorial experience. What implications do such practices have for the audience-performer relationship? And how do alternative performance practices affect our understanding of “classical music”? This article can be seen as a “brief history of what is now changing” (Gumbrecht 2004: 21) in the world of classical music in the Netherlands, focusing on specific examples that attempt to innovate the sector, thereby giving some insight as to its strengths and weaknesses.

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