In their efforts to lower the age of the average listener to under 60, classical music ensembles have tried everything from pre-concert happy hours to marketing performers like pop stars to offering ringtones for download on their websites, with limited success.
As a grant writer with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Ronen Givony realized that these strategies were failing to reach young, intellectually curious indie rock fans like himself. He developed the Wordless Music series, which programs 30 minutes of classical chamber music alongside a headlining rock act. Givony contends that his target audience is “ripe for being turned on to the sound world of someone who would meet them halfway about classical music. The world of chamber music and instrumental music, and how great Haydn and Mendelssohn trios were, was a major revelation to me and I wanted to evangelize on the music’s behalf.” His programming has paired Ligeti with Glenn Kotche of Wilco, Chopin and Arvo Pärt with Beirut, and John Adams with Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
So far, this pill-ground-up-in-a-spoonful-of-jelly strategy has been a success—several concerts have sold out, and all have ended in the black. Last season the series began expanding outside of New York City, with an inaugural show at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis. While Givony estimates that more than 90 percent of concertgoers come to see the rock act, many contact him after the show with questions like “tell me more about this Osvaldo Golijov guy and why does he sound so much like Beirut and why didn’t I know about him before?”