Sold out concerts for 20-somethings: this orchestra chief tells us how it's done

16 May 2016, 17:47 | Updated: 16 May 2016, 17:54

Classic FM was in Bavaria for the 5th Mahler Conducting Competition, hosted by Bamberg Symphony - an orchestra that has phenomenal success with all audiences but especially with young people. We asked the orchestra's Chief Executive Marcus Rudolf Axt how they do it.

Nestled among the hills and cobbled streets of the UNESCO world heritage city of Bamberg, one of the world's finest orchestras has a stunning concert hall, an incredible sound and... they just LOVE Mahler. 

Once every semester, the Bamberg Symphony puts on what they call ‘student concerts’ (but it’s really for all young people). These are sell-outs, often with queues around the block – all young people wanting to hear a classical concert.

At a time when many orchestras around the world want to attract and engage a youthful audience, we asked Marcus about what he thought made his orchestra’s series work, and what advice he might have for other arts organisations.

It was was a very interesting chat – and here are six things he said that really stood out for us. We reckon it's a recipe for success worth sharing…

Challenging 20th Century Music. Exclusively. 

“It’s just 20th Century music all the time – so it’s the interesting, important and most complicated pieces. It’s one piece like a big Mahler or Shostakovich symphony or even a world premiere. So it’s not an easy-listening thing, but more something the students want to learn about."

Traditional classical concert ritual

"They need the ritual, they want to be part of the whole spectacle. Sometimes people think that for student concerts you have to be casual and the orchestra has to be casual too. What we are doing is quite the opposite, and we are very successful in it. I think you should take the audience seriously. You should take the young audience and treat them like adults." 

White tie and tails

"When we did our first student concerts the orchestra thought, 'we have to be casual and dress like students, and come in smart casual.' And then we got lots of complaints. Because the audience was dressed up, they expected the orchestra to be in white tie and tails. 

So our student audience come, dressed up in suits, ties and skirts, and the orchestra plays to them in white tie and tails. Young people will dress up when they go to a party or go clubbing – so the ritual to prepare themselves, dress up, to a make a wonderful evening and enjoy themselves, that’s part of what they do."

Turn around and talk (just like a real person)

"Jonathan Nott, our Chief Conductor, is always doing a little introduction, and then we play the piece. He talks, he makes jokes sometimes, he says what he thinks is interesting about that piece. It’s not a musicological lecture, he just turns about and tells what's special about the piece and things to listen for."

Promote and sell your concert where your audience is

"It’s very music social media-facing. We also do posters in university buildings, we have Facebook groups at the university and we sell tickets at the university. It’s a very short-term ticket sale for us. Four days beforehand we don’t know how many will come. But in the end they will come."

And have a drink together when its over

"Afterwards we have a meet and greet with the conductor, all the orchestra, and the students."  (...and we are sure that more that a few good Bavarian Rauchbiers are shared between players and audience afterwards. You need that after a Richard Strauss epic)

Of course throughout the year, the Bamberg Symphony have an incredible season for all classical lovers. We asked Marcus why we should all make the trip to see his orchestra in their stunning riverside concert hall. 


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