Fifty per cent of all concerts in the UK last year started at the same time. The average evening meal in the UK, according to a 2007 survey, starts around fifteen minutes later than this. At around the same point in the evening, parents are recommended to put young children to bed.
Concert start times, 2008 to 2012 7.00 to 8.00 Other evening 3.00 or before North America 71% 8% 21% United Kingdom 69% 9% 22% Europe (not UK) 59% 29% 12% 7.30 exactly North America 16% United Kingdom 55% Europe (not UK) 16% These statistics are based exclusively on concerts listed on
Bachtrack beween 2008 and 2012.
Is it time to move beyond the 7.30 concert? Looking at the facts in the Bachtrack database, which has details of all our listed concerts going back to 2008, the narrow distribution of times for concerts across the evening is striking – and it’s not just in the UK. Though there is less of a particular obsession with 7.30 elsewhere, variation in concert start times is remarkably low. In North America, 71% of all our listed concerts from 2008 to 2012 began between 7.00 and 8.00; the figure for the UK is slightly lower, at 69%. And yet this is prime time for evening meals and supervising young children, surely closing the events off from huge numbers of potential audience members.
Of course, it’s not just classical music which faces this problem. Plays, films and even evening classes can all be just as difficult to get to after a hard day’s working or parenting, or both. As Siobhan Freegard, founder of the UK’s largest parenting site Netmums.com, points out: “Any evening activity is tough for parents of young kids to attend.” But some forms of entertainment are being more proactive than others: Freegard comments, “In the case of classical concerts, by starting so late the organisers are closing off events to a whole generation of parents and their children too. To combat this, why not put on matinée concerts or take the lead from cinema chains who now stage very popular parent and baby screenings during the daytime?”
In continental Europe, things are considerably more varied: only 59% of all our listed concerts start between 7.00 and 8.00 in Europe outside the UK, a full ten percentage points lower than the UK figure. And some concert houses adopt particularly innovative structures. At the Stockholm Konserthuset, home of the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, a whole smorgasbord of times is on the schedule: Saturday has a matinee series, like the Philharmonia’s, and there are also “after-work concerts” during the week which begin at 6.00. Lotta Bjelkeborn of the orchestra explains that they are keen “to make it easier for different people” to seek out their events, and a broad range of start times on varied days of the week is a great starting point for this aim.
Most innovative of all at the Konserthuset is their series of “Soup Concerts”, chamber concerts in their Grünewaldsalen with musicians from the orchestra, which have been running for several years. About 45 minutes of music, starting at 12.15, follows a hearty bowl of soup and some coffee, giving the audience the chance to have a chat over lunch as well as hear some music. These concerts not only (literally) cater for people who would rather have their classical music earlier in the day – as Bjelkeborn points out, “it really emphasises the social side of concerts”, providing a totally different atmosphere in which to hear this repertoire.
But of course, this new volatility of start times doesn’t indicate a lack of research. “It’s based on audience feedback, a lot of focus groups,” says Kahn; “it’s trying to find the sweet-spot”. Walton agrees that it’s generally about accommodating as many different factors as possible, not just from the audience, and this is the reason evening concerts tend towards 7.30 in the UK: “particularly in London, it’s predominantly logistical,” she comments, and with three concert halls across the Southbank Centre often operating simultaneously, the logistics can’t be easy.
Perpetually confronted with stories of ageing concert-goers and dwindling attendance numbers, classical music is always searching for ways to attract new audiences. And from family concerts and outreach schemes to classical clubnights, promoters are trying out all manner of new approaches. With 71% in North America still in the classic 7.00–8.00 slot and almost as much in the UK, however, there is certainly scope for more variety in concert start times. Perhaps new audiences are just a lunchtime bowl of soup away.