Classical Music Goes Clubbing In London
Classical Music Goes Clubbing In London

The familiar mood at a classical music concert is, if you're a fan, quiet and atmospheric; and if you're not a fan a stuffy, awkward ambience where you aren't allowed to breathe, eat or whisper for fear of upsetting the establishment. But the classical vibe is changing, at least among some U.K. concert promoters, recognizing the benefit of presenting classical music in a nightclub setting.

Yellow Lounge was established in Berlin eight years ago and hit the U.K. last year on a semi-regular basis (usually every one or two months) run by the Universal label in various venues around London. The latest, which took place on Dec. 10 at the Old Vic Tunnels in London, featured the Scottish superstar violinist Nicola Benedetti and former royal harpist Catrin Finch at a ticket price of £10 ($16). There's classical music DJ'd throughout the night, some video installation and the artists (from Deutsche Grammophon and Decca Classics) are asked to provide a bit of interaction.

Bee Bradley, the label's Yellow Lounge Executive, says, "The idea is that it's a tool to engage with a new young audience. So many youngsters would get into classical music but don't know where to start, don't want to sit in concert halls or spend $100 on a ticket".

Bradley is adamant that the nights don't compromise on quality though. "It's just the setting that changes, we are just ridding all the rules. We never add any beats. In fact, I think classical music has been compromised a lot by crossover, whereas this is keeping the real quality of classical music alive." A lot of the audience, she says, "have intrigue but don't know where to start." The typical crowd is 18-40, many haven't been to a classical event before and many are quite young. Sometimes, she says, "They don't know that they would be spending a fortune otherwise to see [Dutch violin star] Janine Jansen."

"As a musician, I like to think that it doesn't matter in what context music is presented, or indeed in what style it is presented," says Catrin Finch, "only that it is appreciated and enjoyed by an eclectic mix of listeners."

But this isn't always as easy as it might seem. British violinist and leader of the Britten Sinfonia, Thomas Gould has appeared at Platform 33, which launched in January and has presented 40 different mixed-media clubnights (including classical) across seven venues in London. He views such events more as marketing tools ("I don't do them to make money") and says, "Twitter always goes crazy after these events. It's a great way to have a direct line of communication with audiences." But he doesn't believe they will change the nature of the more traditional events. he says, "it's a separate industry that's evolved. People will still go to the Wigmore Hall."

Thomas Gould playing at Slaughtered Lamb, EC1 as part of Platform 33 on Nov. 28, 2012, (Photo via Platform 33)

William Norris is marketing manager for the London-based period instrument orchestra, The Orchestra of the Age Of Enlightenment which has been running its own classical clubnight, The Night Shift, for the last six years, in various venues (around five times a year) including Camden's Roundhouse and in pubs around the capital. The format is the same as a clubnight; the concert starts at 10pm, drinks flow freely and there's a presenter, dimmed lighting and, crucially for a classical music gig, the audience can come and go as they would in a club or a rock or pop gig. Tickets range from £9 ($14) in advance to £4 ($6) for students.

Says Norris, "We started out with the idea that the music still has appeal, it's just the way it's presented that doesn't appeal to some audiences, particularly younger ones. The music we play is the same as we'd play in a 'normal' concert."

The Night Shift Pub Tour: The George & The Amersham from OAE on Vimeo.

As far as the commercial model goes, Norris admits, "unfortunately classical music is an expensive business and almost every concert, of whatever type, loses money. One of the main factors in bringing in a new audience through The Night Shift is to lower overall ticket prices."

At the Night Shift concerts, says Norris, "The audience is massively skewed to being under 35 (over 80%) and 15-20% are coming to a classical concert for the first time." The aim, he says, is not necessarily to get them to come to a regular concert: "The music we play is the same high quality as we'd play at 7pm, so it doesn't matter in which context you experience it. Some people may always want to enjoy their music in a more relaxed late night setting and that's fine, so there's no point trying to tempt them into a more regular event, it's about giving them a choice as to how they'd like to experience their music."