Listen Closely: Innovating Audience Participation in Symphonic Music

In the discourse on symphonic orchestras in the Netherlands, problems are prominent: the number of visits is slowly declining, audiences are seen as listening passively, and societal relevance of symphonic music is questioned. A lack of possibilities for ‘participation’ is often put forward as reason for the declines. Picking up on this discourse, and pressured by policy measures and budget cuts resulting from the changed evaluation of their status and relevance, orchestras are seeking ways to innovate their traditional ways of performing. In particular, they have started to experiment with how audience members (but increasingly also musicians) are participating in concerts. They are invited to walk round, lay down or sit amongst the orchestra, use apps during the performance, or get the opportunity to have a say in the programming.

Rather than taking the problems for granted and join orchestras in their search for solutions, I conduct ethnographic research in order to closely examine how four Dutch symphony orchestras are innovating participation in their everyday practices. In researching the ways of working of these orchestras, I unravelled how participation is problematised, done, and (e)valuated in practice. I examined how existing (aesthetic) norms and values such as aesthetic quality are challenged in projects that attempt to innovatie audience participation, but new values also emerge in the process. 

More info?
The dissertation is publicly available online
• Read the article Empty Minds
• Read the Dutch column Luisteren als een etnograaf
• Listen to this presentation (in Dutch)
• Or read this interview in het Eindhovens Dagblad

Supervisors: prof. dr. Peter Peters and dr. Ruth Benschop

This PhD research was funded by NWO and SIA within the project Artful Participation. It was a four-year collaboration between Maastricht University, Research centre for Arts, Autonomy, and the Public Sphere of Zuyd University of Applied Sciences, and philharmonie zuidnederland.