About the Project

The Concert – A History

Over the course of the 18thcentury, the concert as we know it originated in the great European musical centers – London, Paris, Vienna. Its present-day form emerged in the early 20thcentury – at a time when, through the invention of the gramophone and the LP, music no longer had to be ‘live’ to be heard.

Our modern understanding of the classical concert incorporates several elements: specific venues and concert halls, a defined program structure and a core repertoire, the ritualized behavioral patterns of musicians and audience members, and a certain festive spirit. Given the completely different circumstances in the early 21th century, are any of these aspects still relevant?

Crisis? What crisis?

What exactly does this alleged crisis of the classical concert imply? Is it a crisis of content, of classical music in general? Is it simply a crisis of this specific way of listening to classical music? Or has the live performance of music in general lost its appeal? The last option can be dismissed, in face of the booming concert scene in popular music. There are good reasons for the two other options though: classical music is no longer a medium used for establishing social status. The society that created the classical concert and its forms of expression and conduct as an image of itself no longer exists. Of course, digital music formats, smartphones, and MP3 players make it possible for everybody to listen to music anytime and everywhere. All these aspects probably contribute to the decline and aging of classical music audiences – rather than a crisis, it may be that the classical concert is undergoing a socio-cultural and an aesthetic transformation. But where will this transformation lead, and how might the classical concert look like in the future?

The classical concert and its potential

A concert can be both a very intense and moving musical experience, and it is at this point that our project comes in: We wish to contribute to research on how to tailor and design concerts so that they can be forms of musical expression and experience adequate for 21stcentury audiences. We are connecting our efforts with music educational work worldwide and with the various creative attempts of concert designers and organizers to ‘diversify’ the classical concert via modifying the setting, the program structure, and the sequence of events. What differentiates the concert from other means of listening to music? And where could the potentials for intense listening pleasure be found?

Three main aspects can be identified: concerts are by definition live, they are communal, social events and a certain kind of music is in the focus. Musicians and audience members convene in one location to focus their attention on a very specific kind of music. All of the participants involved experience something that is unique and cannot be reproduced; their experiences are contagious and their emotional states may become synchronized.

Concert research up to now

The concert has been investigated thoroughly as a historical, social, and cultural phenomenon, and experts in the field of audience research have conducted empirical studies. Qualitative studies investigating the motivation and experiences of concertgoers are relatively recent, as are those focusing on the participative and co-creative aspect of live performances. All researchers in this field are calling for taking audiences more seriously as individuals and as a collective, rather than viewing them as mere consumers of culture.

Our approach: the concert experiment

In order to discover how listeners experience music dependent on the specific design of a concert, we combine our research with current concert practices. We are asking the following questions: Which changes in format will lead to discernible changes in experience? Which potentials of experience can be set free by varying designs?

The artistic metaphor of the experimental concert is thus transferred back into academia. A series of concerts will be developed in which one aspect of the concert format is altered each day. The program and the performers will remain the same, and the music will be performed as similarly as possible. We aim to be able to trace back measured differences in the experiences of audience members to the respective concert variation.

Music experience in the concert

How can one measure musical experience during a concert? We have decided to combine existing methods and supplement these by additional novel approaches. Before the concert, we will equip audience members with sensors; directly after the concert, we will interview audience members and musicians. We will monitor the various physiological responses of the audience members known to be good indicators of emotional arousal (such as skin conductance and heart rate variability). We will also film audience members to record facial expressions and body movement. We are confident that through integrating these diverse techniques of collecting behavioral, experiential and physiological activation data, we will be able to gather a comprehensive and differentiated image of the audience members’ experiences of the music in concert.

Our team

We have assembled an interdisciplinary team that merges different fields of artistic and scientific expertise. Experts from the fields of musicology, cultural policy research, sociology, and psychology collaborate with a concert designer, engineers, and IT specialists from different countries. Our gratitude goes out, among others, to the Volkswagen Foundation (VolkswagenStiftung) for making this research project possible.