Can Asians Save Classical Music?

Orchestras (and audiences) get more Asian-American every year. Will it be enough?

Article created: 02?02?2012

What do symphony orchestras and cigarette companies have in common? It’s the age problem. How do you stay in business when your customers keep dying?

For orchestras, at least it’s not their product that’s lethal, though it might as well be. With the median age of concertgoers rising, fewer than one in 10 adults reported attending a classical concert in 2008, according to a periodic survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts, a 28  percent drop since 1982. The financial state of orchestras today is roughly comparable to that of Blockbuster Video post-Netflix. Ticket sales are dropping; layoffs and bankruptcies abound. In the past two years, the Honolulu, Syracuse, and New Mexico orchestras closed up shop entirely; the Philadelphia Orchestra, long revered as one of the five best in the country, filed for Chapter 11 protection in April.

But there is one group that still likes classical music and, what’s more, pays to hear it performed: Asians. Of Asian-Americans ages 18-24 responding to the same survey, 14  percent reported attending a classical concert in the past year, more than any other demographic in that age group. Despite classical’s deserved reputation as the whitest of genres, Asian attendance rates match or surpass the national average up through the 45- 54 age range. To put it one way, the younger the classical audience gets, the more Asian it becomes. To put it another, the only population that is disproportionately filling seats being vacated by old people dying off is Asians.

 

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