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Dutch Drama

img  Tobias

A recent report by big Dutch Newspaper "Algemeen Dagblad" is boding ill for anyone who still though of the Netherlands as a country with a vibrant Classical scene. Fortunately, it also offers some relief.

In his article, Eric van der Velden doesn't get around naming the facts. The market share of Classical CDs is rapidly declining (this in contrast to other Euopean countries, such as Germany, where it is actually rising) and has now hit a temporary bottom of 7%. Also, concert attendences are dwindling since 1995. And finally, and most alarmingly, interest in Classical radio is almost disappearing. This is a small shocker, as the resurgance of orchestral music in the UK e.g. has been lead by Radio stations. Actually, it is so low that there was even talk of removing it entirely - thereby making the Netherlands the only European country without a Non-cable Classical channel. Why have things gone this wrong?

Van der Velden lists three reasons:

  • Concert Halls have not reacted flexible enough to the competition on the leisure market. This would refer to activities such as watching a movie, playing a computer game, going to a club, etc...
  • Concert Halls are still too stuffy. Location is important, as the example of the Concertgebouw clearly shows: Its impressive ambiance has massively helped in making it the world's most frequented Classical venue.
  • Double state-subisidies. This is an extremely interesting point. While most complain about too much market influence on culture, van der Velden claims the opposite: By subsididing both Orchestras and Concert Halls, repertoire has become too educational and too "heavy" for most listeners. Instead, it would be helpful programing what people actually want to listen to.

These are all valuable points. However, they can hardly explain the Dutch decline. Most other European countries face the same problems and are faring better - although admittedly only slightly. We have the strong feeling that there are at least two other important points the author overlooked - possibly because they're too close at hand. First of all, CD prices are extremely high in the Netherlands with some new albums being offered at 25 Euros. This is already shaking the Pop market, but it is bound to reak havoc in the Classical department, where music is generally marketed on a less emotional level. And secondly, Holland seems to be the victim of its own success. There are quite a lot of people playing an instrument on a high amateur level and there are free concerts almost every day. So the average Dutch consumer does not need to spend a Euro on listening to quality music and he doesn't need to visit the Big Concert Halls.

With this in mind, it is still admirable that the article finds a positive end. In 2000 and 2001 the action of a grocery chain (Kruidvat) single-handedly elevated the market for CDs to 11% and those Concert Halls that have taken on new marketing approaches (such as Muziekcentrum Frits Philips in Eindhoven) are doing well.

It is okay to remain skeptical but there's another argument to be a little optimistic: The Dutch have a way of spotting trouble on time and getting out of it.

Source: "Klassiek is zeer kwetsbaar" Algemeen Dagblad October 31st 2005
Homepage: Algemeen Dagblad

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