There was a thirteen percent drop in Australian classical music attendances in 2014. Live Performance Australia’s annual Ticket Attendances and Revenue Survey reported fewer company performances, which largely explains the decreases. Revenues fell from $70 to $65 million and attendances dropped by 13.2 per cent. Most attendances were generated by Australian state orchestras and national chamber music companies, with fewer international tours in this period. This is aggregated data and includes venues such as the Sydney Recital Centre, plus international tours, and results need to be viewed accordingly.

This decline was spread relatively evenly across the states, with the exception of Victoria and Queensland with increased attendances. Queensland Symphony Orchestra reported record breaking increases in revenues and attendances.

This comes off the back of a relatively stable period for the classical sector during the past decade, when attendances were sustained at over 1 million per annum, with seasonal fluctuations generating higher audiences. These are often driven by special events and tours for popular international performers such André Rieu, who did not tour in 2014.

Our major companies are steady

When we look at data for the major Australian state orchestras and national chamber music companies, who achieve most of our audiences, we find a relatively stable picture. Figures from the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG), whose membership includes these companies, show concert attendances of just over 1 million in 2014. (Here aggregate totals are not provided so these are our calculations from AMPAG touring data.)

Interestingly, these are almost exactly the same as they were in 2010. So these classical audiences are static. However in the intervening period the population has increased by 5 percent, so there is a constant decline relative to population.

Small companies and regional venues

Small to medium companies and regional venues, not included in the above data, are now separately published in a supplementary LPA report. This is a welcome initiative and, over time will provide valuable trend data. The most recent report for 2013, provide the following commentary:

“The Classical Music category attracted 72,647 attendances and generated $2.09 million in revenue … With average attendance of 363 per performance and average revenue of $10,426 per performance, it is one of the higher yielding categories.”

Boutique festivals and independent chamber companies are not all included in these figures, many of which are quite buoyant, despite being statistically relatively small.

Opera is up

Conversely, LPA reports the opera sector enjoyed a 12 percent increase in attendances in 2014, attributable to increased performances, although there was a slight 1.5 percent decrease in revenues driven largely by a decrease in average ticket price. Queensland experienced the largest increase in attendances over 2013 with 4.9 percent growth. These figures largely report on the Australian state base opera companies and the national company Opera Australia.

Internationally it is increasingly clear audiences are declining, ageing and not being replaced. Johan Idema in his 2012 book Present! Rethinking Live Classical Music states:

“In the United States paid attendances for classical music has declined by eight percent between 2002 and 2007. If recent participation trends remain unaddressed, the audience for live classical music could decline by an additional 24 percent by 2018 (League of American Orchestras).”

Idema also notes that The Netherlands Institute for Social Research has reported that classical attendance has diminished one percent each year in that country over the last 20 years. This steady decline in The Netherlands is not dissimilar to that found in Australia. This Institute1 has found that classical attendance was steady in the 1990’s, however noted that “the decline in attendance at classical music performances was relatively marked among the 35-49-year-olds.” Another report by the same agency noted an ageing trend, and that the Dutch classical audience “has gradually moved up the age scale, reflecting a certain ‘ageing’ of interest in this genre”2.

French sociologist Prof. Stéphane Dorin from the University of Limoges, at the 2015 Classical: Next conference, reported on major French research soon to be published. This has identified that French audiences are ageing, this is accelerating, and they’re not being replaced, with the average age now twenty years older than previously. Commentator Norman Lebrecht has picked up on this research which has shown the average age of French audiences increased from 36 in 1981 to 60 in 2014.

Another commentator, Greg Sandow, has been charting audiences for many years in his blog. He has published what he calls A Timeline of the crisis over several decades. recent In a blog he reports on how demand has even dropped for prestigious European festivals such as Bayreuth, with unsold seats and tickets easy to access.

Here in Australia, the ageing trend has been picked up, and Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2009/10 data shows “those aged 55-64 years and 65-74 years were those most likely to attend classical music concerts”, attending at double the rate of younger age groups.

Of course there is also some data indicating audience growth: The Australia Council’s most recent research publications found a slight increase in classical attendance over 4 years to 2014 from 13 to 14 percent. And in In Britain, the Association of British Orchestras, 2014 Survey report, claimed a 25 percent increase in attendances from 2009/10 to 2.71 million in 20133.

Further data to more clearly understand and contextualise all these figures and trends, including more information on audience ages, would be very useful.

Lessons for the future

It is clear the inventiveness and resilience of Australia’s major companies, their loyal audiences and a solid operating environment, has to date shielded us from some of the international declines. Audiences achieved here can be viewed as a good result, given the huge technological and cultural shifts that engulf us. But there may well be early warning signs here we could be wise to heed. We explore some of these in our Classical Reflections article here.


Chris Bowen

This article was first published in the Music Australia Fortnightly Roundup, February 3, 2016


  1. Netherlands Institute of Cultural Research, Trends In Time, 2004 pp: 110-112↩︎
  2. Netherlands Institute of Cultural Research, Culture Lovers, 2005 Trends in interest in the arts and cultural heritage in the Netherlands↩︎
  3. Association of British Orchestras: The State of Britain’s orchestras, 2013↩︎

Chris Bowen is the CEO of Music Australia

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