What do you make of gesture-controlled conducting?
It is a pile of pants. It reduces the size of the orchestra just because some guys in the West End don’t want to pay for quality musicians. A guy puts on a glove and there’s a device that follows his glove and the meters he conducts in, which then combines with musicians very badly [to artificially give the impression of greater scale/volume when necessary]. I’m sure that happens with West End musicals. They don’t have big orchestras in the pit any more. They can keep a live band and do the rest with gesture-controlled conducting. You can’t get the emotion and the communication, though.
What do you think of the rise of virtual-reality orchestra events?
The LA Philharmonic offers a 360-degree experience. It gives audiences a unique angle and they can observe a performance close-up. It gives people the ability to access the best orchestras on the planet in a more entertaining way than just listening to them on the radio. It makes you feel like you’re sitting next to the first violinist. It’s a great way of bringing the orchestral world to new audiences.
You’ve said you want to rid classical music of its image as stuffy events performed by ‘grim-faced old men’. How is that going?
I try to get orchestras to rock out hard, throw down those white jackets and embrace a modern audience’s needs. The public feel there’s a barrier between them and the orchestra, and I’m trying to eliminate that.
What sort of things are making a difference?
We did the Ibiza Prom with Pete Tong. It was slammed in the papers. Critics were saying: ‘What the hell is this about?’ People need to differentiate between ‘classical’ and ‘orchestral’. We weren’t taking classical music and making a mockery of it, we were taking dance classics and doing them with a big orchestra. It was super successful. There are now about 15 concepts in Britain and Europe that are almost carbon copies.
You’ve also told people to ‘put down your iPhone and laptop and get into the symphony’. Can you elaborate?
Our attention spans have become reduced. You open Spotify, maybe listen to four tracks, get bored and move on. Classical music requires a longer attention span. There’s a meditative quality to classical music. Put down the two-and-a-half-minute track and challenge yourself with something that can last from 45 minutes to three hours.
What music tech currently interests you?
Dorico is a new music notation software that’s an emerging rival to the industry standards. It’s simpler to use than something like Sibelius and my colleagues are raving about it.
What do you listen to music on at home?
I’ve got a decent set of Adam [speaker] monitors and I also use Bowers & Wilkins P7 headphones.
What gadgets made an impression on you as a kid?
When Game Boy came out, a kid at my school had one and I’ve never been so jealous. My brother got one, I didn’t. I’d wait until he went out and sneak into his room to play Tetris but I had to be careful I didn’t wear the battery down or I’d be in trouble.
The Songs Of Scott Walker (1967-70) late-night Prom, with Jules Buckley, the Heritage Orchestra and guests, is on July 25. The Charles Mingus Prom is on August 24