5 February 2024

How do you hook Canberra's young people on classical music? Add thousands of 'candles'

| James Coleman
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Classical music performance

Don’t worry – they’re not real candles. Photo: Fever.

Classical music has a problem: hardly anyone under the age of a hundred and eleventy listens to it.

The solution, however, as live entertainment platform Fever found, was quite simple: Add fire. Okay – little electrical fires. No, that sounds worse. How about ‘LED candles’?

The resultant ‘Candlelight Concerts’ have been held at the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) for a couple of years now, initially as a classical music series with concerts featuring works from the greatest composers such as Vivaldi, Mozart and Chopin.

Now, the ever-growing list of programs includes a variety of themes and genres, including tributes to more contemporary artists like Coldplay, Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, as well as shows dedicated to Queen and ABBA, anime and movie soundtracks.

READ ALSO Snag a coveted local dining spot this Valentine’s Day

It’s also expanded to include other performances – such as ballet and aerial – and other genres, such as jazz, soul, opera, flamenco and more.

The focus is on love for Valentine’s Day on 14 February, featuring themes from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Titanic and Romeo and Juliet, among others.

Fever regional manager Phil Mallet says the audience can expect a “very romantic and multisensory experience” where they will listen to a classical musical adaptation of their all-time favourite love songs, with the musicians surrounded by “thousands of candles”.

For reasons to do with smoke detectors, hot wax on expensive wooden floorboards and the risk of an all-out inferno, they’re not real candles. They’re battery-powered LED candles, but they can still provide that warm, flickering light. Simple, but apparently very effective – especially when it comes to capturing the hearts, minds and ears of younger patrons.

“About 70 per cent of our audience has never been to a classical music performance before,” Phil says.

Candles burning

Fever, based in Spain, came up with the idea for candles. Photo: Fever.

Fever, based in Spain, came up with the idea in 2019. By gleaning data from their events, they found the average age of those attending the classical music concerts was about 55. Younger people – those aged in their 20s or 30s – were showing interest but not taking it much further.

“They were reading articles and watching videos online, but very often, this interest wasn’t translating to ticket sales,” Phil says.

“So the team started brainstorming to understand what the barriers were and discovered they were pretty strong for traditional theatre performances – they’re expensive, last for three hours, and you have to dress in black, etc.”

READ ALSO QUIZ: Which Canberra hub is also the name of a Sydney railway station? Plus 9 other questions

Fever came up with a way to not only remove this barrier but also make it super appealing to “not only touch on the music elements but also add a visual element – the atmosphere – to make it so they want to post it on Instagram and talk about it with friends”.

By 2020, the idea had been scaled globally to more than 100 cities – now 400 cities. Canberra joined this list in 2022, and there are typically two evening Candlelight Concerts held at the NGA every month, with two sessions each evening.

“This basically means we have four different programs in Canberra that enable us to provide a broad array of different experiences and different music for concertgoers with different interests,” Phil says.

audience watching music performance

The concerts started with classical music but have since branched out to cover modern music artists. Photo: Fever.

The concerts feature different performers, but there are some they keep going back to. The Phoenix Collective, for one, an Australian string quartet, will deliver the Valentine’s Day concert.

“We’ve been working with them in Australia on the east coast in multiple cities for almost three years.”

Phil says the venue plays a big role, too.

“It sets the right atmosphere. And it’s a great opportunity for Canberrans, and people in general, to get out and discover hidden gems in their city.”

There are only a few tickets left for Valentine’s Day, but plenty of other Candlelight Concerts are coming up, including tributes to Coldplay, Imagine Dragons, Ed Sheeran and The Best of Pink Floyd. Check them out online.

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