International Classical Music Audience Attendance Trends 1990-2005

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The data table associated with this article has three sections, under the headings “Classical Music Concerts”, “Opera Attendance” and “Ballet Attendance”.[1] Classical music in this report refers to the widely-used term for artistic music played in concert-hall venues by classically-trained musicians. While many reports referred to theatrical productions and music concerts, the figures included here are only from reports that specifically used the terms ‘classical music’, ‘opera’ and ‘ballet’ (as opposed to dance or contemporary dance). Ballet has been included as ballet orchestras are a source of employment for classical musicians (e.g. the Netherlands Ballet Orchestra and the English National Ballet Orchestra), and ballet companies continue to perform classical works with music by composers from the classical repertoire.

We have used the data primarily to show trends in attendance. This is in any case our main interest. But additionally, the data available from the various countries differs considerably. In some cases we are given audience numbers – although it is not always clear whether this is the total number of individual people attending, the total number of attendances (paid and free), or the number of tickets sold. In some cases we are given a percentage, presumably the percentage of population attending. But we do not necessarily know whether this is total population or adult population and in some instances, the percentage is so high that there is some question as to whether these are percentages of total population or, for instance, percentage of population that attends the performing arts. Finally, of course, in some cases we might be reading the results of sampling surveys and in others, the results of e.g. census questions to the entire population.

Nevertheless, however the attendances are measured, provided that for each country the basis of measurement is constant, we can see trends. This is, after all, what we need to know: is support for classical music performance increasing or declining?

The figures have been collated to show a percentage increase or decrease, for the period over which the data are available. For classical music, for example, full trends (1990-2005) are available for seven of 13 cases, data for 1996-2005 for four, and for 1990-2000 for two countries. Data sources are shown at the bottom of Table and more completely at the end of our article.

From the information given, classical music attendances decreased in 8 out of the 13 reports found, over the period covered by the statistics. However, 7 out of 10 reports showed an increase in opera attendance and 4 out of 5 reports showed an increase in ballet attendance, assuming ballet and opera grew at approximately similar rates (they were combined in the Italian statistics).

Reasons that were given in the surveys for decreasing audiences included:

  • a feeling that the attendee is not prepared for this type of cultural event (Bulgaria)
  • an expectation that these events are only attended by one type of person, the elite (Bulgaria, Malta, Romania)
  • lack of financial support and free time (Bulgaria, Romania)
  • a lower standard of living (Croatia)
  • family commitments (Ireland)
  • lack of interest or preference to other activities (Ireland)
  • a move towards the consumption of culture within the home (Croatia, Romania, Russia)
  • difficulty getting tickets from decreasing ticketing outlets (Croatia)
  • difficulty getting to performances because of worsening public transport (Russia)
  • lack of cultural performances in rural areas (Denmark, Norway)
  • lack of education and employment/financial ability (Denmark, Norway, Russia, Serbia)
  • gender differences (Denmark – women attend cultural events more than men, Norway)
  • ethnic/cultural differences (Belgium)
  • lack of full-time performing arts institutions (Malta)
  • scaling down of cultural programmes within schools (Poland)
  • lack of programs within schools (Scotland – it was found here that if children aren’t encouraged in culture and sports, then they will be less likely to pursue these activities later in life)
  • move from state-funded to privately-funded venues for culture, meaning that companies need to focus on fundraising over other issues (Moldova)

Some governments have attempted to address the decreasing numbers with some examples given below:

  • In The Netherlands it was found that people who were ‘mature-aged’ were more interested in traditional culture (including classical music) so programs in arts education were introduced into schools, to attract younger and newer audiences (e.g. immigrants).
  • In Slovenia (where apparently more people attend a symphonic performance than the football), venues have remarketed themselves as conference centres as well as for performances. This allows cross-subsidies for the concerts.


Arts Council of Ireland Report.[2] Last accessed 10th January 2008

Compendium Report from Compendium: cultural policies and trends in Europe.[3] The Council of Europe/ERICarts “Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, 8th edition”, 2007. Lists policies and trends by countries with links to arts sites. Reports can be generated from this site, but each country does not provide statistics in the same format. Last accessed 14th January 2008.

Council for the Arts Report - Overview of Key Demographic Trends - Possible Impact on Canadian Arts Attendance (2001 Census), November 2003.[4] Last accessed 10th January 2008




Dr Rachel Hocking, Richard Letts. Last revised 22 January 2008.

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