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Artful Participation: Doing Artistic Research with Symphonic Music Audiences

In the 21st century, symphonic music institutions face challenges that endanger their traditional Modus Operandi. Although symphonic music is widely accessible, it has lost its previous position as the leading source of musical culture. The numbers of visitors are declining. Audiences are ageing. Due to budget cuts, government funding is no longer guaranteed. Whereas symphonic music was a vital element in the cultural landscape until the 1960s, it has since become a museum art form. In an “experience society”, the social value of classical orchestral music has changed profoundly. For example, its identification with high culture is no longer valued. In this project, the world of the symphony orchestra is studied as an exemplary case in scientific and artistic research on cultural reproduction in the 21st century. The project claims that innovation of the symphonic music practice is impossible without also improving the quality of audience participation in this practice.
Artful Participation combines strategic research into reasons for the declining interest in symphonic music with artistic research to innovate this practice in an artistically relevant way. This artistic research takes place in three experiments with new forms of audience participation. In the current symphonic practice, audiences are performed as listener, consumer or amateur.  The project will experiment with the new roles of maker, citizen and expert, thus actively involving audiences in programming, making and assessing symphonic music. The reflection on these experiments will result in a Learning model that will help to innovate the classical music practice.

The research project ‘Artful Participation: Doing Artistic Research with Symphonic Music Audiences’ has been funded by NWO/SIA.

Project leaders:
Prof.Dr. Peter Peters (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and dr. Ruth Benschop (Research Centre for Arts, Autonomy and the Public Sphere)


  • Zuyd University of Applied Sciences / Research Centre for Arts, Autonomy and the Public Sphere / Conservatory Maastricht
  • philharmonie zuid-nederland

 Artful Participation website


Listen Closely: Innovating Participation in Symphonic Music

In the discourse on symphonic orchestras, problems are prominent: the number of visits is slowly declining, audiences are seen as listening passively, and societal relevance of symphonic music is questioned. A lack of possibilities for ‘participation’ is often put forward as reason for the declines. Picking up on this discourse, and pressured by policy measures and budget cuts resulting from the changed evaluation of their status and relevance, orchestras are seeking ways to innovate their traditional ways of performing. In particular, they have started to experiment with how audience members (but increasingly also musicians) are participating in concerts. They are invited to walk round, lay down or sit amongst the orchestra, use apps during the performance, or get the opportunity to have a say in the programming.
It is this phenomenon in symphonic music that I investigate in my PhD project. Rather than taking the problems for granted and join orchestras in their search for solutions, I conduct ethnographic research in order to closely examine how four symphonic orchestras in the Netherlands are innovating participation in their everyday practices. In researching these orchestras, I question how participation varies across actors and activities, how the materiality of symphonic music shapes the possibilities for participation, and how new meanings and values emerge when orchestras are innovating participation. Theoretically, I draw upon both science and technology studies and cultural studies to develop an understanding that takes into account both the socio-material contexts of and the aesthetic experiences central to symphonic music. Ultimately, mapping how orchestras innovate participation will lead to a deeper understanding of the work it takes to renegotiate notions of expertise, values as well as organizational and aesthetic criteria in their practices.

This project is part of the NWO/SIA-funded project ‘Artful Participation: Doing Artistic Research with Symphonic Music Audiences’ (project number: 314-99-204) which is a collaboration between Maastricht University, Hogeschool Zuyd and philharmonie zuidnederland.

Project-PhD: Veerle Sponck
Supervisors: Prof.Dr. Peter Peters, and Dr. Ruth Benschop

 Thesis: L isten closely: Innovating audience participation in symphonic music


Observing and Intervening: Doing Classical Music Experiments

In order to conduct practice-based research that learn through experimentation and intervention, the project examines how to do so. This Postdoc project builds the theoretical context of the experiments in the Artful Participation project. And vice versa, the experiments are the empirical object of this strategic research project. Theoretically it draws on ethnography and experimentation “in the wild”. Ethnography’s self-reflexive practice is an important starting point for artistic research (Benschop 2015). First, we draw inspiration from Ingold’s notion of “the art of inquiry” (2013). Ingold argues that the fundamental task of the anthropologist is not to gather data and build knowledge, but to learn from the practices in which she emerges herself in order to speculate about future possibilities. The art of inquiry involves acquiring craftsmanship and training a cunning that also, for instance, belongs to hunting. This focus on learning by making is complemented with recent research within STS asking what happens when the laboratory is taken outside. Callon & Rabeharisoa, 2003; Mann, 2011; and Marres, 2012, focussing on different authentic problems (tasting, patient involvement, sustainability), provide insights into the ways in which experimentation functions outside academia, with other participants involved in the production and distribution of knowledge. The project will translate this research in practice to the context of participation in symphonic music practice.

This Postdoc research is part of the NWO/SIA-funded project ‘Artful Participation: Doing Artistic Research with Symphonic Music Audiences’ led by Peter Peters (Maastricht University) and Ruth Benschop (Hogeschool Zuyd) in collaboration with philharmonie zuidnederland (project number: 314-99-204).

Project leader:
Dr. Ties van de Werff (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences)


  • Zuyd University of Applied Sciences / Research Centre for Arts, Autonomy and the Public Sphere / Conservatory Maastricht
  • philharmonie zuidnederland


Resisting Closure: A Museum Studies Approach to Performing the Canonic Heritage of Symphonic Music
The repertoire that orchestras perform nowadays in concert halls all over the world is still largely directed by what is commonly referred to as the canon of symphonic music. It comprises a broad range of musical works which are deemed crucial or iconic for the heritage of Western Art Music. At the same time, this canon is a social construct, the result of a variety of intertwined musical practices at work. It is through these practices that the canon has been conserved and thus became obdurate: The musical works it incorporates are deeply embedded in the practical procedures of today’s orchestras, concert halls and conservatories.
Inspired by Science and Technology Studies (STS), I examine the role that material musical artefacts play in the formation of artistic heritage, how this heritage is negotiated in practice, and how it can be brought into the future in meaningful ways. Particularly, I will investigate how obduracy of the symphonic canon has been maintained in the last decades through three different musical artefacts in practice: programme notes, the violoncello, and streaming applications for classical music. My interdisciplinary approach, in which I borrow concepts from Museum Studies, helps me to explore how the tension between “conserving” and “opening up” artistic heritage can be analysed on a theoretical as well as a practical level in a highly professional and tradition-loaded community of actors. Thus, it is through first understanding how obduracy works that I aim to develop small-scale interventions—in the form of workshop-experiments—into the symphonic canon, which take into account the practitioners’ values. This is relevant because many orchestras struggle with how to navigate, articulate and introduce the works of the symphonic canon in innovative ways, while at the same time accounting for their responsibility to conserve them.

Project-PhD: Denise Petzold
Supervisors: Prof. dr. Peter Peters and Prof. dr. Karin Bijsterveld


Locating the Orchestra: Widening Participation through Spatial Innovation
This study focuses on concert spaces, examining orchestra’s spatial attempts to encourage new audiences within the context of a changing classical music sector. The concert hall, for so long an important draw in the classical music experience, has begun to be seen as a barrier to widening participation. The aspects that were awe-inspiring to a previous public are perceived as domineering, the listening rituals seen as stiff and restrictive. Orchestral institutions are looking to innovate their practices to widen participation and engage society at large (Ramnarine, 2011), ‘opening up’ the concert hall in ways that have not yet been codified or evaluated. 
Nevertheless, the traditional concert hall continues to be a mainstay of classical music production and consumption. These spaces are contested: while orchestras, administrators, local authorities, and architects attempt to create inviting and aesthetically pleasing locales, these new halls can also become prestige projects, with landmark buildings putting cities ‘on the map’ internationally rather than reflecting local concerns. Through ethnographic study of concert hall buildings, both existing and in the process of being planned, the practices and values in play will be illuminated. 
Yet the concert hall is not the be all and end all of symphonic music experience. Increasingly, orchestras and ensembles are exploring performance opportunities outside of ‘official’ spaces, whether in spectacular architectural or natural settings, or in more everyday places. Study of these comprises a second strand of the research in order to give a further perspective on engagement. Both concert hall and ‘break-out’ performances, ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ contexts, are vital to understanding new attempts at engagement, and the effects of space on musical performance more widely. 

Ramnarine, Tina K. (2011), ‘The orchestration of civil society: community and conscience in symphony orchestras’, Ethnomusicology Forum 20/3, 327–51.

Project leader: Dr. Neil Smith