Empty Minds: Innovating Audience Participation in Symphonic Practice

Veerle Spronck*, Peter Peters, Ties van de Werff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Symphony orchestras today acknowledge the need to make their art relevant again in today's societies and innovate their practices. When these innovations regard audience participation, they challenge the ritualised formats of classical music performance and disrupt normative, social, and artistic traditions. The orchestra therefore presents an interesting case to develop a better understanding of the value-laden dynamics of innovation in public participation. Implicit notions of an 'ideal public' and its desirable behaviour often structure the design, set-up, and assessment of participatory innovations. Fieldwork during the Empty Minds concerts, that the South Netherlands Philharmonic organised in 2018 to innovate participation, supports this claim.

The organisers aimed to assign new participatory roles to the audience. Throughout the organisational process, three forms of frictions developed. The hierarchical pattern of symphonic concerts conflicted with the plan for new audience participation, material routines were challenged, and during the actual concerts, audience members did not participate in new ways. The observed frictions show that what matters artistically cannot be separated from how the performance is organised: artistic qualities emerge in and through socio-material practice. What comes to count as desirable public participation is thus not a given, but needs to be continuously articulated, negotiated and constructed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)216-236
Number of pages21
JournalScience as Culture
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2021


  • Participation
  • audiences
  • friction
  • innovation
  • symphonic music

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