An ailing regional orchestra has adopted a bold strategy for attracting audiences. The Norwich Sinfonietta has revealed that it intends to start taking requests during concerts.
"This is totally unprecedented in the classical world," said the conductor, Gerhard Suzuki. "For a rock-and-roll band it only means learning a few dozen songs, which will be very simplistic anyway, but for an orchestra to do this...well, there are a lot of notes to learn."
The Sinfonietta's plan will entail the memorisation of over 150 works from the classical canon, many of which are an hour or more in length; the average string player will have to commit an estimated 500,000 notes to memory. When pressed on the prohibitive difficulty of this undertaking, Suzuki merely chuckled and said: "[the orchestra] aren't too happy about it, put it that way."
With live classical music facing a gradual decline in popularity, musicians are being forced to explore new ways of exciting audiences. Last year, the Sydney Philharmonic began allowing amateurs to play in their concerts, on the provision that they bring a certain number of friends along.
Other ensembles have taken even more desperate measures, such as hiring themselves out for private functions at cut-price rates. Jade Goody's wedding reception last week boasted background music from the Liverpool Metropolitan Orchestra, which played a selection of incidental pieces from the bride's favourite TV show, Challenge Anneka.
"This isn't the life I dreamed about when I was little," said a member of the LMO, who wished to remain anonymous. "But at least I'm playing the music I love. Well, the music that Jade Goody loves, anyway. That's kind of like a dream, isn't it?"