How Orchestras Are Riding The Wave Of Change
Posted on August 28, 2014
The Guardian – Culture Professionals Network
Bob Riley (CEO of Manchester Camerata)
From cannabis concerts to blindfolded audiences, orchestras are engaging audiences in exciting new ways.
Now seems like an appropriate time to look at the ways in which the classical sector is changing. Iván Fischer sparked debate last year about the future of the symphony orchestra, something Ernest Fleischman had his own opinions on in the 80s. Taking inspiration (and our name) from the Florentine Camerata – a group of 16th-century musicians, scientists and thinkers dedicated to the progress of the arts – Manchester Camerata is all about connecting with people and redefining what an orchestra can do. So here’s a look at some ways that orchestras and musicians are leading the way and championing a new look and vision for classical music.
With orchestras striving to find new and innovative ways to connect with both existing and new audiences, we’re seeing a wide variety of programming, concert formats and new series that step away from the traditional orchestra format of overture, concerto and symphony. Examples of this include the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’sNight Shift, our own UpClose and Budapest Festival Orchestra’s Night Music, all of which place their musicians in what normally would be the “post-concert haunt” – bars and other unconventional spaces.
These orchestras throw all preconceptions out of the window and encourage audiences to do the same: relax, grab a drink, clap when you like and enjoy international classical musicians performing right next to you. At the other end of the spectrum, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra has teamed up with the industry that supports legal cannabis in the US state to present Classically Cannabis (“The High Note Series”) – an exclusive event where attendees are encouraged to bring and smoke their own marijuana while basking in the sounds of an internationally acclaimed orchestra.
The BBC Proms is a perfect example of how innovative collaborations are attracting new audiences to what is predominantly a “classical” festival – this year’s highlight being the War Horse Prom in collaboration with the National Theatre, which places a new suite of music from the show alongside Elgar, Bridge, Holst and Ravel. The Late Night Proms offer a feast of eclectic music with everything from Paloma Faith performing alongside the Guy Barker Orchestra to an evening with singer-songwriter and opera composer Rufus Wainwright and Britten Sinfonia.
Earlier in the year, pre-eminent British trumpeter Alison Balsom took to the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe for a performance of Gabriel with musicians from the English Concert. Written by Samuel Adamson, the work requires the musicians not only to play from memory but to act and sing too, showing just how much the conventional orchestral musician has evolved.
For the thrill seekers out there, Manchester Camerata has programmed an immersive concert called Challenging the Senses, using everything from scent bombs to blindfolds during an eclectic programme of chamber music. Not only do these concerts challenge existing audiences to experience music in a completely different way, they tempt the alternative culture vulture to test his or her palate with an immersive experience.
No longer will a white downward light and conventional orchestra formation suffice, as we are now seeing orchestras present and produce concerts in a different way. As if playing from memory in the first half of their Late Night Prom wasn’t enough, this month we saw the young, vibrant Aurora Orchestra premiere Benedict Mason’s Meld, which had musicians moving around the Royal Albert Hall, each playing to a unique, personalised click-track.
With companies like the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Opera House and English National Opera screening live performances in cinemas throughout the world, no longer can we make the bold statement that classical music, opera and ballet is inaccessible. The Royal Opera House screens 11 productions each season, relayed to more than 1,500 cinemas in over 40 countries, showcasing exceptional world-class artists to the world.
For those of us who fancy a night in, the Berlin Philharmonic continues to champion its Digital Concert Hall that broadcasts 40 live concerts per season online, making them available at home or on the move. There is even the ability to spend hours viewing concert archives and documentaries (all at a reasonable price).
Composers are also using digital devices to mould performance, which is what the London Sinfonietta has done with composer Eve Harrison and artist David Boultbee as part of their Blue Touch Paper series, which supports and encourages the next generation of composers to develop new multi-disciplinary work.
Community and learning
A collective of musicians is a very powerful thing. We hear them cry: “How do we connect with our community?” and “How do we become more relevant?” Taking the lead from El Sistema in Venezuela, its British equivalents (including Sistema Scotland) are thriving with support from the likes of Nicola Benedetti and Julian Lloyd Webber, who promote these genuinely life-changing programmes in schools and communities.
Of course, work like this isn’t happening in isolation; it’s a powerful way to develop the artistic output of an orchestra and its ability to engage with an audience.