Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Schools Concerts: Spitalfields Music Festival June 30, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 8:51 pm
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I went to two schools concerts as part of Spitalfields Music Festival running from 11-26 June 2010. They couldn’t have benn more contrasting in content, presenters and musicians but there were some key aspects common to both in the way they presented the music to children.

The first concert on Fri 18 June 2010 10.30am at Shoreditch Church was presented by Sam Glazer with students from the Royal Academy of Music where we were transported into the unique sound world of the inspirational composer Iannis Xenakis.

The second concert on Wed 23 June 2010 10.30am at Christ Church Spitalfields with The Sixteen and presenter Hannah Conway was specially-designed to introduce the music of Monteverdi’s music to all ages and attention spans.



Late night concert: Ignite June 29, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 9:10 pm
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I went to a late night concert in the bar of Wigmore Hall on Friday 25 June. A group called Ignite played contemporary music, many of it specially commissioned for the ensemble consisting of clarinet, flute, violin, double bass and percussion.

Wigmore Hall describes the formation of the group:

As part of our outreach work, Wigmore Hall has formed Ignite, an ensemble of young professional musicians led by the composer and percussionist Jackie Walduck.

The ensemble focus on devising accessible projects which engage with people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. Ignite lead an ongoing project in St Mary’s Hospital, running music workshops in the children’s wards.

I initally found out about the concert through their learning brochure but it was also listed on mutliple websites including Time Out who described the event as below:

Time out listing

A late night concert with Ignite, an ensemble created by Wigmore Hall, which presents a 45-minute concert of contemporary music. Expect cutting-edge compositions with fiery improvisations and pieces by some of London’s leading composers, all in the informal setting of the Bechstein Bar at Wigmore Hall.

It is another example of presenting classical music in a new format – at a later time, with a short programme, cheap tickets at £3 and in an informal atmosphere. There was a mixed audience including some young people and some students with instruments.

Wigmore Website


Cross-Genres: Baroque & Jazz

I went to another concert that combined a new genre with classical music. It was The Sixteen & Julian Joseph at Spitalfields Music Festival on Thursday 24 June. I went along with other young professionals from Young People in the Arts who I believe were attracted by the novelty of the unusual combination of genres.

The concert combined Monteverdi with Jazz improvisation. The conductor explained beforehand:

‘The first programme contains some of Monteverdi’s most vivacious sacred music but in the second programme we, along with the charismatic jazz musician Julian Joseph, have decided to revisit this great master. Instrumental ritornelli (short recurring passages) occur in all the pieces and in Monteverdi’s time these would have allowed the players a freedom of expression, embellishment and improvisation. With Julian and Mike Hodgson we will extend that idea into a baroque-jazz synthesis and see just how far we can take it.’ Harry Christophers

The very different sets of musicians created a dialogue between each other by either the jazz musicians continuing improvising over a theme stated by the singers or by introducing them. The music was re-composed by Harry Christophers to allow the merging of these two different genres and the most magical moments were when they played simultaneously. I thought it was interesting how the combination emphasised the dissonances in both styles of music showing how music written hundreds of years apart still have things in common.

At the post-concert talk, Julian Joseph explained how it was a good way to introduce people to early music such as Monteverdi. While they may be drawn to the concert by the jazz and the legendary musicians names, they were given a  taster of another sound world.  (However, the audience attending appeared to be made up of a traditional classical demographic). Equally Harry Christophers commented how he thought it was a great experiment and one to be developed. In particular I would like to see more ways in which the two different genres: jazz and baroque could be combined simultaneously rather than alternating between the two.


Classical music: a definition? June 23, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 6:55 pm

During my last post I realised that using the term ‘classical music’ was problematic. I originally posed the question of how could we attract audiences to ‘classical’ concerts, but I am considering whether this is too restrictive. Not only does it feel exclusive to only include classical music, the term in is self is so vague it is hard to judge what music is classical or not.

There are many definition of classical music:

  • Classical music is the art music produced in, or rooted in, the traditions of Western liturgical and secular music, encompassing a broad period from roughly the 9th century to present times.”Classical”, The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Music, ed. …

However, could the definition of classical music just distinguish between art music and popular music rather than music from a  particular era or location? For example, there is classical music in other cultures other than Europe. Then again, this raises equally problematic questions of the divide between high and low art.


Changing the classical image: Cross-genres

Filed under: 1C: Reviews,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 5:31 pm
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I was taken along to Exhibition Music Day on Sunday 20 June. Though the festival is very popular on the continent, I had not heard of it before.

What struck me the variety of music on offer from acoustic, classical to jazz as well as every other sub-genre under the sun. Going through the process of choosing what to see really brought home that music taste is such a subjective choice. As there is so much on offer out there, it is interesting to consider what motivates us to chose a certain type of music over the other. I would argue an important factor is personal image. The music that you listen to reflects what type of person you are.

What type of people in the year 2010 stereotypically listen to classical music? Music geeks, band camp nerds, people with greying hair? This is problematic for the self-conscious individual, as attending a classical concert stands them in the stead of being labelled uncool.

Perhaps one solution is to incorporate classical people with another genre, to help broaden the audience. I chose to go to a concert with the duo Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal on cello and kora at the French Institute presented alongside pop and acoustic bands.

Remarkably, they combined two different cultures to create one cohesive musical dialogue. This was emphasised by their two different forms of attire: a Malian yellow tunic in comparison to European black concert dress. While a western instrument, the cellist mainly borrowed the musical language of the kora instead of the European tradition. However, the cello still retained its ‘classical’ status (whatever you take classical to mean).

This cross-genre places the classical musician in a new position that certainly challenges their stereotypical uncool image. It shows how classical music does not have to be limited to the European tradition as it can also be experimental and innovative. Classical does not exclusively mean C18th classical music and is a developing as much today as it was 300 years ago.

Mixing classical music with other genres creates novelty, a new image and potentially a new audience. Is it the way forward?


New Generation, New ideas June 18, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 7:11 pm
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The more I research into the issue, the more I discover people and organisations who want to change the face of classical music.

I was recently speaking to a masters graduate of the Royal Academy of Music. The cellist wants to combine her love of opera and chamber music into a new music genre. As well as being a collaborative process between librettist, composer, string quartet and singer, the mini-opera would be less costly making it more feasible to stage in a variety of venues.

The idea is that a story would drive through the whole piece with instrumentalists taking the role of singers. This is an example of adding meaning to the music beyond that of abstract patterns, which would give the audience something to follow while listening to the piece.

If successful, this could be a way to help listeners stay engaged throughout a piece of classical music. While they may not be able to follow the musical narrative, they could latch onto the written narrative which in turn would hopefully enlighten their whole experience of the mini-opera.


Community & Education projects – participating v listening June 12, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 9:49 pm
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I met with a Community and Education officer to hear about her busy life working for an orchestra.

Education and community work is a way in which orchestras reach out to a wider population. In a way, it answers my question of how to make classical music more engaging for a wider audience, though out of the concert setting.

They recognise that they may not be able to bring everyone into the concert hall, but are able to take classical music out into the community. At this particular orchestra, it is used to enlighten as well as further engage. Rather than the formal setting of a concert, the emphasis is bringing music into participants lives through active engagement and participation.

If successful, the orchestra believes that these music projects can:

a) dispel myths that classical music is scary

b) make classical music relevant to the participants lives

These projects lay the first ground work in introducing people to classical music, but what is the next step?

We reached the conclusion that people engage with music in different ways through out their lives. For example, young people tend to actively make music while older people tend to be happy to listen. This poses the difficult question of whether we should be bothering to encourage young people to listen to music? If they are more comfortable taking part, for example playing in an orchestra, why should we force them to attend a concert? This opens up questions of the value of listening.

However, I would argue that we need a new interactive form of listening that is equally engaging as playing an instrument. Do we need to teach children how to listen? I certainly need a course!