I went along to an orchestral performance taken out of the concert hall and put in a shopping centre on Friday 6 July. While some shoppers were making the most of the Westfield’s long opening hours, the rest were drawn to the sound of a full symphony orchestra playing in the atrium of the shopping centre.
The event was a great opportunity to introduce people to the power of a live orchestra (BBC SO) as well as raise awareness of the Proms Season. It defied concert convention by being informal, interactive, social, an unplanned/spontaneous experience for some and with a mixed demographic audience.
Location – The shopping centre was great, as many people went through its doors, it’s a non-cultural institution, it’s like modern cathedral, it has a large area for seating and the orchestra and the balconies gave a 360 view of stage. However, it was a bit noisy (though the orchestra was even louder) and it was poorly signposted for such a large venue.
Tickets –No booking was required and it was free, which helped encourage spontaneous attendees.
Time – 6.30-8pm is not too late for children but gives office workers enough time to get there.
Dress – Orchestra members were in casual purple t-shirts while the young musicians wore a contrasting yellow t-shirt.This helped distinguish the students amongst the orchestra.
Presenter – The famous face of Katie Derham introduced the pieces in a simple and clear way. She linked the home country of the composers to football teams theming it around the world cup. This was in a clear attempt to relate the music to the audience.
Seating – I loved the fake grass (imitating a proms in the park event) where mainly families sat, but there was also standing space behind and around the balcony. Easy access meant that people could arrive and depart at their own will without disturbing others.
Participation – Local school kids performed their own piece influenced by Mark Turnage (who was present) as well as older students joined the professionals towards the end of the programme. The audience all joined in singing ‘You’ll never Walk Alone’ for a rousing finale.
Stage/lighting – It was a shame the stage wasn’t tiered as you couldn’t see the depth of the orchestra (though you could from the balcony) but they did have lights that changed the mood for each of the pieces. Amusingly during Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstances the lighting was patriotically blue and red.
Picnic – It was casual enough for people to eat food and chat while the performance was taking place, adding a social element to the performance.
Audience demographic – There was a real mix of people and certainly many who you would not traditionally find in a concert hall.
Attention span – It was hard to tell how many stayed for the whole performance (the families certainly did) or those who came to listen just for a bit. The audience size fluctuated during the performance, there were was always an impressed turnout.