Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Creative learning with Britten Sinfonia July 23, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research — concerttuning @ 9:20 am
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I met up with Sophie Dunn on the 16 July at the British Library to hear about her career and her current job as a Creative Learning manager.

How did you get where you are today?

Sophie trained as a music teacher and taught for three years before moving on as an intern at the Orchestra of St John’s orchestra and then later a position with City of London Sinfonia for 5 years. She is currently working for Britten Sinfonia, who she has been with for 3 1/2 years.

Do you think the classical concert can reach a wider audience?

Sophie explained that in the office at Britten Sinfonia they had recently been re-thinking their goals. To paraphrase, their three main aims are:

  1. Broaden audience awareness by better informing them about the repertoire
  2. Develop talent
  3. Involved guest artists in community work giving everyone access to the stars

Many of these aims help to encourage greater accessibility to classical music and hopefully will introduce new people to their work. This also extends to putting the members of staff in the public eye and subsequently making the whole orchestra feel more approachable.

Do you reach alternative audiences?

Britten Sinfonia is known for being innovative for example by crossing different genres and playing in a variety of setting not commonly associated with classical music. For example they perform at the:

  • Latitude festival -Latitude is said to be more similar to continental European festivals; as well as a comprehensive bill of musicians, bands and artists across four stages, the festival comprises elements of theatre, art, comedy, cabaret, poetry, politics, dance and literature.
  • London Jazz Festivalin association with BBC Radio 3 is a London-wide music festival held every November. It takes place in a variety of London venues, including larger concert halls – such as the Barbican and the Royal Festival Hall – and smaller jazz clubs, such as Ronnie Scott’s and Vortex.

Furthermore, Sophie described a unique one off event when they performaned a concert in a swimming pool incorporating recorded sound from the water.

What are your audiences like?

Sophie argued that their audiences at conventional concerts are more varied than most. Though a good proportion are over 50 and 200 out of 500 are subscribers in Cambridge they still have a good number of students. Their London audiences who tend to attend concerts according to repertoire can be mixed and when performing at the Jazz Festival they have even more varied with a greater range of ethnicities.

How willing are your audiences to try something new?

Sophie explained how it was easier to get their loyal audiences members to try something new, in particular contemporary music, as they were willing to trust the orchestra. However, it was harder to get people attending their jazz concerts to attend a conventional concert. Unfortunately they do not have access to comprehensive data about their London audiences.

Would you change anything about your conventional concerts to encourage jazz lovers to attend?

The orchestra worked with a consultant to look at their concert presentation. Having come from a theatre background she picked up on things such as the orchestra members’ different hairstyles, which was something the orchestra had never thought about before. They since try and stand up when possible and use subtle coloured lighting for example like a simple blue wave projected on the back of the stage (however they don’t go as far as fireworks!)

Their programme notes have a glossary but they are still written for a music knowledgeable audience. This is something the orchestra will be reassessing in the future.

Do you target family audiences?

The orchestra has numerous education projects as well as family music days. They do not have specific child concerts, but they are successful in encouraging schools to attend their lunchtime concerts. They arrange a pre-concert talk for the children, special programme notes as well as an opportunity to meet the musicians.

What are your plans for the future with the orchestra?

Sophie explained how she would like to further integrate the education department within the orchestra, so that when planning the concerts, creative learning projects are built into the schedule. She would like to build stronger relationships with schools so that certain schools are associated with the orchestra and can call Britten Sinfonia ‘their orchestra.’


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