Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

Taking it into his own hands September 16, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research — concerttuning @ 8:25 pm
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I met up with Peter Fender, conductor of Philharmonia Britannica to learn about what inspired his audience development and how he would like to ‘tune the concert’.

Originally a freelance violinist and teacher, he has conducted on and off over the years. However, attending a conducting course 4 years ago inspired him to form his own orchestra, Philharmonia Britannica.

During the set up process, it made him think of all the things he had ever wanted to do. In particular he was interested in mixing different art forms, for example the use of videos with music. It was personal interest rather than audience development that initially spurred him on, as he is also a bit of a Thespian and enjoys chatting to audiences. For example, for a film concert he dressed in a Darth Vader costume to conduct the orchestra!

Thinking about the audience though, he thought that if he combined two art forms, he would have a greater chance of attracting a larger audience. He would be appealing to two sets of people, those who are interested in music and those for example in film. Consequently this broadens the potential audience base. In reality this hasn’t worked quite as well as he hoped, as typically it is the music lovers that attend his concerts. However, he hopes that if someone ever did attend the concert due to being predominately interested in the other art form,they may, in a ideal world, start to also like the music.

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Late Night Prom looks outside the ‘closed classical box’ August 27, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 10:03 am
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Last night I went to the coolest Prom yet! Jamie Cullum with his four piece band joined the Heritage orchestra for what turned out to be cross between a civilised concert and hot and steamy jig.  

The audience was predominantly composed of 20-35 somethings (especially in the packed promming arena) but I was impressed by the number of ‘oldies’ who braved the concert. While the Proms aims to introduce newcomers to classical music, last night I think it actually introduced many to jazz. Due to my sheltered ways, I’ve certainly never been to anything like this and it was eye opening to see of the mixing board on stage and the staged drama, which included two fishermen at the start of the set. Not only did Jamie draw in a predominantly younger audience, but he pulled in a packed auditorium (which can’t be said for all the late night proms).

However, the audience’s classical background was evident in the polite twitters in response to Jamie Cullum’s performance antics. It must have been a bit of a shock to some to see so much exuberance on stage. Jamie frequently got up to dance at the front, stood on the piano and even did a flying run across the stage. Towards the end Jamie had charmed the audience and had everyone clapping and singing along, the arena had turned into a jumping pit and people were even dancing in the boxes!   

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My first audience member aged 3 August 25, 2010

I had the fantastic opportunity to test-drive my musical storytelling on my 3 ½ year old nephew. The story that I was working on was one of his favourite books, so I hoped it would be appropriate for his age. The day before I had brought my cello out and showed him how it worked and even let him have a go. I first tried playing it to him just after we got back from a long walk and he was playing with his new racing track. However, when I got to introducing the ‘big, bad wolf’ I was told, ‘Alice, can you stop playing your cello now, it too loud’.

I little deflated, I gave it another attempt the following day, asking whether he wanted to hear the story if I didn’t play so loud. I started by putting my mute on, but after a few notes he told me to take it off! Much to my relief he stayed engaged for a full 20 minutes, and even played a part in telling the story.

I sat on the sofa while he sat on the floor with the story book on my music stand, so that it was clearly visible. He alternated from lying on a blanket and listening, to standing up to look at the story book when prompted and even got up really close looking at my cello.

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Shadowing a music-making day on a Outreach project July 22, 2010

On Monday 19 July, I shadowed an animateur and two musicians during an orchestral outreach project in a Primary school in Oxford. It was day four of the project and they were using the theme of the solar system to inspire their work.

I came in when they were working on creating compositions using graphic scores. They were using percussion instruments as well as a number of miniature violins to create compositions about black holes, red planets and asteroids. They later performed their works to the rest of the school in key stage 2 as well as performing 3 songs: 2 taught and 1 that they composed themselves.

Some interesting things that I observed:

  • I liked the way as a method of crowd control, the animatuer would sometimes call out a word and the children would automatically respond. For example, code words used included quail and shark!
  • I was impressed how keen all the students were to try the violins. Playing a so-called ‘proper’ instrument was deemed cool.
  • Each of the groups had very different method of approaching the graphic scores. I particularly liked one score in the way that it was circular.
  • It was problematic keeping the graphic scores simple as they were given so much freedom at the beginning.
  • While playing with the musicians may appear to be the highlight for the students, when watching another group’s work they were occupied by watching the professional instrumentalists.

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Changing the classical image: Cross-genres June 23, 2010

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?

 

The Conventional Classical Concert: Review May 1, 2010

La Belle France, 29 April 2010

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford | John Rutter and Catrin Finch

Motivations

I chose to attend this particular concert, as I knew I could get a free ticket through work, I was free that evening as my boyfriend intended to work, and I liked to sound of the programme with Debussy and Ravel.

Pre-conceptions

I knew I liked Debussy and Ravel as composers – I did a course at uni about La Belle France focusing on music in Paris around 1900. I’ve played a few works by the composers including Debussy’s La Mer with my Youth Orchestra and Ravel’s Piano Trio at University though I wouldn’t be able to hum any tunes now. On itunes, I have an album of Ravel and Debussy’s piano works. Other friends have also commented how they like these composers.

I was also interested in seeing the soloist. It was a harpist, which is a beautiful instrument in itself. Through tweeting at work, I learnt a little more about the soloist, Catrin Finch. A volunteer at work who I invited to the concert also emailed me some You tube links of the soloist playing. I was impressed how she did conventional repertoire as well as fun things in electronic settings with bright lights etc. She has also been on TV.

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