Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

My ideal concert at 8pm on Monday 25 October October 25, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 7:54 pm
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I can envision a concert that I would be proud to promote. The idea came when I was reading an article in es magazine about how art exhibitions moved out of white space into warehouses and factories.

The concert would be held on the top floor of an old factory with brick walls and structural supports jutting out into the room. Around the room would be a balcony with an iron hand rail where you could overlook the whole space. At the far end of the room would be a large window divided into foot-wide squares with a spectacular panorama of a city.

The venue would double up as an art gallery with a constantly changing selection of art work on display, with some items for sale. Audience members could arrive early for the concert to look at the art work or to buy drinks at the bar/cafe. Between the structural supports would be cosy alcoves lit with ambient lighting where people could intimately talk.

The evening would start dramatically when all the lights were dimmed into near darkness while an intense spotlight marked out a lone artist. The musician would play a short piece from memory of no more than 5 mins. It could be baroque to modern as long as it was captivating. The idea would be to turn heads and draw people in to listen.

After the applause the lights would rise slightly and a presenter for the evening concert would come to the spotlight. He/she would invite people to take a seat around the artist whether a vintage armchair, beanbag or cushion. Drinks would be permitted in the performance area. Alternatively people would be free to wander around the gallery or watch from the balcony above. He/she would open up a dialogue with the artist, discussing the work they just heard and offering the audience an alternative insight. No snobbishness would be allowed and people would be encouraged to speak in normal everyday language. There would be no concert programmes but if an artist chose, they could write in chalk on the walls as well as choosing which art works they wanted to be surrounded by.



Young Creative wants informal concerts in intimate settings September 5, 2010

Filed under: 1D: issues — concerttuning @ 7:42 pm
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I met up with Susie Attwood, a stronger advocator of Non Classical, to hear her perspective on tuning the concert.

When asking what got her really excited about music, Susie replied playing her violin with others, like in a string quartet, while listening to music on her own. This contrast in wishing to be with others to perform, but wanting her own solitude to listen was an interesting point. Unpicking this statement apart illustrated her preference for a quiet, relaxed, totally absorbed way of listening, which she felt could not be achieved in a concert hall when she was too self aware of others. It is due to the record that this solitary style of listening is possible, but we decided though possible to recreate this with live musicians it may be a bit awkward!

Going back to the problem of the concert hall, Susie elaborated that the whole thing was too self-conscious. There is a set protocol to follow that has become like a ritual similar to that of a stereotypically bad image of Church with a silent reverence to the music.  It’s not relaxed nor is it fun. It is such a niche that people will only ever attend if their parents took them to concerts or if they played an instrument when they were young.  This makes it problematic for new comers, for example her non-musical friends will turn up late or don’t plan far enough in advance to book tickets.



BBC Proms OUT + ABOUT at Westfield Shopping Centre July 9, 2010

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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.



Schools Concerts: Spitalfields Music Festival June 30, 2010

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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

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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


An Alternative Way: Open air live screening June 9, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 4:54 pm
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Last night I attended a FREE screening of Carmen at Trafalgar Square broadcasted from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. This screening as well as those in cinemas across the country are an example of an alternative way to present classical music.

This was my third year running to attend these events and I took the opportunity to bring friends along. As their website  (http://www.roh.org.uk/whatson/bpbigscreens/index.aspx) says:

“The BP Summer Big Screens are the perfect way to introduce friends and family to the Royal Opera House and to world-class opera and ballet.”

The experience is very different from that of attending an opera in the auditorium. While the screen looked pixellated at times, if sitting at the back of the Opera House, you wouldn’t be able to see these details anyway.

  • Flexibility of length – though the opera is very long you could choose how much you watched. My friend came only for the first half, as she had to go back to revision.
  • You can have a picnic during the performance
  • You are in the open air (for better or worse!). Lends a bit of risk and uncertainly to the event.
  • There is a community feel amongst the audience – especially helped by the mass choir sing-a-long beforehand.
  • Presenter and behind the scenes footage about the Royal Opera House.
  • Informal seating  – you can come in any size party and don’t have to book beforehand.

Gareth Malone, noted the rapture of the audience. It was surprising how entranced everyone sat watching the opera with very few people chatting throughout the opera. Perhaps we have a better attention span than thought or was the audience used to watching opera? There were certainly some good singers amongst us!


Another way: an informal jazz concert June 4, 2010

I heard the Yazz Ahmed Trio perform at the National Portrait Gallery as part of the Late Shift events going on in the art gallery.

What I found interesting was the flexibility in the way you could listen to the concert. Audience members came and went as they pleased. They either sat down to focus on the music, or some just lingered or merely walked on past.

This recognises that different audience members will have different attention spans for a multitude of reasons. Conditioned by classical concerts, it made me feel quite awkward to leave half way through the set, as it seemed disrespectful to the musicians. However, I came away with a much more positive memory of the experience having left when I had reached saturation point, rather than forcing myself to listen to it all and get bored.

Perhaps we should try to offer this flexibility in classical concert too? However, this would not be as feasible in a paid concert, as audience members may feel that they had to get their monies worth. Perhaps we could offer an alternative activity if people needed a break from the music i.e. go and get a drink (like during the Night Shift concerts by OAE) or provide paper and pencils for drawing activities.