Tuning the Concert

Gold Arts Award Portfolio

The Orchestra of the future? October 27, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research,1D: issues — concerttuning @ 1:18 pm
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Southbank Sinfonia is unique in that they are the only full-time, independent Orchestral Academy currently in existence, but it is their open-mindedness that really bowled me over when I met their Chief Executive, Justin Lee.

They are actively paving the way into the future. Not only are they prepared to re-evaluate the role of the orchestra in the 21st century, but they are equipping their players with the ability to survive the modern music market. Justin Lee explained that their aim is not only to generate creative people who are passionate about music, but crucially to develop musicians with the means to communicate this. Consequently, they are trained in public speaking and are expected to talk to the audience at concerts.

The organisation is not tied to the rigidity or risk of a concert series. This gives them the flexibility to explore alternative avenues and take artistic risks, ensuring that there is still a role for the orchestral musician in 20 years time. Prepared to look beyond the autonomy of classical music, Justin Lee relishes the opportunity to collaborate in cross-art performances. This comes from his passion to reveal connections. Classical music is not chronological or closed to the world, though many a conventional concert typically portrays it as such.  Instead, through his programming he hopes to weave musical connections across time or use other art forms to shed light on the music. If they had a niche it’s their use of movement. For example, the musical mirroring in a Bach Canon was demonstrated in concert by two players physically imitating the direction of their musical subjects.



A taster: working with BBC Proms learning Team September 7, 2010

I volunteered over the bank holiday weekend to help with the family orchestra and chorus who performed in Prom 60 on Monday 30 August.

Families from Cornwall and London had been selected to première a BBC commission by Graham Fitzin. The participants ranged from 5 years to 80+ and covered a spectrum of abilities. As well as the performance sounding truly impressive (you can hear it on BBC iplayer), it was very interesting to see how the participants had been taught the music and how it was put together.

There was no music, but instead they learnt numbered themes, which the section leaders indicated using hand signs. For example, theme 1 in the violins was a clenched fist and it was bowed (mimed bowing). Furthermore, there were three conductors as well as the section leaders. This included the conductor for the BBC Concert Orchestra, Keith Lockhart, the workshop leader, Lincoln Abbotts and the composer, Graham Fitkin. The conductors kept time, while the sections leaders told their musicians exactly when to come in, stop and which theme to play. It was a very clever way to build a complex piece with a mixed ability group of musicians.



What’s it like working in education as a violinist? July 21, 2010

Filed under: 1B: research — concerttuning @ 8:04 pm
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I spoke to a violinist on 12 July 2010 who is very involved on the music education scene.

She took a 2 year teaching course and then got additional training from orchestras such as the Academy of St Martins and ex-Guildhall music leaders.

She teaches in schools 2 mornings a week where she gives instrumental lessons as well as running an orchestra for pupils aged 13-18. In addition she is involved in music projects such as those run by Create and the outreach work of the National Youth Orchestra.

One project that she has been involved on recently has been collaborating with a photographer with two different schools – one high achievers and one handicap. The pupils have been working together in a shopping centre to create a composition using photographs of the shoppers’ feet. The project is special in the way that it encourages interaction between the two very distinct groups of children.

I questioned her also about my issue of tuning the concert. She explained how there are not enough regional schools concerts, as it is often too expensive for a school to come into London. She also explained that on workshops it is the children’s progress rather than the end result that is important and often the least likely children are the ones that go through the most change.


What can a comedian do with an orchestra? July 17, 2010

Filed under: 1C: Reviews — concerttuning @ 8:31 pm
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The comedian, Rainer Hersch conducted and presented the first half of the concert on Sunday 11 July by Philharmonia Britannica.

He used a combination of jokes, re-compositions of well-known classics, and juggling tricks to bring a new life to the concert format. While many of the audience were elderly, they equally warmed to comedian and joined in with enthusiasm.

Who on earth is Rainer Hersch?

Rainer Hersch is a comedian and musician who has performed on every major comedy stage in Britain and abroad.  He has appeared twelve times at the Edinburgh Festival; had numerous comedy-concert series at the South Bank in London; featured in comedy clubs all across Europe and in TV shows around the world.

However, particularly at the beginning of the concert I was so engrossed with the audience participation (in group 3 saying cuc-koo to the accompaniment of the Hornpipe) that I didn’t get a chance to properly listen to the orchestra. The concert encourages a different intensity of listening. The music tended to be short extracts or broken up with dialogue. This is ideal for people new to classical music, but if you didn’t know anything about music, some of the jokes may not make sense, particularly the mickey takes about Mahler’s 1st Symphony.



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!