Henry Little, Orchestras Live chief executive, and Kevin Appleby from Turney Sims concert hall in Southampton introduced a live link-up with the Aurora Orchestra. Their concert that evening was of all the Britten music for the films for the GPO film unit. They were showing the films with the orchestra providing live orchestral accompaniment and Samuel West doing the narrations. During the link-up they performed The Way To The Sea which celebrated the electrification of the London to Portsmouth railway line, with Britten's imaginative music written for just 12 musicians (woodwind, percussion, harp and piano) and West reading Auden's narration. The result was highly satisfying and should make a superb concert. It was Britten's last major documentary film and his last major collaboration with Auden.
In a discussion afterwards both Collon and West brought out the films political significance, which remains relevant today. The performance however is not without challenges, Britten's scores was recorded and then edited to the film so that the music has had to be re-edited to fit the film, and West talked about the trickiness of having to balance visual and aural cues, and in other films he has to lip-synch the dialogue as well.
When the discussion expanded to cover topics raised earlier, West talked about the desirability of keeping the rehearsal process private but that in the theatre he thought that throwing the technical rehearsal open to the public would pay dividends. Collon echoed this, saying that at times in rehearsal he was glad that there was no-one there, but on the other hand open rehearsals can be a nice way to introduce what a conductor actually does (something that many people know).
The conference ended with a final panel discussion chaired by Jane Williams, a free-lance arts manager with Peter Bolton from Kent Music, Sarah Ellis from the Royal Shakespeare Company and Brenda Seymour from North Norfolk District Council. Whilst the discussion was intended to cover the theme Great Orchestras for everyone - the challenge of reaching remote and under-served areas, there was a sense that the discussion kept moving back to cover the subjects raised earlier in the day and it lacked the punch that it might have had.
Bolton first of all presented a series of questions. Is promoting orchestra in culturally under-served areas different? Are you clear about what you are trying to do? What are under-served and remote communities? His final point wasn't so much of a question, the need to make learning instruments more accessible, that at the moment there is a danger that we are training middle-class orchestral players.
Seymour is the arts officer for North Norfolk District Council, a role she has fulfilled for 13 years in a climate where many councils are doing away with arts officers. She talked about how, at first, she struggled to develop audiences but that partnership has become important. Partnership with Orchestras Live and with local promoting groups so that the current concerts series is done with both of these, which means that the concerts mobilise the support of the volunteers from the local groups and they get to present concerts bigger than they would be able to normally.
There are challenges, she talked about presenting a concert in the small village of Trunch where they filled the 180 seat church, the pub was where the toilets were and the local shop sold tickets. But 73% of those attending did so to support a local cultural event. The importance of volunteers in general was raised, in promoting concerts, and the importance of empowering local people and of ambassadors.
Ellis talked about her projects in the digital sphere with the RSC, particularly using digital to innovate Shakespeare, joking that the RSC had a 400-year-old writer in residence!
One interesting discussion that arose was that there had been a strong emphasis on supply, that the real challenge was demand and that the biggest single factor was the parental level of education. Some people felt that there was a danger of the groups wearing supplier spectacles, and that if groups did not engage with these other families, they would be providing orchestral services to groups that were already, to a certain extent, customers rather than breaking new ground.
Bolton felt that a data led approach was important and that in Kent they are using data to determine how inclusive the hub was; 93% of schools responded to them and they are doing statistical analysis. Someone else felt that it was important to develop links with youth organisations, and that if you develop long term relationships with children then the families will follow. Others agreed and the issue of partnership came up again, with the necessity to develop links to the right people and to go into the right communities.
The fact the arts office network was breaking down came up; it was pointed out that in some areas there are no arts officers and schools have started to take up the role, leading to a discussion about how inclusive this might be. Also, the issue of funding kept raising its head in ore general terms and the importance, and the cost, of getting instruments and tuition in children's hands as soon as possible.
A final summing up is probably impossible,but one or two interesting points came out at the end notably the need to empower musicians to talk to the audience and how the music young people feel the most passion about is the music that they play, which brings us back to funding and the need to get tuition early.
Henry Little attempted to summarise the day, and brought out the following points:
- Listening isn't a passive experience
- How to expose orchestral workings to audiences
- Active participation
- Organisations being more porous
- The is not single format for a concert, the most effective way is dependent on location and audience
- Reinforcing Sam West's point that digital cinema presentations were the icing, not the cake
- How to get young people through the door.
- Making orchestras personal and local
- The importance of the local champion
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