Friday 14 May 2021

Streamed, live-audiences or both? As ensembles consider innovative ways of returning to performance with live audiences, Middlesex University has been doing some research

Ely Cathedral
Ely Cathedral

As restrictions are gradually released, arts organisations are mulling the conundrum of how to incorporate what has been learned and explored during their on-line seasons into live with audience events. Whilst all performers would agree that a live audience is essential for a performance, the use of live streaming has led many ensembles to develop both new audiences and new relationships with their audiences.

Research from Middlesex University has included a survey of fans and musicians, both classical and popular music. 

  • 90% of musicians and 92% of fans agreed live streaming will in future be a successful tool to reach audiences unable or unwilling to go to physical venues
  • 72% of live music fans and 74% of musicians agreed that live streamed performances should be paid for
  • 95% of fans say emotional engagement from the artist during live stream concerts is important to them. 
Read more at the Live Streaming Music website.

The trick, of course, is quite how you choose to incorporate streaming with live.

Voces8 has been running a popular series of on-line concerts Live from London which are live-streamed from their Gresham Centre (a former church) in the City. So far the Live from London festivals have sold over 130,000 digital seats in 75 countries. They are returning on 4 July 2021 with Live from London - Summer, where Voces8 will be performing with a wide range of invited ensembles from Chineke! and ORA Singers to London Contemporary Orchestra, Cappella Amsterdam, and Danish band Efterklang. The festival is widening its reach beyond choral music, and is bringing back live audiences. But only in a limited way, this remains an on-line festival and the small live audience will give preference to VOCES8 Foundation education attendees and Decca Bursary members. Full details from the Voces8 website.

But The Sixteen's annual Choral Pilgrimmage is as much about the venues as the music, the chance to experience this great music in the stunning acoustics of Britain's major churches and cathedrals. The ensemble has kept a lively on-line presence during the last year, but this year's Choral Pilgrimmage is about live audiences in historic venues. There are differences, programmes are shorter, and audiences will be socially distanced, which means smaller, and hence the economics will be harder but at least with a large cathedral you can socially distance a decent number of people. 2020 was to be the Choral Pilgrimmage's 20th anniversary, so this year's tour is a deferred 20th anniversary with The Call of Rome, a programme of music from composers associated with Rome from Victoria and Josquin to Allegri's Miserere, including three modern takes on this iconic classic. 

The tour opens at St Mary's Church, Warwick on 5 June 2021, and moves on to Winchester Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, Hereford Cathedral, Derby Cathedral, Peterborough Cathedral and Kings Place; each venue is different and each person will experience the concert in a different way. Full details from The Sixteen's website.

The Britten Sinfonia has also been thinking about what it actually means to have a live performance with audience. Artistic director Meurig Bowen explains "The pandemic, and ongoing restrictions, have made us think hard about the relationship between musicians and audiences, and the need for something positive to be drawn from a period that has been intensely difficult: it’s required us all to reassess so many aspects of our lives and work.  Surround Sound puts some of these thoughts into practice, exploring the way that live music can be experienced both as a visual, and as an aural experience, and how our perception of music can alter through evocative interaction with architecture. We are looking forward to developing this further over the coming months and years.

The result is Surround Sound, a project which will take the ensemble to non-traditional venues and present a live experience that more resembles a drivetime radio sequence - or a playlist/mixtape - and to make it inexpensive and informal. The first is Surround Sound: Ely Playlist which opens the Ely Arts Festival on 12 June 2021 at Ely Cathedral. Like The Sixteen, these performances are about the space itself as much as the music. 

The music is staged on five performance spaces within the Cathedral, with socially distanced audience groups placed throughout the building. Each audience member’s experience will be influenced by where they are sitting.  Choral and chamber music, solos, the cathedral organ and a 20-piece orchestra all feature, with members of Britten Sinfonia joined by South African cellist/vocalist Abel Selaocoe, percussionist Bernhard Schimpelsberger, and members of Ely Cathedral choir. What one audience member might hear at a distance, another will see directly in front of them, with music resonating from the chapels, transepts, arches and along the 161 metre length of the majestic Ely Cathedral, parts of which date from the 11th century. The Ely Playlist features 18 pieces with repertoire ranging from well known pieces by Bach, Handel, Debussy and Grieg to music by Britten, Tavener, Giovanni Sollima, Kerensa Briggs and Abel Selaocoe himself. Full details from the Ely Cathedral website.

Britten Sinfonia are also giving more conventional concerts, on 10 June 2021 at the Barbican Hall it is celebrating Thomas Ades' 50th birthday with Ades as composer, conductor, pianist and programmer. But, in a sign of the brave new world in which we live, the concert is also available streamed as part of the Live from the Barbican series. Full details from the Barbican website.

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