From virtual reality to graphic novels, one orchestra takes a new approach to audience engagement

Anima Eterna Brugge is breathing new life into classical masterpieces played on period instruments. Clare Wiley reports on the Belgian orchestra’s surprisingly progressive approach to audience engagement

Anima Eterna Brugge is one ensemble that faithfully contemporises the past. Under artistic director and founder Jos van Immerseel, the orchestra is dedicated to loyal interpretations of compositions on period instruments – and when it comes to connecting with a modern audience, it has proven to be remarkably forward-thinking.

This year the ensemble teamed up with Brussels performance group CREW to create the immersive, interactive experience C.a.p.e Anima. In this show, up to four audience members are given video goggles and a motion tracker. As they move around an open space, they are immersed in an audiovisual recording of Anima performing Beethoven’s Symphony No 6 at Concertgebouw Brugge.

C.a.p.e. Anima © CREW

The virtual reality experience differs depending on where and how the listener moves within the environment, and the ways in which they interact with the digital presence of the orchestra – the audience essentially determines the outcome.

C.a.p.e Anima, which Anima Eterna Brugge can easily take on the road wherever it performs, is just one facet of the organisation’s new strategy to get closer to its fans (quite literally, in this case). ‘As a project-based orchestra with no full-time musicians, we don’t have a fixed series in one concert hall, so it’s more challenging to develop a relationship with our audience – which is exactly what we want,’ says executive director Ann Truyens. ‘We want to have a more personal touch. We want to be nearer to the people that enjoy our music.’

C.a.p.e. Anima © CREW

C.a.p.e. Anima © CREW

An associate ensemble with Opéra de Dijon, Anima is also currently orchestra in residence at Concertgebouw Brugge; both have created a mini-series around Anima’s performances, for which their audiences can purchase a unique subscription.

Furthermore, the ensemble has also taken an open-minded approach to marketing; it created a graphic novel to support the launch of a recent recording of Carmina Burana, and for the 2013-14 season fans were given free Orff, Bach and Beethoven-themed badges. During the current season, Anima Eterna Brugge bracelets are being given out.

Read: 4 alternative ways to market classical music

‘We don’t have a big budget at our disposal,’ says Truyens. ‘Our total available budget for marketing and promotion is probably one-tenth of what the big institutional orchestras have, so we have to use it in a different way and be as creative as possible. We don’t have the money on hand to produce big fancy brochures, so we decided to get rid of them. Instead, we’ve made a small brochure, and opted to implement more concentrated promotion around each individual project.’

‘The use of new or unusual media such as the Carmina graphic novel, as well as being innovative in our artistic collaborations, educational projects and corporate outreach efforts, hasn’t changed our mission at all,’ adds Truyens. ‘Instead, the range of opportunities to do what we have been doing for more than 25 years – translating a composer’s musical thoughts onto today’s stage – has widened extensively.’

Anima has a big couple of years ahead. This coming March will see the ensemble embark on its next major project, a trio of works comprising Smetana’s Vltava (The Moldau), Dvořák’s Symphony No 9 and Janáček’s Sinfonietta, released on digital in autumn 2015. As well as being recorded, the series will be performed live in Bruges, Aix-en-Provence, Dijon and Antwerp. November 2015 will see the release of another new recording, Schubertiade, to celebrate van Immerseel’s 70th birthday.

Jos van Immerseel

Jos van Immerseel

Also that month, the orchestra will tour to Mexico on an invitation from Festival Internacional Cervantino, where the Anima musicians will perform all of Beethoven’s symphonies. A performance of the complete Beethoven symphonies at Sydney Festival 2016, as well as the orchestra’s debut at Lincoln Center, will follow. Anima will be the orchestra in residence at Beethovenfest Bonn for 2015-17, and on top of that will launch a new website in the coming months.

Truyens and van Immerseel are already thinking fairly intensively about how to reach the next generation of players. ‘The intercontinental broadening of the orchestra’s horizons will remain a focal point in our future strategy,’ says Truyens. ‘For the future, it’s very important that Anima Eterna passes on the experience we have in our orchestra. We have great musicians – although not on our payroll, we have a good relationship with them and we work together on a regular basis. This summer, for example, we held our first international masterclass in Bruges.’

Anima Eterna Brugge

Anima Eterna Brugge

For Truyens, masterclasses steered by Anima musicians are the best way to educate non-Anima musicians on how to play repertoire on period instruments. ‘We want to offer others the chance to spend five days with our musicians,’ she says.‘They need to be challenged. It’s essential to open the mind, and to broaden perspectives. We see more and more baroque, classical and historical music institutions being founded. There is an evolution in process, and we want to offer some guidelines for those youngsters who are interested in this kind of music.’

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