Orchestras should be 'mothers of invention'

Invoking the rockstar sensibilities of Frank Zappa, broadcaster and journalist Tom Service has said orchestras should act as ‘mothers of invention’.

Delivering the keynote address at the Orchestras Live conference in London yesterday, Service reflected on the role of orchestras in modern society.

He said: ‘The problem with orchestras is, that the bigger they are, the more top-down the authority seems to be.’

Service also emphasised the importance of engaging audiences in the process of music making, as well as the final product, to deepen interest and understanding.

His speech paved the way for a day of lively discussion on the theme ‘Taking Music Further’. Delegates included orchestra managers, trustees of Orchestras Live and representatives from councils throughout the UK.

The first of two panel discussions questioned the ‘stake’ of audiences in orchestral music. Jackie Newbould from the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group spoke on her organisation’s Sound Investment scheme, which enables audiences to donate from as little as GBP15 to help commission new music.

Fellow panelist Neil Bennison, music programme manager at the Theatre Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, spoke about his company’s family-friendly ‘Drivetime’ concerts, and the ways in which his team is increasing its subscriber base.

Also on the panel, Jake Orr, founder of A Younger Theatre, gave his frank take on the orchestra sector, saying ‘the problem is the rules of the arts industry’. He stated the case for enabling young people the opportunity to consider the arts not solely as ‘education’, and building a passion in the arts outside of the curriculum.

The second panel discussion addressed the challenges of reaching remote and under-served areas, and featured Sarah Ellis, digital producer from the RSC, Peter Bolton from Kent Music, and Brenda Seymour from North Norfolk District Council, chaired by arts consultant Jane Williams. Debate ranged from using digital technology to reach new users, the challenges of reaching rural areas, and the importance of volunteers and ambassadors for music in local communities.

The programme also featured a performance from the Aurora Orchestra. Conducted by Nicholas Collon, the orchestra played Britten’s The Way to the Sea alongside actor Sam West as narrator.

Participants of the Orchestras Live project ‘First Time Live – Youth’ (pictured) were also invited to discuss their experience of running an orchestral concert in Scunthorpe.

Chief executive of Orchestras Live, Henry Little, closed the conference by noting the importance of ‘local championship’ at a grass-roots level to develop audience engagement and participation.

A report on the findings from the conference will soon be available on the Orchestras Live website.

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