Maybe its because I’ve spent an extended period of time using one particular type of mass publishing platform, that visiting a new website dedicated to Polish composer Penderecki feels like a lavish treat. Penderecki’s Garden examines the man’s lifelong passions – music and flora – in one bespoke digital experience that features ravishing design optimised for touch-screens.
As well as featuring a rich collection of first hand accounts from young, training and established musicians, the website is peppered with audio clips that play in the background as the user explores the virtual garden across multiple locations.
There’s a museum display feel to the entire thing which is unexpectedly reassuring. It’s not that the site is compensating for a physical space. Rather, the bespoke design and build creates a much-needed escape from the ubiquitous text-driven web pages and social media formats which dominate content delivery.
I’m particularly impressed that the core content – videos and text – are presented in a phased approach, with enticing sub headers, introductions and, most important of all, there are full URLs available that take you straight to that content (like the Max Richter tribute performance available for free until 31 December 2021). That makes this both an absorbing visual treat, but a rich accessible resource too. Deft design.
Perhaps most important of all, the site isn’t seen to be apologising for the cultural richness of Penderecki’s life, work and passions. Pride is hard-coded into the creation. Quite some achievement.
I never especially enjoyed my graduation day. Twenty-seven years ago, me and my parents journeyed from Suffolk for the late morning ceremony. I’d lost the tickets. I was also reeling from having to return to post-University life, back in my old bedroom, resentful of my suddenly curtailed freedoms.
The ceremony saw me and my peers processing up to the stage in the Great Hall to shake hands with a person we’d never seen before, look out on a see of proud faces, before walking off the other side and walking past the congregation.
It felt like a ramshackle experience, one everyone assuming would be full of pomp. An hour or so later we handed back our gowns and mortarboards, exchanged goodbyes with friends and headed off.
All this is nothing in comparison to what this year’s music graduates have endured: a year of interrupted tuition, distanced learning, and nothing but practise. And to top it all they didn’t get the chance of closure with a formal ceremony.
Undeterred, saxophonist Jess Gillam donned her gown and mortarboard after ‘receiving’ (presumably in the post) her Masters of Performance from Guildhall School of Music and Drama during the conservatoire’s virtual graduation day on Friday 26 March 2021..
After extended studies with her teacher-composer and (its fair to say) mentor John Harle, Gillam’s graduation bookends the COVID year during which her second album release Time ended-up being the idea soundtrack for a year misaligned experiences.
The last time I left London was to see David Le Page and his merry band Orchestra of the Swan record Tartini’s Devil’s Trill.
It was my first trip out for nearly three months. It felt like an expedition heading out on the Greater Anglia to Harlow. Another country. I took my Brompton, perhaps a little naively believing I could easily pedal my way from Harlow Town train station to the community centre where Le Page and the production team filming the eclectic selection of music were holed up for the day.
Harlow seemed – like any other UK destination I imagine – deserted. A town constructed, seemingly waiting for its population. Eery.
Once I’d arrived at my destination, I folded up my bike and hobbled uncomfortably inside. The first time on my bike in months had resulted in an unexpected back injury when I’d reached down to the front wheel to reposition the mudguard. That was at Lewisham. The rest of the afternoon had then looked set to be a rather awkward experience. And, on arrival in Harlow, it appeared it was going to be exactly that.
Inside, the community centre had been taken over by TV-people. People hung around in corridors, masked, earnestly those not already inside the makeshift studio to keep quiet and, importantly, keep your distance.
When a suitable break in proceedings presented itself, me and the lovely Nicky were invited inside. A narrow corridor presented itself inside the doors. Urgent looks exchanged; tiptoe stance adopted. Down the narrow makeshift curtain-lined corridor both us of went before we arrived at what in TV terms would be described as ‘the gallery’ – a small group of socially-distanced dimly-let production staff sat at makeshift tables one keeping a close eye on sound levels, another methodically transferring data from SD card to hard drive.
Nicky and I took up position at the far end, me taking up the prime spot where a gap in the curtain revealed violinist David Le Page. I sat down cautiously, smiling pathetically through my mask in response to the mask. I had come to Harlow to watch through a crack in a curtain one musician perform. This is the cost of COVID. This is the closest I can get to live music.
I pointed out to my chaperone that none of this was a problem. This is the story, after all. This is what rams the point home.
Le Page’s vision, realised in collaboration with the musicians he knows and manifest in The Interpretation of Dreams, is the pinnacle of what can be achieved artistically and technically in the digital medium. Carefully curated storytelling articulated through the curation of an eclectic mix of musical styles and linking prose voiced by an actor. It’s basically Radio 3’s Words and Music but better, and in vision and (assuming you’ve got a Connnected TV) on your TV too. An hour-long TV programme featuring skilled musicians playing a mix of classical and jazz.
Arvo PärtFratres Tartini‘Devil’s Trill’ Violin Sonata in G minor, 1st movement MessiaenQuatuor pour la fin du temps, 1st movement The ChordettesMr Sandman Vittorio MontiCsárdás Ignacio CervantesIlusiones Perdidas LisztNuages gris Angelo Badalamenti Audrey’s Dance
With words by Sigmund Freud, Lewis Carroll, Ursula K. Le Guin, Franz Kafka, Daniel Love, Stanisław Lem, Lola Ridge & William Burroughs
St Johns Smith Square Holy Week Festival 2021 begins on Sunday 28 March – Palm Sunday. Vocal group Tenebrae under the direction of Nigel Short features in pre-recorded and live streams as well as Amici Voices, violinist Lana Trotovšek, Bojan Čičić, and organist Steven Devine. For more information visit the St John’s Smith Square website.
The BBC Proms recruitment advert has come in for a bit of stick over the past few days. And during the Association of British Orchestras conference this week there was a question which was bound to be asked by delegates: was the BBC Proms really apologising for classical music? Was it embarrassed about classical music?
For context, the video – a message seeking to recruit young seasonal comms professionals to support to production of this year’s Proms season – spotlit two existing comms staff talking about the range of events in the season. The video led with a reference to classical music in the context of “its not all Mozart and Beethoven” before pulling in clips from crossover, pop, and world music themed evenings. The video also sought to demonstrate the BBC’s values regarding diversity and inclusion.
Some have interpreted the comparative lack of classical music illustrations and the opening line of the video as the BBC Proms apologising for classical music.
BBC Radio 3 Controller Alan Davey was asked about the advert at the ABO conference.
“This advert was about appealing to a a wider range of people who might normally think about applying for jobs at the Proms. There are seasonal jobs there. Every year, we want to put a plea to as wide an audience as possible.
“The advert is not saying classical music is dull, embarrassing or only for old people. What is says is that the BBC Proms is more than more than you think. When we do things like the Ibiza evening, you get an audience who’ve never heard an orchestra before. Then they want to hear an orchestra again.”
And you know, that that’s what we do. never apologize for classical music. Classical music is bloody marvellous.”
As someone who is familiar with the way in which different types of content are produced and by whom at the BBC, I am happy to throw my weight behind this.
First, the advert has understandably triggered emotions. Those who love the genre (I count myself as one of those) often rail against the seemingly willful mis-representation of the music. Celebrating and advocating the genre has to be done in an inclusive, authentic and respectful way that connects with core listeners and newcomers. That is no easy feat. More people get it wrong than get it right.
I worked in corporate communications producing digital content for a range of different BBC ‘brands’.
Corporate messaging needed to fit broad goals by articulating organisational values. Corporate messaging was produced by a different production team who would be working to a different editorial brief, targetting a different audience with different goals. Recruitment videos (the kind of content which would have been hosted on the BBC’s Careers website ten years ago) would be produced by the corporate comms team who saw the goal as encouraging recruitment and driving applicants. Recruitment content is different from consumer content. I’m a consumer of the BBC Proms, I’m not someone who wants to work for it (I did once, but that’s another story.)
There are plenty of media and arts organisations who actively seek out applicants who assume they either know nothing about classical music, or who actively don’t. The thinking being that these individuals bring a fresh perspective to storytelling, and help challenge conventional thinking which might be embedded. The recruitment of such individuals is not an articulation of how the individual brand sees itself in relation to its current audience, more a manifestation of the wider organisation’s core values. Corporate communications storytellers would understand that as the driving force of the content.
The problem has occurred because a piece of recruitment has been placed on a channel that is perceived as consumer facing, when the content really should have been placed where the sought-after applicants currently occupying their time in the social sphere.
Neither the advert nor the error is a sign that classical music is being apologised for. Its a demonstration that people are looking beyond the bubble to gain much-needed perspectives so that they can reach out to untapped audiences.
Arts Council England Chair Nicholas Serota joined the ABO21 conference to talk about ACE’s vision for rebuilding the arts and delivering on the Let’s Create strategy.
“For the Arts Council, our response will be shaped by our 10 year plan: Let’s Create. We’ve spent the last few months refining how we should respond to what one could describe as the biggest stress test or strategy that you could possibly imagine. We should be publishing our detailed plan for the next three years in two parts at the end of this month, and in late June.”
“The only stable foundation for a sustained recovery for classical music lies in an art form that reaches more people nurtures talent wherever it is found, and finds inspiration for every from every quarter. Classical music will never appeal to everyone. But everyone should have a chance to discover it and make a life in it if they have the talent.”
Serota used the opportunity at ABO to reveal early results from a piece of research into diversity commissioned by Arts Council England.
“The arts as often struggle to be a welcoming and inclusive to every social demographic, every community and every ethnicity. That has been a challenge for us for decades. Indeed, it was part of the reason for the establishment of the Arts Council in 1946.
“And the challenge remains because the research clearly illustrates that black or black British musicians are underrepresented at every stage of the training pipeline, as well as in the classical music workforce.
“Deaf, disabled and neuro diverse musicians are also underrepresented, underrepresented, with evidence that while some musicians are willing to disclose their disability, some organizations are unwilling even to inquire about the presence of disability in their midst.
“Around half of all black, Asian and other ethnically diverse, deaf and disabled, and LGBTQ plus musicians in the sector, feel that they have that they face or indeed have faced barriers restricting the opportunities available to them.”
“For The Arts Council, and for me, understanding diversity in its widest context, is both a matter of fairness and integrity to the future of culture in this country. And in that future, we want to make sure that the return on public investment in the art is ambitious, high quality audience performance is available to the widest audience through a sector that finds talent wherever it blossoms.”
One delegate sought clarification about the challenge facing diversity drawing on yesterday’s symposium on diversity where contributors stated that there wasn’t a pipeline issue, but one of bias in hiring, where ACE considered there wasn’t.
“I think the answer is it’s both,” explained Serota, “I mean, there are issues about hiring. But I think that we really do need to concentrate and we must draw, you know, we must really pay attention to those. But I do you think that the building the pipeline, through teenage and effectively Conservatoire years student years is absolutely crucial. And we need to find a way of doing that. Hiring is clearly an issue. And there was a lot of debate yesterday about hiring and does someone fit in? Do they not? Are they on trial? For how long? Those kinds of questions are clearly very important, and the determination of the management of the orchestra plays a crucial role in that. But I do think we need to address the pipeline question and nurturing young talent and nurturing talent that doesn’t necessarily attend independent schools have the support of parents who have higher education and so on.
On digital streams, the question was asked whether there is a risk of the market for digital orchestral content becoming saturated
“I think at present, people are, as I said, have such a hunger for live performance,” responded Serota. “To be in a concert hall, the moment we’ve probably reached a point where we may well be somewhat saturated. I continue to believe that actually, content presented online available at all times, or indeed streamed will be an in a lot will form a larger part of our general engagement with classical music and music of all kinds in the future. So I’m sure that there will be a market for digital online content that I think we’ve we’re all desperate to get back into into into a whole world, aren’t we?”
The Association of British Orchestras conference 2021 is underway and has started with its customary address from the ABO Chairman, principal supporters (Classic FM), and a 20 minute or so spot from Caroline Dinenage MP, Minister of State for Digital and Culture in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
In a fairly safe piece to camera delivered live (and a little later than originally scheduled), Dinenage thanked the ABO and membership for their collaboration in helping DCMS respond to the challenges faced by the arts and culture sector amidst the pandemic.
Talking specifically about the Culture Recovery Fund Dinenage said,
“I was very proud to have been part of the team that helped deliver the Cultural Recovery Fund. It’s an unprecedented sum of money, £1.57 billion pounds, the biggest ever one-off cash injection into UK arts and culture. And it is providing support right across the cultural ecosystem. I was delighted that last week, the Treasury announced £300 million of additional funding for that as part of the Spring Budget, and that will continue to support our key cultural organizations. It will continue to bridge the sector as audiences begin to return it will continue to ensure a really vibrant future for the culture sector as the nation recovers from the pandemic.”
“So far, we’ve only released the details of the very first round of the Cultural Recovery Fund, the second one has just concluded.
“And of that, just from that first round alone £117 million has already been awarded to 690 music-based organizations. The music sector will be further supported through the second round of funding, and there’s so many orchestras right across the country that will receive funding in that, in that section.
“The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra received over £8.8 million. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra received over £3 million. The Paraorchestra and friends in Bristol received over a million, and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra received over £10 million, all incredibly worthwhile recipients of that money. And I’m also delighted that the self-employment income support scheme has been extended until September 2021.”
The ABO confirmed in a tweet following her appearance of the “need to clarify the numbers quoted by the Minister for CRF grants to ABO members were wrong her briefing, and she is mortified. We have informed DCMS.”
International Women’s Day is as much for men as it is for women.
This may not be a popular view in some circles. But hear me out. I wonder whether the greater responsibility lies on men to listen, think and bring about change.
This year, following an annual tradition established a few years back, I notice that International Women’s Day is triggering more than just a desire to celebrate, but to think, specifically about personal responsibility.
See from a different perspective
Six years ago I was involved in recruiting PR trainees (paid) at the BBC. The recruitment brief didn’t as you might expect, demand we looked for people at the beginning of their careers, but those who showed curiosity, an aptitude and willingness to learn, and to develop ideas.
One of the trainees selected for the year-long contract was Mina – a Muslim woman who had previously worked in BBC Children’s ten years previously, who had left to have children. After a few years Mina was keen to return to work but try something different. She was the oldest trainee. We warmed to her strength, openness and, now I come to remember her, the stillness in her communication style.
Mina and I sat down for a meeting a few months after she had started back at the BBC. She took me by surprise when she explained that she was struggling. “I walk into a meeting room sometimes here and notice how people don’t notice me, ” she explained. “They look past me.” She went on to say that she believed it was because she was a Muslim woman. “They see my hijab and make up their minds right there and then. They see a box ticked.”
It was saddening to hear, knowing as I did then what had prompted everyone on the panel to offer her the opportunity. Our intent had been sound, but the experience for her wasn’t turning out to be quite as we’d hoped.
“When I look at you,” I replied, “I don’t see a Muslim woman. I see a person who is strong, intelligent, and vital.”
Quite apart from my words being meant with good intent, it was also something I genuinely believed. True to the characteristics which had secured her the role, Mina replied gently and with unequivocal purpose. “I want you to see me as a Muslim woman. I want everyone to see me here as a Muslim woman.”
It was a powerful exchange which triggered my thinking in a positive direction. The first exchange where I first became aware of my own privilege. I thank Mina for that. Many times over. I do still sense of guilt for having made the error in the first place.
The 2016 ‘Woman Map’
Back in 2016 I conducted an experiment. I drew up a list of all the women I knew from (or knew of) the present or the past, and put them on an A4 piece of paper. I drew circles around person according to the influence they had on me in the ‘now’. After that, I listed how each had influenced me.
Going further, I plotted the impact of these significant women on a timeline.
Six years later
Just this past week, a conversation I had with a colleague touched on privilege again. It highlighted how in the subject areas of gender equality, opportunity, and (I say this as a catch-all indicative of the point I’m trying to make here) all women, I experience a sense of fear. After an extended monologue about the need to fiercly protect people’s creative spirit at all costs, I ended up saying how I was also aware that the best thing – perhaps the only thing – I could do as a privileged white male is to be aware of that privilege and ensure that the advantage I have in society that I often overlook, doesn’t inadvertently disadvantage others, and in particular women. Thinking that it doesn’t is in itself a manifestation of white male privilege. To say that you’re not aware it is happening is a defence, it’s evidence.
Awareness and difference
It seems to me then on this International Women’s Day that change can begin to happen when an awareness is brought (by men) to a situation. Curiosity combined with the willingness of others to invite looking at the world through a different prism is key. That is what all of my most valued colleagues have done over the years. They are the people I have learned from.
There is perhaps another perspective worth sharing. The majority of those I interact with, spark off, and develop ideas with are women. I feel most at ease in the company of women. That’s perhaps another reason why it takes an active decision on my part to look from a woman’s perspective. That in itself is a habit to adopt. Habits – building neural pathways – are difficult things to embed. But that’s no reason not to try.
In reflecting on International Women’s Day this year, I’m mindful of those who use gender politics as a cloak for destructive behaviours. I think it is more marked in the isolated remote-working world we are all in at the present time. Routing out faulty thinking unwitting or otherwise, collusion, and negative actions, is vital not only to interact with one another in a way that is respectful, but also respectful to the very need for change we’re all invited to think about on International Women’s Day.
And if we are to think about our personal responsibility in collectively bringing about a change in thinking in action, then that also extends to identifying those rare occasions when a rallying cry is being hijacked by an agenda manifest in negative behaviours. There is a lot of it about. And when I find myself bearing witness the energy required to unpick what the underlying opportunity is is always considerable. We all have a responsibility to bring about positive change as much as we have a responsibility to route out destructive behaviours.
I’m also reminded about those who have supported and developed me over the past twelve months. These are people who have been brave, determined, generous and strong. They are people who have shared their values in their actions. What links them all is a unshakeable authenticity underpinned by integrity. They are people who make the person I am.
So, thank you to the women who are strong, intelligent, articulate, empowering and emboldening. Thank you to those who listen without judgment, who gently challenge my thinking, and who help me. You are the people to create relationships I depend on. And you do that by creating a shared sense of trust.
It seems a little odd to be celebrating Scala Radio’s second birthday this evening online via Teams. I was grumpy partly because of the hopelessness of BT Openreach, partly because the internet has been so flakey today and partly because the precariousness of present working conditions was exposed to me. A coaching session very nearly didn’t happen (Coaches who fail to turn up for sessions are understandably looked down upon.) I am reminded that acknowledging what’s going on outside your bubble is terribly important. I try to. But I attend these kind of things and look on the assembled crowd and think ‘imposter syndrome’. (I reassure myself it would have been far worse if this had happened in person.) I’m indebted to Brett Spencer for introductions and opportunities, the wonderfulness of Charlotte Greenman and Maria Williams, and the hard earned trust of David May, Poppy Davenport, Clare Baker, Jo Wilson, Alice Millar and Seb too. Starting a radio station isn’t easy. Working with me is even more demanding (during a meeting with a senior wonk last week I explained that I was ‘a massive pain in the arse’.) Pity them all. With added love to the brilliant Kellie Redmond and the ridiculously efficient and effective Ally Steel.