Six young conductors to watch out for in the Donatella Flick Conducting Competition 2021

Twenty young European conductors will conduct the London Symphony Orchestra in the 16th biennial Donatella Flick Conducting Competition from 21-23 May 2021 in London. This year’s event marks 30 years since the first Competition in 1991. The winner receives a £15,000 cash prize from Donatella Flick and becomes Assistant Conductor at the London Symphony Orchestra for one year. 

The competition was originally billed to take place in February 2021 but was postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s now taking place in a Covid-secure environment with a number of changes in place. 

For the first time all 20 candidates will have the chance to conduct the London Symphony Orchestra which now takes part in all three rounds of the Competition, rather than performing only in the Final. A new jury has been assembled, and each competitor entering the UK will arrive early to quarantine according to UK laws.

The jury consists of conductors Sian Edwards, Carlo Rizzi and Andrew Constantine, winner of the first Competition in 1991 and from the LSO, Principal Bassoon Rachel Gough and David Alberman, the Orchestra’s Chairman and Principal 2nd Violin. The soprano Danielle de Niese and the composer and conductor Sir James MacMillan are also on the panel, which is chaired by Lennox Mackenzie, former Sub-Leader of the LSO. 

The 16th Donatella Flick Conducting Competition takes place from 21-23 May at LSO St Luke’s on London’s Old Street and the Final will be broadcast live on Medici TV (www.medici.tv) from 18.30 BST on Friday 23 May. 

I’ve done a completely unscientific, fairly light touch scoot through the twenty competitors biogs and introductory videos on the competition website to see which competitors draw my attention. One has to a dog in the fight, so to speak. So I’ve hedged my bets and plumped for seven.

Teresa Bohm (Spain)

Not all of the competitors have submitted videos for this year’s competition. Of those that haven’t my eye is drawn to Teresa Riveiro Bohm‘s conducting CV. Already a Conducting Fellow with the BBC Scottish Symphony, Teresa is at the older end of the age range and will undoubtedly maturity and experience to the podium. She is already signed to Intermusica agency. Her digital concert with RCS and SCO winds last November shows her to be a compelling watch with great physical presence, a graceful baton technique, and in the case of Errolyn Wallen’s glorious Cello Concerto last year, a strong assertive beat which is rather pleasing to follow.

Chloe Rook (UK)

Twenty-three year old Chloe Rooke from the UK is currently studying in The Netherlands. She has a remarkable presence for someone who – in my eyes at least – seems so very young. She has remarkable presence and a solid sense of poise. Even in this video her gesticaticulations are strong. It will be fascinating to see how that sense of confidence translates in front of the LSO.

Paul Marsovszky (Germany)

Paul Marsovszky is the twin brother of another Donatella Flick competitor Johannes Marsovszky. There is a calmness to his delivery and stillness his face in this video introduction which makes the prospect of seeing both Marsovszkys conducting in the competition. It will be interesting to see how his range of expressions changes on the podium and what impact that brings about in the players.

Victor Jacob (France)

Victor Jacob is on the list not because he’s a namesake (I’m not that superficial) but because in the line-up of pieces to cameras, Victor’s maturity is reflected in a slightly stronger, warm style of delivery. There feels as though there is experience and perhaps a little more maturity (as a result of being older). His eyes are even in this video remarkably expressive conveying a sense of excitement and anticipation.

Gabriel Venzago (Germany)

But especially interesting is Gabriel Venzago who out of all the videos posted on the Donatella website, there is a dry wit and a healthy dollop of self-deprecation too (“at 31 years of age and the oldest in the competition that makes me the grandfather”) that makes me wonder whether this will be part of his rapport building skills when first working with the LSO.

Felix Benati (France)

I’m especially struck by Felix Benati’s presence on camera. I’m anticipating grand gestures that coax, graceful movement, and precise beats. There is too a rythmic lilting quality to his delivery that makes me want to listen more to what he’s saying. Perhaps his natural expressiveness like that of Victor Jacob makes him worthy of keeping a close eye on too?

Music’s biggest problem

Last night I posted a screengrab on Facebook of the Cameron Mackintosh quote that’s doing the rounds at the moment in response to the news about musicians being cut from Phantom of the Opera.

Responses were mixed. Some were shocked. Some highlighted how they knew already Cameron had a tendency for dickishnesh,

One individual (a friend of a friend) outlined how sorry he was that people had lost their jobs, adding that one shouldn’t blame Cameron Mackintosh ‘for wanting to safeguard his business’. This from someone commenting on how much he had enjoyed one of Mackintosh’s productions after receiving a complimentary ticket from the man himself.

I’m not angry with the individual who posted the comment (well, not that much). In a way I’m grateful. The exchange has deepened my understanding.

We are a society made up of multiple generations who demand music, entertainment, and maybe even art, but don’t appreciate, recognise, or even acknowledge that human beings are involved in making it. For the majority, it’s inconceivable that people should even derive livelihoods from their talent.

We do not value music. We don’t value the talent required to make it. We don’t even appreciate it. To dismiss valuing it is seen by some as fun. Sport perhaps. That is our biggest problem. That’s what we need to change.

Southbank Centre’s Summer Reunion starts 28 May with concerts from Chineke!, Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia

Very pleased to receive a press release this morning detailing a whole range of indoor, outdoor and broadcast events the Southbank Centre has planned for the coming months up until August of this year. I’m counting down the days.

There’s a fair range of indoor classical events in the Royal Festival Hall including some well-chosen works that make for fitting musical statements that document the return of live music. Vaughan Williams 5 in particular will be a must-attend.

Chineke! kicks off the Summer Reunion with soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason performing Dvořák’s Cello Concerto (28 June). The following day, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra brings families together for its popular format, ‘Noisy Kids: Heroes & Villains’ (29 June).

The following week in June Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor, Esa-Pekka Salonen bows out with two unmissable concerts with the Philharmonia Orchestra after a disrupted final season; he is joined by Yefim Bronfman (4 June) and Mitsuko Uchida (10 June), two of his long-time collaborators.

The re-opening of the Southbank Centre coincides with the venue’s 70th anniversary. In May 1951 the Royal Festival Hall opened its doors for the first time as part of the ‘Festival of Britain’ – billed then as a post-war ‘tonic for the nation’.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Royal Festival Hall, a specially-commissioned poem about the beloved venue by Theresa Lola is to be filmed and released worldwide on 3 May. Theresa Lola is a British-Nigerian poet based in London and was appointed the 2019/2020 Young People’s Laureate for London.

Saturday 28 June, 7.30pm
Chineke! with Sheku-Kanneh Mason
Dvorak Cello Concerto

Wednesday 2 June, 7.30pm
Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Haydn Cello Concerto
Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 5

Thursday 3 June, 7.30pm
Alina Ibragimova and Friends
Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time

Friday 4 June, 7.30pm
Esa Pekka Salonen with Philharmonia Orchestra
Beethoven Symphony No. 1
Lizst Piano Concerto No. 2
Sibelius Symphony No. 7

Thursday 10 June, 7.30pm
Philharmonia Orchestra & Mitsuko Uchida
Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3

Friday 25 June, 7.30pm
Philharmonia Orchestra & Bach Choir
Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius

Sunday 4 July, 3pm
Nicola Benedetti with Aurora Orchestra
Beethoven Violin Concerto

Tickets go on sale to Southbank Centre members on Tuesday 27 April, and to non-members on Wednesday 28 April. Seating is limited in accordance with COVID guidelines but is anticipated to return to normal capacity on 21 June. More information on the Southbank Centre website.

Last week the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra also announced a programme of concerts running from May to July 2021.

Review: Andreas Ottensamer makes UK conducting debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Last night Andreas Ottensamer made his UK conducting debut with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in a programme of Mozart and Mendelssohn. The concert ran to just over an hour, was performed to an empty auditorium due to current COVID-restrictions, and streamed live via the BSO website.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra with Andreas Ottensamer is available to watch on-demand until 21 May.

Ottensamer & the BSO

Ottensamer is a youthful presence on the stage with a long frame and more than a whiff of Hector Berlioz about him. Bold gestures and long sweeping movements spanning a near 180 degrees, with a smooth and precise baton technique that caresses and cajoles, are where Ottensamer thrives.

Broadly speaking, Mendelssohn’s music – both the Hebrides and ‘Italian’ symphony felt like a better fit for him in terms of physical expression, where Ottensamer appeared more at ease with a greater range, and more flexibility in his upper body.

There were occasions during the Mozart Haffner when his communication felt a little like he was appeasing rather than directing, as though there was a need to manage the transition from player to conductor.

Similarly in the ‘Italian’ when viewers saw him readying the orchestra before embarking on the final movement. Naturally, the band needs to be ready before they can start playing music, but maybe some of the excitement about the work as a whole is the energy that is maintained throughout. In order to achieve that does the transition between third and fourth movement need to be commanded rather than guided by consensus? I’m not 100% sure. What I appreciated was how the performance made me pose the question to myself.

There were ensemble discrepancies between wind and strings, and in the strings in various places, notably in the second movement of the Haffner – a case of distancing amplifying slightly ambiguous direction. I even wondered whether the strong beats were at the eye line for the front desk but not necessarily visible by those at the back.

But one has to be mindful that these are not exactly the best conditions for a relatively inexperienced conductor. The important point here is that a musician with a considerable worldwide reputation was doing something live amid difficult circumstances.

All this said, there were some touching moments throughout, notably in the third movement minuet of the Haffner which was warm, expansive and, where called for in the score, had a gratifyingly chamber-like feel.

Sound

The sound mix from the BSO is by far the most authentic of the digital streams I’ve watched over the past few months, partly because it’s a live relay. This provides a true reflection of the some of the challenges faced by distanced playing, noticeable in ensemble between the strings and winds at the beginning of the Haffner and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides. That unintended consequence is an authentic trigger for in-person concert experiences where not every performance is perfect.

But that authenticity comes at a cost. The lack of an audience means a boomier auditorium ambience. That created moments in the Hebrides Overture (where the tempo necessarily adopted so the detail wasn’t overlooked) that felt like heavy weather (forgive the pun). In loud-tutti sections the first violins felt distant and overpowered.

Visuals

When BSO began their live streams (in September of last year) they did well to establish themselves as one of only a handful of orchestras that truly performed as live. This made the visuals less of a problem for me because I was experiencing a live moment. A few months later now that other orchestras have used their ACE funding to create more polished pre-recorded ‘as live’ and patched digital concerts, so the visual discrepancies in BSO’s live relay are more evident and, in some cases, interrupt the viewing experience.

Some small adjustments only need to be made to improve the look and feel. Specifically, using hard cuts between shots rather than cross-fades (cuts reduce the pixellation caused by compression when two shots blend). This would help compensate for the challenges of distanced playing, especially in the faster seqeunces. The final movement of Mendelssohn’s ‘Italian’ would undoubtedly have benefited from fast cuts at the end of phrases in order to increase the excitement articulated in the chuntering string lines.

There are fixed shots that might benefit from being adjusting in order to improve the focal point in the image. Sometimes there were shots where the focal point was a microphone on the stage. This jarred when transitioning from the previous close-up of the principal second.

There are also moments in time when cutting back to the conductor for the upbeat (or a split second before the beginning of a new phrase) needs to be tighter so as to now crash the previous musical idea coming to an end. This would limit visual interruption.

The image contrast in the wide shots probably drives the current orange bias in the shots, hence why I wonder whether a spot of colour grading (or changing the white balance) might help create a more cinematic feel, reducing the gap between BSO’s output and say the OAE’s.

User Experience

Where BSO is consistently reliable is undoubtedly in their digital user experience. Page design is uncluttered projecting a fresh unpretentious image of the band. The copy is clear, informative and useful, and bold navigation with clear white space guides the user. This establishes a perception of product reliability, and brand openness and accessibility.

Leeds International Piano Competition second round participants for 2021 announced

In what feels like a stream of announcements about live events returning, news from Leed International Piano Competition about its second-round in September 2021 is very welcome indeed. If there is a must-attend in the calendar it has to be ‘The Leeds’. My jaunt to hear Eric Lu was a very special affair indeed.

The twenty-four shortlisted competitors are from 18 countries: three from China; two from Britain, Russia, South Korea & Ukraine and one from Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Germany, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Peru and Poland.

Finalists will compete for generous cash prizes, worth over £90,000, in addition to a selection of industry packages that support young artists at the beginning of their careers, including artistic management from Askonas Holt, a studio recording with Warner Classics, a major European tour organised with partners Steinway & Sons, plus concert and recording opportunities with London’s Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Who are the competitors in the second round of the Leeds International Piano Competition?

Those competitors with Spotify tracks available are linked below.

For full biographical details visit the Leeds Piano website.

1. Nour Ayadi (21, Morocco)
2. Alim Beisembayev (22, Kazakhstan)
3. Dmytro Choni (27, Ukraine)
4. Federico Gad Crema (21, Italy)
5. Galyna Gusachenko (28. Ukraine)
6. Arseniy Gusev (22, Russia)
7. Tyler Hay (26, British)
8. So Hyang In (29, South Korea)
9. Thomas Kelly (22, British)
10. Elizaveta Kliuchereva (21, Russia)
11. Kaito Kobayashi (25, Japan)
12. Maximilian Kromer (24, Austria)
13. Lucas Krupinski (28, Poland)
14. Ariel Lanyi (23, Israel)
15. Ying Li (23, China)
16. Yuzhang Li (21, China)
17. Lovre Marusic (28, Croatia)
18. Priscila Navarro (26, Peru)
19. Hyunjin Roh (20, South Korea)
20. Arash Rokni (27, Iran)
21. Victoria Vassilenko (28, Bulgaria)
22. Tony (Yike) Yang (22, Canada)
23. Gabriel Yeo (22, Germany)
24. Xiaolu Zang (21, China)

Who is on the jury of the Leeds International Piano Competition?

Imogen Cooper (England)
Artistic Director Adam Gatehouse (England)
Silke Avenhaus (Germany)
Inon Barnatan (Israel/ USA),
Adrian Brendel (England)
Gaetan Le Divelec (France)
Ingrid Fliter (Argentina)
Ludovic Morlot (France/ USA)
Steven Osborne (Scotland)

When is the Leeds International Piano Competition?

The second round of the Leeds International Piano Concerto runs from 8-10 September.

The semi-finals will be staged from 12-14 September. The Finals will run from 17 – 18 September.

All stages will be screened on Medici.TV

Live audience tickets available via the Leeds Piano website.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra announces new programme for May – July 2021

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has announced a new series of post-lockdown live audience concerts at Symphony Hall in Birmingham, running from 19 May 2021 until 7 July 2021. Concerts are performed twice – once in the afternoon, and later in the evening, and consist of shorter programmes with no interval. Standard (new) practise in a post-lockdown world.

But what sounds a little bit different and quite intriguing as a result is discovering that a new acoustic screen has been installed at the rear of the Symphony Hall stage, supporting a larger socially distanced ensemble than most at this particular time. That means bigger works and, as long as socially-distancing mitigations are either reduced or removed, a bigger audience too.

CBSO Concert Highlights

Two programmes with Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, including world premiere of Thomas Adès’ The Exterminating Angel Symphony (16 June), and Weinberg and Mahler with mezzo-soprano Karen Cargill (23 June) 

Edward Gardner conducting Stephen Hough in Saint-Saëns’ energetic Piano Concerto No. 4 (19 May)

Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No.1 with Alina Ibragimova (7 July)

UK premiere of Julian Anderson’s major new cello concerto Litanies with Alban Gerhardt conducted by Kazuki Yamada (30 June)

Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5, conducted by Nicholas Collon (26 May)

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2 with soloist Paul Lewis and conductor Chloé van Soeterstède (2 June)

Ian Bostridge conducted by Michael Seal (9 June)

A copywriting sweet-spot somewhere between due reverence, imagination, and click-bait

But you wouldn’t immediately gleen that information from the website if you’re not a recipient of a press release necessarily. The What’s On section of the CBSO website presents all of the concerts using titling conventions that assume knowledge or are a little ambiguous.

Thematic titles don’t necessarily reveal the detail of the event – the core content. Similarly, they’re all billed on the navigation page (see above) as 2.00pm concerts. From a user experience perspective this could (unless I had the press release already) lead me to conclude there was nothing available for me to watch unless I was able to break out of work hours and trot along to Symphony Hall. “Mirga conducts Ades” overlooks the key headline element – it’s the premiere of Ades’ newest work. Perhaps the most useful title on the page is Collon’s appearance conducting Shostakovich 5.

This perhaps won’t matter in the short term where the goal is, quite understandably, the need to get the machine working again, and get staff practiced in event management at a challenging point in time. And with capacity savagely reduced by COVID guidelines, perhaps the digital content doesn’t have to work too hard in order to sell the tickets.

Be Thoroughly Good. Tell the exciting story now.

As an enthusiastic audience member with an eye for digital content, I recognise I have an implicit need not being met here.

Live music is returning. The opportunity to hear an orchestra play again is tantalising. There is much aniticipation brewing. It is as though I’ve had all the earwax removed from my ears and I’m now being let loose back in an auditorium.

As a website user I don’t want to have to work hard to work out what I want to treat myself too. I don’t want to be beguiled by an ambiguous concert title; I need tempting triggers – a sort of copywriting sweet spot between due reverence, imagination, and click-bait.

Funnily enough, perhaps the most useful piece of functionality on the page is the one which is buried at the bottom: the ability to add these concerts to your diary via an .ics file.

I flag this with my blog post in mind from a week or so ago. We have this moment in classical music right now, to tell a different story. We have limited opportunities to make a bold statement. When our day-to-day experiences become noisier as they will surely become, so it will be more difficult to gain cut-through with cleaner user experiences.

To discover more about the summer season visit the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra website.


Bampton Classical Opera to be first live event with a live audience at St Johns Smith Square

Bampton Classical Opera will stage a performance of Gluck’s The Crown at St John’s Smith Square on 18 May 2021, the first event held at the venue with a live distanced audience since the start of the third lockdown in England.

Gluck’s The Crown was originally written for the name day of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I and planned to be premiered on 4 October 1765. The surprise premiere never happened. The Emperor died unexpectedly on 18 August 1765. As a result Gluck’s work didn’t see the light of day until the late twentieth century. The last UK performance of Gluck’s The Crown was in 1987.

Now 34 years later, the opera makes another appearance, framed by Music Director Robert Howarth as ‘an allegory of hope’. The production was originally scheduled for November 2020, but postponed due to lockdown restrictions.

Two performances – one in St John’s Smith Square and the other in Oxford. The St John’s Smith Square performance will be filmed as live and made available on-demand via www.bamptonopera.org, £8 tickets.

Why not make your digital tickets available for longer?

A chance discovery of the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s actual livestream on Friday evening threw light on a surprisingly dissapointing user experience, one which led to one persistent question all weekend: why not make your tickets available for longer?

For context, tickets to the Royal Northern Sinfonia’s livestream on Friday night were made available for purchase until 8pm on the night of the concert. The concert started at 7.30pm. Anybody who had purchased a ticket could watch the concert from the time they purchased their ticket up until 48 hours later. Try and purchase the ticket after 8pm on Friday evening and you’d have been as disappointed as I was.

In fairness, when I explain the context like that you’d be forgiven for thinking, why did you even try to purchase after 8pm when you knew that’s when the cut-off time was. The answer is that in my rush to comprehend, I’d focussed on the ‘available for 48 hours’ bit more than the 8pm cut-off bit. My assumption was that if its available for 48 hours to watch when you want, then I’d be able to purchase a view on-demand ticket in that time.

The other point worth making here is that at the point in time when I’d discovered the stream I was feeling a little flakey post-vaccine. I wanted to watch the stream but figured I’d watch it when I was feeling a little more upbeat the following day. A user behaviour indicative of the on-demand world we’ve all become accustomed to over the past twelve months.

I messaged Royal Northern Sinfonia when I discovered my error.

Admittedly, its only 9am on Monday morning, so perhaps I should have waited a little longer before penning this.

But, the question I’m struggling with is, why would you cut off your ticket sales for a concert half an hour after the beginning of the livestream. It can’t be because there’s no on-demand version available, otherwise those who purchase between 7.30pm and 8.00pm would miss the beginning of the concert. For those who are in possession of a ticket, they’ll be able to watch whenever they like or watch again (which will be a recorded version). So there is an on-demand version available.

Why then limit the ticket sales by imposing an odd on-the-evening deadline? Isn’t that missing out on potential revenue?

Maybe, I’ve been thinking, its to do with licences or agreements with performers that dictate the stream is only available for 48 hours.

If that is the case, if you’re investing in social media support such that positive comments are retweeted after the concert, wouldn’t it make more sense to make those tickets available say up until 24 hours after the beginning of the concert so that people late to the party like me can get a look at it geed on by glowing remarks from people on social media?

There will be some people who roll their eyes at this and think, ‘sounds like someone’s pissing and moaning because he didn’t get a press ticket’. Well, in some respects I suppose if I had then I wouldn’t have made myself as aware of the ticket purchase system. So its swings and roundbouts.

And I don’t think I’m pissing and moaning. Not really. Because this isn’t really about Royal Northern Sinfonia either.

I’m flagging that there are a variety of different user expectations based on a consensus view of how to access content nowadays. At least, I think there is. That consensus is built on what we’ve come to expect from BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon. You can watch live. But you can also watch on-demand. Some of it is free, but some of the higher-value stuff you’ll need to pay for (Amazon). And sometimes you can only rent things for a specific amount of time (Rakuten).

If you’re having to limit ticket purchase time because of a licence, then surely it makes better sense to extend the ticket purchase period to capitalise on the gains made on social media.

As it happens, I don’t especially see this as having a poke at RNS. Rather, it has reminded me of how I’m often interested in those digital experiences which have come to my notice as a result of social media, digital marketing, or emailed suggestions. By intentionally (or unintentionally) creating a unique user experience, classical music may well be in danger of falling into the trap its detractors have accused it of in the past: existing in its own bubble.

Now is the time for the classical music world to tell a compelling story

In a previous post I made a start on how I was focussing in on Thoroughly Good’s business-to-business services – bespoke digital content strategy and production services for the classical, orchestral and wider arts world.

In this post I’m digging down into some of my topline thinking.

I’m talking about owned vs. earned content

Digital Content Strategy will tell that story of transition, shifting from one situation to another, challenging audience perceptions and assumptions, and framing classical music in a different context.

This is owned content, nestling somewhere in between PR and comms on the one side, and marketing on the other side.

But importantly it looks wider than just social media. Its more than just video or audio or images or whether you’ve got comments or likes. It’s about storytelling. What is the story you’re telling at this unprecedented moment in time? Is it compelling? Would it make someone like me look up and take notice of you?

It’s not all about social media

There is, it seems to me, an over-dependence on social media. A falsely held assumption that social media will create new fans who will in time convert into viewers and ticket buyers. If the majority of your effort is expended on social media content it is, to my mind, investing a lot of time and effort into content which struggles to gain and retain attention amongst users.

There’s another point here to underline here – that being the assumptions made about digital content. Primarily that it’s easy and it doesn’t take very much time. Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject, that it doesn’t necessitate experience in order to create it because of the other assumption that underpins this that only ‘the young’ understand how social media works.

Digital content is more than just social media. It’s website. It’s copy. It’s the video (and the audio) that sits within a webpage. It’s a playlist. It’s a community. And it’s a conversation. And more than any of all of this is one basic principle: what digital content needs is storytelling.

Think about the story you want to tell not where or how you’re going to tell it

Which is handy, because right now the orchestral world and classical music and opera has a story to tell: it’s return to serving its audience.

That doesn’t mean only talking about live performance.

It means documenting what has changed over the past twelve months, what’s going to be different in the immediate future, and what elements are staying the same.

It’s telling the story of how a genre is adapting to position itself in the minds of its existing audience, and how its reaching out to those people who haven’t previously considered classical music or the orchestral or operatic experience as something they would be interested in.

Only yesterday I was talking to an infectiously driven individual about how experiences seemed like a good product to sell. Just the word ‘concert’ sounds a little dated. I have friends who used to go to gigs and will when restrictions ease. For some potential audience members the word that hooks them in won’t be ‘concert’. It might be an event. Or an experience. Or maybe just a night out at Battersea Arts Centre. Or Snape Maltings. Or Sage Gateshead.

This isn’t about disruption

I digress a little. This post isn’t intended to go into the thorny subject area of what classical music should look or feel like in the months ahead. There are plenty of people champing at the bit, demanding disruption and/or innovation. I’m not convinced the classical music world needs another voice on that subject.

Instead, I think there’s a need to document this moment in time. It’s a strange moment of transition. Change and conflict is where there’s story. And good story commands attention.

Enter into an open dialogue with your audience to harness ideas

For example, this is a moment in time when twelve months of challenge is coming to an end. Audiences have been denied something. In the coming months they get to revisit it. The story they tell about that experience is extremely valuable. How do you capitalise on that?

As another example, I’ve not seen much documentation over the past twelve months (maybe aside from Paul Carey Jones’ book Giving it Away) about the thinking arts managers have gone through. Why not? It is only by documenting that thinking that perhaps even some of the more conventional CEOs might even consider collaborating with their audiences and players publically, sharing thoughts and reflections in whatever form on whatever platform.

I don’t see anyone entering into an open dialogue, exploring how ideas could be developed. For a sector that is supposed to be creative, some of it even making a virtue of its love of experimentation, I don’t see anyone telling their story.

Digital content needs to start with story. We need to get away from infantilising in order to appeal to a perceived ‘younger audience’ (if I see ‘sneak peak’ again I will scream) and connect with our audience in a way that makes them feel we understand them (even if they don’t consider ourselves members of our audience).

That story (whatever it is) needs to be told using language that is aligned to the organisationals values. There needs to be a clear ‘why’ for content, a ‘how’, and after that there needs to be a clearly defined ‘what’. Those things are going to be different for different brands.

People need to start telling a new story now

Why say this now?

Because in all truth, there is a perfect opportunity RIGHT NOW for organisations to seize. But the challenge I think they may not realise they face is as a result of the impact of the pandemic. In addition to revenue-driving events being shutdown, a workforce has been put on hold, some not exercising their skills and experience for an extended period of time, or some organisations even losing valuable resources through redundancy brought on by the pandemic.

Owned (digital) content now falls to individuals who have taken on an additional workload with limited or no experience and precious little time. Or where in situations where an organisation has sufficient to sustain its lack of revenue-driving activity, digital content is executed tactically rather than strategically by those who don’t posess varied experiences.

A couple of organisations who have got it right

There are some organisations who have seized the opportunity.

If you’re looking for one example, look at Snape Maltings and Britten Pears Arts.

They’ve drawn up a clear content strategy that connects with its local audience being useful and human, reflecting the organisations multiple activities and told the story of its ‘opening up’ in a way that serves its local crowd.

In addition, they’ve found the sweet spot, triggering the oh-so-powerful nostalgia and homesickness glands in equal measure.

I detect someone with picture editor experience, a love of East Suffolk and access to a wider group of creative individuals who respond well to clear creative leadership, and most importantly are trusted to try and fail in order to, ultimately, succeed.

And up in Edinburgh, the International Festival are telling the story of Edinburgh opening up, reasserting its position as an exciting aspirational destination (even if though this year’s festival is necessarily for local audiences).

Talent, resources, strategy and development

And that highlights another really important element of the digital content storytelling opportunity that organisations face (and that some are overlooking). Recruitment of talent is a difficult thing. One CEO this week told me that there aren’t as many affordable digital content producers for the arts and classical music world as you might think. I can think of a few, but they’re paid the money they deserve for the value they bring to the business.

Ideally, digital content producers need to hold two perspectives in their head at the same time: how does the content I’m creating reflect my existing content, and how can it also reach out to those who aren’t already experiencing your product? If you are going to employ someone on a low salary and make them responsible for this potent storytelling, they’ll need to bring a deep understanding of the wider sector, a journalistic nose, the ability to write searingly efficient copy, be a brilliant picture editor, and be able to both assert your editorial vision and defend it. No easy ask.

The prize

The pandemic has been a moment to reflect, reassess and reframe. Now is the opportunity for classical’s rennaissance. It’s not only about what sort of events you put on, more than whether you offer it as a live or pre-recorded. Organisations that create content I care about a great deal have this splendid opportunity to tell a story that might reach out to an audience who wouldn’t otherwise consider their brand. Don’t overlook the opportunity.

Yay, Buxton International Festival

Elizabeth Watts and The English Concert who appears at the mighty Buxton International Festival (8-25 July 2021). She makes her debut appearance directing The English Concert in a concert of Scarlatti arias makes on 23 July. Tickets via the Buxton International Festival websites.

Whilst we’re on Buxton International Festival loveliness, I see they’re opening with Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. A tantalising proposition. If you’re not a Sondheim fan this will be lost on you, and you’re dead to me and a result. But dear God Buxton, what a fabulous treat to open your festival with. Tickets.

Back to the email and the primary reason for the blog post. The English Concert. See them perform Handel’s La Resurrezione  on Sky Arts on 3 May from 7pm. They release Handel’s Rodelinda via Linn Records on 14 May, and buddy-up with Garsington Opera 19, 26, 29 June and 7, 11, 21 and 24 July for a production of Handel’s Amadigi, Tickets. They also pop up at King’s Place on 24 June with Iestyn Davies. Tickets.