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.

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.

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.

Daniel Pioro to become associate artist at Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

News from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland that Daniel Pioro has joined RCS as Associate Artist in Contemporary String Performance to work with thirteen students is an exciting new development.

The idea is to create a collaborative music-making experience for developing musicians within the conservatoire that develops artistic thinking, performance, and genres. Pioro will work with cellists, violinist, viola players and composers, in addition to bringing additional artists to collaborate with the group.

It’s typically Pioro, reflecting the approach to curation he takes in both his live performance and on albums. His 2019 Dust release featuring Edmund Finnis’ Elsewhere is an excellent starting point.

I’ve been a massive fan of Pioro’s playing too. His Wigmore Hall appearance was electrifying, combining his trademark love of sound, and his distinctive approach to performance. Read the Wigmore review to get a sense of what I’m talking about here. That Pioro is bringing all of this into an education setting seems like a natural progression.

Robert McFadzean

And it’s great for music education in the HE sector too, positioning Royal Conservatoire of Scotland as an exciting destination for students, embracing unconventional approaches in pursuit of creativity. The announcement sets RCS apart. It will be interesting to see what other announcements follow from other colleges in the coming months.

An interesting time to identify small changes in how the music world now sees itself or wants to

Thinking more widely, this period of time transitioning from lockdown to opened-up living is turning out to be, as I predicted in various emails to PRs and arts administrators ten days ago, a fascinating time.

For the past year there have been murmurings about how classical music needed to change, and how this hiatus may well be an opportunity to bring about that change. In the announcements made by Wigmore Hall yesterday for example, there are glimpses of change – specifically artists aligned to brands, and announcing Rebecca Omordia leading Wigmore’s African Concert Series. I see this is a strong statement of intent. A brand positioning statement on diversity issued at a point in time when cut-through is maximised. And a statement that we’re looking at music in a holistic way to serve under-represented genres, and reshape classical in the UK.

Expectations shouldn’t be too simplistic. The change I’m noticing isn’t big bang stuff. It’s more about who is doing what, how they’re communicating it, and what that says about the wider sector. What’s important is using this moment in time to highlight the differences. And so far seeking out those smallish changes is energising.

Dame Shirley Williams on Benjamin Britten

News announced today that Dame Shirley Williams has died at the age of 90, triggers a memory from the Britten Centenary year in which the former politician featured in the Southbank’s brilliant Rest is Noise 20th century music festival.

Williams connection with Benjamin Britten – Williams mother Vera Brittain was a fundraising friend of the composer – took me by surprise when I listened to the talk. It is a glorious treat to watch. Vera Brittain’s story was told in the film Testament of Youth (2014).

Williams is a compelling writer and captivating speaker, especially if like me you’re a fan of the old-school radio talk.

Thoroughly Good post-pandemic

Like many of the musicians who have featured in the podcast over the past 12 months, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting, reassessment and strategising too.

It seems odd to recall how the first few weeks of the pandemic here in the UK were characterised by a sense of fear. That experience a year later feels like a distant memory. First year stuff.

Twelve months later the transition out of lockdown feels a whole lot more daunting. We’re all looking forward to life when it opens up, of course. But where will the work be?

As it happens thoughts, plans, and plotting throughout 2020 have helped me consolidate what Thoroughly Good is about.

Specifically, I’m talking about this blog, and the podcast, but more importantly how I see Thoroughly Good supporting the arts sector in the months and years to come.

This is the bold stuff. (I’ll flag right now that it doesn’t, as yet, involve launching the UK’s fourth classical music radio station.

Over the past eighteen months I’ve worked on a project which has challenged and sustained me in equal measure. It’s drawn on my musical knowledge, my digital content creation experience, and my coaching and mentoring work too. It’s fuelled my preference for looking at the bigger picture, spanning hands on experience gained in broadcasting, classical music and organisational dynamics, and my tendency to indulge in a spot of fantastical thinking.

Thoroughly Good has long been a marketing project. What I’ve ended up thinking over the past few months is that if the classical music is going to emerge looking a little a different from before, I’d like there to be a little Thoroughly Good ‘magic’ discernible in amongst that.

What that means in terms of tangible billable realness is, in all truth, down to you (if you’re someone with a need, or a budget, or an untapped audience). I know what I’d like to see, but only you know what the biggest challenge is you need help with now.

It might involve needing someone with passion, digital experience, and an unwavering belief in the classical music product (however it’s delivered to the consumer). You might need someone to consolidate desire to look at how to consolidate some of your digital gains from the past year. How do you make sure digital isn’t just something you relied on during the pandemic and is, going forward, something that is part of the every day?

Coming up with ideas to meet the needs of a wealth of groups and individuals in this moment is what I’m interested in talking further about.

Implementing those ideas is important, so too developing existing talented individuals and their mindsets. That’s what marks out Thoroughly Good our from the others in the post-pandemic Arts Consultancy ‘pen’. What you’ll get is honesty, dedication, passion, and authenticity. Useful?

I’m interested in bringing the guiding Thoroughly Good principles of discovery, awareness, and curiosity to the digital content strategies of the UK’s arts organisations that have inspired and sustained me over the past twenty years.

I don’t know exactly who needs what; only you do.

Email jon.jacob@thoroughlygood.me if you’d like to natter. Especially interested in meeting in pub gardens from Monday 12 April.

Orchestra of the Swan’s new album Labyrinth in recording at Saffron Hall this week

Travelling to Saffron Walden’s concert venue Saffron Hall to hear the Orchestra of the Swan’s recording for their next album Labyrinth, I felt invincible. 

JTwenty four hours before I conducted a self-administered COVID test and discovered I was negative. I packed my bag (including flask and sandwiches), and arrived at London Liverpool Street with a good 20 minutes to spare before my train to Audley End. There is a dividend amongst all of this hideousness it seems. I can arrive at places ahead of time and fit and healthy. All it took was a global pandemic and a ravaged economy.

The COVDI testing bit of that rambling introduction is important. Contrary to what I perceived the thought of a COVID test to be – a massive deeply unpleasant ball ache – turned out to be inconsequential. Knowing was better than not knowing. Knowing that others had carried out the test too meant interactions were less awkward. Knowing too at London Bridge Station that Southwark Council were already offering free rapid test results for anyone without symptoms confirmed in my mind en-route that the way out of this and towards a greater sense of freedom was a willingness on the part of all of us to voluntarily submit for testing. If that gives me access quicker to thing I love then I’m bought in.

“Where would you like to sit?” asked the masked orchestral manager after I’d stored my Brompton at the back of the hall and stood gawping at the size of the orchestra. “Up there,” I replied pointing at the balcony.

From my vantage point directly behind the Go Pro I looked down on a small string section, plus flutes, clarinet and harp. In an instant order had been restored. The familiar buzz of a pre-rehearsal band dampened my obsessive worries from the day before. The future may not be discernible yet, but it may not be so grim as I’d been thinking it would be. Why? Because me and the other journalist and the Managing Director were looking down on the thing the three of us cared deeply about.

Excitement levels rose accordingly. You can keep your box sets. I’d far rather spend an afternoon listening to a rehearsal and a recording session. 

On the programme for the afternoon, ‘Starburst’ by Jessie Montgomery and, if my attention was maintained, music by Respighi.

It’s a common misconception that an orchestra plays perfectly every time.

Hearing a group of players sight-reading reveals the precariousness of orchestral playing. Music can be (particularly in the case of Montgomery’s effervescent Starbust) messy, especially at the beginning of a rehearsal.

But, in the process of rehearsing, so the miracle of live music making is revealed. Each successive attack of this section or that shows an ever tighter ensemble: a real life demonstration of why live music is such a remarkable thing. 

No mean feat in a piece of music where the detail is terrifying.

Montgomery’s scoring holds no prisoners. There’s a driving infectious pulse reminiscent of Dani Howard’s brilliant opening for The Opera Story’s Robin Hood production in Peckham a few years back .Starburst is stuffed full of syncopations. The time signature shifts. And it concludes uneasily. No one player can rely on one another either: violas and clarinet lines (not orchestrated in Montgomery’s original score) are industrious ; upper strings take flight and soar from time to time (when they’re not required to be ‘argumentative’); piano and harp accentuate. It’s intense concise writing that triggers the heart rate, creating a technicolour spectacle.

In this way the musicians have to be on their mettle. The conductor too has to be patient. And everyone needs to anticipate the acoustic and compensate for the distance they’re still having to sit apart from one another.

Montgomery’s music shines come the end of the rehearsal and takes. Starbust is an exciting opening track for an eclectic range of musical styles on Orchestra of the Swan’s new album out in November 2021 which also includes music by Britten, Purcell, Nico Muhly, Thomas Newman, Peter Maxwell Davies and Joy Division.. This, like Timelapse released earlier this year which has now secured two million streams, solidifies Orchestra of the Swan’s reputation for creating rich musical experiences for a wide range of audiences with ‘mixtapes’, genre-melding playlists that reach further than the conventional concert-going crowd.

Talking to MD Debbie Jagla during the break, it’s easy to see why Orchestra of the Swan is able to capitalise on this moment.

They’re a small team. Artistic vision from leader David Le Page, powered by a can-do managing director, aided and abetted by a former player orchestral manager, documented by a nimble digital capture team who understand the impact of visual storytelling and can armed with high-end mobile kit. This isn’t a story of COVID forcing a pivot in Swan’s activities. Rather, it’s two years pre-COVID experimentation with concert formats readying the brand for the moment when recordings in controlled environments became the order of the day. 

“Digital isn’t compensating for live, it’s helping raise awareness,” explains Debbie to me during the break. Quietly, inside I’m cheering. I had thought I was the only one who thought this about the COVID era. But it’s a risk – costs are covered by the band (supported by Culture Recovery Funding) with no real sense whether they’ll be recouped by sales. Streaming figures from their Timelapse album now totalling 2million are likely to bring in around about $1000. That makes this a marketing project. But given that they’re reaching more people than they did with ‘live only’, increased reach is worth the spend. 

Later after the tea break, the back row of the band shifts around a bit to accommodate an oboist. We hear The Dove from Respighi’s The Birds. A warm rounded oboe solo emanates from the back of the hall and takes those of us on the balcony momentarily by surprise. 

Such experiences can only happen in a physical space – a musician taking hold of the music in front of them and bringing their own voice into the space and gently commanding your attention. 

The Respighi doesn’t demand the time and attention Jessie Montgomery’s more complex piece does. But my focus remains fixed.

Something in the back of my mind links up with a thought: that person far away in the distance looks oddly familiar.

I grab my camera, attach my zoom lens and focus. Yes. It’s Victoria Brawn. An oboist I used to boom for a training orchestra in Aldeburgh in 1996. Memories flood back with the creeping realisation that I’ve nor been in her company for 25 years. And here she is now. Doing what she did then.

After the Respighi takes, me and Victoria talk briefly outside.

She comments how Aldeburgh still seems like yesterday. I bang on about hearing news about her teenage children makes me feel old. She also remarks on how these opportunities (her last concert was in November 2020) are “very precious”. It turns out that the after effects of an infection meant there was a chance she would have to find someone to cover her first paid gig in months. I’m relieved she didn’t have to.

Classical – whatever the format or content – is more than entertainment. There is art to be found in curated eclecticism. And community too.

It has been hugely uplifting to be in the company of music makers today – spirited people doing different things but drawing on the same passion I’ve benefited from over the past twenty five years. Proof of a vaccine or a negative COVID test seems like a small price to pay (assuming the latter is free at the point of delivery). Orchestra of the Swan’s Labyrinth is scheduled for release in November 2021. Too long to wait.

Orchestra of the Swan’s Timelapse 2.0 Digital Concert is available from 8pm on Monday 19 April 2021 and includes music by Bach, Grieg, Nyman, and Rameau.

Introducing the UK’s fourth classical music radio station

It’s taken a year of development during unprecedented times, but I’m really pleased to finally be able to share one Very Exciting Piece of News.

Coming soon, building on the ongoing success of the Thoroughly Good Classical Music Podcast (now on its 114th episode), I’m really proud to announce the launch of the UK’s fourth classical music radio station, Thoroughly Good Radio,

When does Thoroughly Good Radio launch?

Launching Friday 21 May 2021 at 7am, Thoroughly Good Radio will bring together the brightest, best, and most authoritative classical music artists, commentators, and fans from across the media landscape, to celebrate a musical artform which has for far too long been the poor-relation to opera, rock, jazz, and pop.

Over the past twelve months I’ve been working with a range of classical music artists, PRs, and marketers, to determine how best we can all collectively talk about a musical genre in a way that triggers the curiosity of first-timers, cynics, and the ignorant.

COVID-imposed isolation, underpinned by the wholesale denigration of the arts sector as witnessed over the past twelve months, is what drives this exciting new project,

The brightest, best, most authoritative and unapologetic talent

Thoroughly Good Radio will hit the airwaves, set on doing justice to centuries of composers, musicians and writers who have devotedly championed the art form to date.

More announcements will be made in the coming weeks, including lead presenters, features, and media partnerships.

BBC Radio 3’s Ian Skelley was recently moved from the network’s mid-morning show Essential Classics to Afternoon on 3 in a move that caused some ardent fans to come out in hives and email the BBC to complain.

Listeners can expect to hear an unapologetic celebration of classical music spanning baroque, classical, romantic, extreme romaticism, the music of Benjamin Britten, high-end musical theatre, avant-garde, and even film music.

A brand new Thoroughly Good festival dedicated to the joys of classical music

And to launch Thoroughly Good Radio, I’m working in partnership with Lewisham Council to stage the first ever open classical music festival staged in a urban street.

Following a series of often tense meetings with local councillors, plans have now finally be agreed to stage the inaugural Thoroughly Good Radio Festival.

The event will see the road where I live cleared of cars, and in their place a series of thematic stages constructed, dedicated to and decorated in the style of key classical music genres: the Baroque Stage will be at the bottom of the road, Romantic in the middle, and 20th Century close to the top.

Current plans see the Avant-Garde stage erected on the adjacent Torridon Road, with the ‘fringe’ Contemplative Piano Tent sited on the nearby South Circular..

The Thoroughly Good Radio Festival Contemplative Piano Tent is planned to be sited on London’s South Circular. Ludovico Einaudi is currently in negotiations to headline.

An innovative 360 raked seating solution will surround each stage, ensuring socially-distanced and masked audiences remains COVID-safe. Live performances will start at 7am and finish at 10pm.

The Thoroughly Good Radio Festival will run from Friday 21 May until Friday 28 May, concluding with a large-scale fireworks display celebrating the approaching end of social distancing, live-streamed on YouTube.

Local residents will have full free access to every single live performance throughout the festival .

More news to come. I am ridiculously excited by all of this.

Follow Thoroughly Good on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for the latest updates.

David Le Page and the Orchestra of the Swan release The Interpretation of Dreams

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.

It’s taken a pandemic to empower a subsection of the classical music world to create the content they’ve long wanted to see on their screens. And now it is. £10 a ticket. The Interpretation of Dreams is available now.

From Monday 29 March 2021, 20:00
The Interpretation of Dreams – Night Owl Digital Concert
 
Arvo Pärt Fratres
Tartini ‘Devil’s Trill’ Violin Sonata in G minor, 1st movement
Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps, 1st movement
The Chordettes Mr Sandman
Vittorio Monti Csárdás
Ignacio Cervantes Ilusiones Perdidas
Liszt Nuages 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
 
Lana Williams dancer
David Acton narrator

#ABO21 BBC Radio 3’s Alan Davey responds to dismay about BBC Proms recruitment advert

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.