Speaking to Gillian Moore ahead of ABO22

Southbank Music Director Gillian Moore CBE chairs a discussion with ‘Poverty Safari’ author Darren McGarvey on the opening afternoon of the Association of British Orchestras 2022 (9-11 February) conference on her home turf of Glasgow.

If you haven’t attended then I’ll get in early here and sway your opinion with a partisan view: the ABO Conference is a bit of a special thing. It’s where I reconnected with some kindred spirits, the event where I secured the first coaching work I didn’t actively pursue, and where I received my podcast commission too. All on the same day. Boom.

And, like all good conferences, it’s where I’ve experienced a shift in my thinking. This largely down to the sense of occasion implicit in a conference. Travelling to a different location brings about an enlivening of the senses. We’re more ready for new ideas. Hungry, perhaps.

Sadly, by virtue of managing the unexpected benefits of a coaching and consultancy service delivered largely remotely, attending the conference was difficult and foolhardy. I would have spent money to travel and stay in Glasgow only to conduct my unmovable work via Zoom.

But in anticipation of the first day of the conference I did get a chance to speak to Gillian Moore about the session she was leading.

During our half hour conversation earlier today I deliberately asked her about her musical upbringing. In responding she conveyed passion, confidence, and resolute determination about her position on class and classical music. The story she tells about her amateur musician father turning pro with the RSNO chorus provided me with a framework for her own aspirations for the next generation of music lovers.

She will, I fear, be disappointed that I haven’t reduced the content of the podcast down more than I have. I did sort of promise I’d break it up a bit more when we parted company earlier today. The reality is that I wanted her words in their entirety to be heard in full. It is these words that help shape my future thinking around the kind of work I do in the arts in the years to come.

Persuasive as she is, you probably won’t be surprised that I’ve already bought and started reading the book she’s exploring in the ABO session she’s chairing. That’s what a good conference (and a good leader) does: they bring you back to first principles.

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#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.

#ABO21 Arts Council England Nicholas Serota speaks on diversity research

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?”

#ABO21 Caroline Dinenage MP shares some surprising Culture Recovery Fund figures

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 Culture Recovery Fund data issued by Arts Council England confirms that the Paraorchestra received £156,000, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra received £843K. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra received £996,702. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra did not apply for funds from the Cultural Recovery Fund.

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.”

https://twitter.com/aborchestras/status/1369972206294425600