Showing posts with label Classical:NEXT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Classical:NEXT. Show all posts

Monday, July 13, 2015

What can orchestras learn from André Rieu?

Please don't choke on your muesli - the above was the title of a particularly lively session at Classical:NEXT a couple of months ago, featuring two brilliant, provocative and stirring speakers - Mark Pemberton from the Association of British Orchestras and Claire Mera-Nelson from Trinity Laban College. Such was the smell of utter distaste and the sight of desperate squirming in the conference room that I felt I just had to write something about it. The resulting piece was in the Independent a few weeks back, but here it is again just in case.

And surely the least we could do is have a Simon Rattle souvenir mug?

For many music lovers, André Rieu, the Dutch violinist and so-called modern Waltz King, is an irresistible attraction. He and his orchestra, performing light, tuneful classics and crossover – are not only about music, but also showbiz. They often top the classical recording charts. And they’re loved, loved, loved.

Except in hardcore classical music circles, that is. If you want to see a roomful of those administrators squirm, show them a Rieu performance and ask what the orchestral world might learn from his runaway success.

That’s what happened at the trade fair and think-tank Classical:NEXT, held recently in Rotterdam, during a session exploring business models for orchestras, led by Claire Mera-Nelson, director of music at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras. Still, nobody could help noticing one thing about Rieu and co: the audience. People of all ages having a great evening out, maybe dancing, singing along, cheering freely, visibly feeling welcome and happy.

Rieu, the charismatic focal point, talks to them, introduces his music and musicians, ceaselessly communicates with his public. And they keep coming back for more. Every aspect and every second of the show contributes to that experience.

André Rieu Teddy Bear - from the Waltz King's merchandise shop
 The violinist and leader as cult personality is a notion that goes back at least to the 18th century; arguably, all Rieu has done is reboot it for the 21st. Why, then, the resistance? It’s that old chestnut – art versus entertainment. These terms have long seemed mutually exclusive. Must they always remain so? Could attendances be increased and orchestras’ incomes be lifted by taking a leaf or two out of Rieu’s modus operandi?

This doesn’t mean copying his style, but noting the way he achieves his aims from behind the scenes. “Rieu’s concerts are filmed with multiple cameras,” Claire Mera-Nelson points out, “and most of them are on the audience. They then analyse the reactions in minute detail. If something doesn’t play well with the audience, they never repeat it.” Rieu’s success is all about setting out to understand his audience and making sure he gives them a good time.

The UK’s orchestras have become comparatively good at inventing innovative ways to attract different attendees and shake up concert formats; earning money is more vital for them than for those in European countries that still offer more sizeable state subsidies. Yet even now you’ll notice some orchestral musicians slouch on to the platform apparently with little understanding that they are performers the minute they’re on stage. That’s just one basic mistake that Rieu’s players don’t make. For the crucial two-way energy between performers and audience to ignite, the very least the latter needs is a smile of acknowledgement from the former.

Moreover, the audience’s experience does not begin with the first note of music. It starts as soon as they arrive at the hall – and it’s then that you need a sense of occasion, a welcoming ambience, ease and efficiency of finding refreshments, cloakrooms and loos, comfortable seating both inside the hall and in the foyers, and much more besides. Rieu’s audiences wave flags, sport merchandise and participate by purchasing these – either online or presumably at the event – thus acquiring a sort of personal stake in the goings on. It might look like tat, but its effect goes oddly deeper. You mightn’t want to wave a flag in a Mahler symphony, of course, but if the LSO were to start selling Simon Rattle mugs when he becomes music director, I’d happily take one home.

Instead, UK concert venues often exude the enervating, impersonal ambience of railway stations or conference centres. Even regulars dislike this, so how offputting must it be to newcomers? I don’t mind admitting that I attend some venues with a sinking heart on every occasion, however marvellous the performances they host. And art-focused orchestras and concert halls could address all these matters without sacrificing a jot of musical integrity.

The biggest names – Daniel Barenboim, Simon Rattle or Jonas Kaufmann – will always sell out. But such stars are few in number; the rest of the time, to create that great night out that keeps people coming back, matters beyond musical substance must contribute to making the audience feel welcome, happy and part of the event.

“The atmosphere, the welcome, the whole package is what we’re offering as ‘entertainment’,” Mark Pemberton points out. “You have to focus on the audience. We so often focus on the art – yet we are so dependent on the people who go to hear us play! What are we doing for them? It’s time for marketing departments to look at the qualitative aspects of their experience.”

This issue is not going to go away. Today musicians have such intense competition for people’s leisure time that unless they understand what works – and do a bit more of it – punters may vote with their feet. Those wanting a head start must find new ways to know their audience, and know them well.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Groundbreaking projects from UK and Switzerland win Classical:NEXT Innovation Award

Great, great news from Classical:NEXT! Southbank Centre's year-long festival of 20th-century music and culture, The Rest is Noise, has won the Innovation Award, together with the Lucerne Festival's Ark Nova, a mobile, inflatable concert hall that toured Japan's earthquake-blighted regions in 2013. More good news is that the first runner-up is the Morley College course for young women conductors. Cheers, all! Wish I was still there to help celebrate!

Around 2000 participants from the three previous Classical:NEXT trade fairs voted for two winners from a list of 21 projects all around the world. It's a list of remarkable scope and continual inspiration, from a street orchestra in Brazil to Alistair Campell - no, not that Alistair Campbell, but the co-director of the Tectonics Festival in Glasgow.

Classical:NEXT’s director Jennifer Dautermann says: “This award aims to give international recognition to the people who are doing the most to push things forward with daring yet intelligent, effective and successful ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, planning and action.”

You can see a collection of video interviews by at Classical:NEXT here - including one with me, doing my bit for gender politics.

Chances are that if you're a regular here at JDCMB you already know all about The Rest is Noise festival, so here is a video introduction to Ark Nova.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Join us at Classical:NEXT for this!

Gearing up for the cutting-edge trade fair Classical:NEXT, which this year is being held in Rotterdam at De Doelen. It runs 20-23 May. On 21 May at 3.30pm I'm chairing a "network meeting" on the topic of gender equality in the music world, under the title "Music to our ears?".

We have three fabulous speakers: Gillian Moore, head of music at the Southbank Centre; Susanna Eastburn, chief executive of Sound and Music; and Vanessa Reed, chief executive of the PRS for Music Foundation. I'll be asking each of them to say a few words on the issue from their perspective, then we'll discuss it a bit, then open up to the floor for discussion en masse. It's the perfect chance to compare notes with our colleagues from all over the globe - male as well as female, please (it is your equality too!). Do put the session in your diaries if you're coming along to Rotterdam. We have 45 minutes - but with any luck, that'll just be the start.

Pleased to say that the course at Morley College for young women conductors has also found its way onto the list of 21 nominees for Classical:NEXT's Innovation Award, which will be presented during the fair.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

On the future of music journalism

Here are a few thoughts I've cobbled together in the wake of last week's panel discussion at Classical:NEXT. A few things I aired there, a few that happened there, some that there wasn't time to air and one or two that have come to mind since. Just a tuppence-ha'penny, really. (Below, a pic from the panel: L to R, Oliver, Carsten and me.)

On 1 April I put out a spoof blogpost announcing that henceforth every music critic would be obliged to audition as a musician for the conductor Valery Gergiev. Imaginary quotes took differing standpoints: readers deserved the assurance that those pontificating knew what they were talking about, but it’s also true that some musicians can’t string together a proper sentence. To my amazement, some people actually fell for this. Perhaps it inadvertently contained a little truth. What can the future hold for a specialised area that first of all depends on two skills – musical knowledge and writing ability – that are dwindling in the education system; and that secondly remains inextricably linked to the prospects for print journalism in general?

Music journalism may sound like an ivory tower, but the issues that affect it are the same ones that apply to everyone in the wider creative industries. The question of education, or lack of it, is especially alarming. The UK’s arts and humanities courses in higher education, including the music colleges, are about to lose all their state funding; and musical education at school is a lottery. As for grammar, my first advice to youngsters who want advice on entering music journalism is all too often: “Read Eats Shoots and Leaves.”

With classical music no longer an accepted part of everyday life, the topics we cover have changed in the past few decades. When I first went into music journalism, after an academic and pianistic training, I thought I’d be interviewing my favourite musicians and conveying their hoped-for words of wisdom. Now, though, this would be seen as something for specialists: space is limited and “good musician” isn’t reason enough to fill it. We have to find topics of wider general interest – and work with the trend rather than against it in order to keep this art in the public eye at all.

The future of music journalism depends on much more than our ability to do our jobs well. This came into sharp relief during our panel discussion at the new classical music trade fair in Munich, Classical:NEXT. My fellow panellists were two highly respected editors, Oliver Condy of BBC Music Magazine and Carsten Dürer of the German journal Piano News. Both passionately defended print, and Oliver Condy pointed out, quite rightly, that music journalism must be recognised as the skilled profession it is, and should be respected and remunerated accordingly. Up went a hand in the audience: a woman from New York told us that her younger friends and colleagues read only online, and won’t pay for anything. Another delegate suggested that the future may lie in streamed exclusive videos. Yet print journalists - and writers who love language for its own sake - aren’t always renowned for simultaneous expertise in digital film editing.

The Internet, obviously, represents the biggest shake-up in human communication since the introduction of the telephone, if not the printing press. It’s no wonder if there are teething problems while we work out what to do with it. An audience member asked about my blog and why I write it for free. Easy: it’s an accident. Eight years ago, when blogs were relatively new – it seemed a good way to keep in touch with friends in far-flung places. Today, though, Facebook and Twitter serve that purpose, and just about everyone blogs. So now it’s time-consuming and it doesn’t buy the cat food, but friends say I mustn’t close it down because it is “part of my personal brand”. 

Blogging has become a sort of “value-added” model: you hope that if readers find and like you, they’ll buy your newspapers, magazines and books. In the blogosphere too, though, things are in a state of flux. Discussion has grown more immediate: by the time a post is written, it’s likely the topic will already have been done to death on Twitter. Meanwhile this twilit world has morphed from a mutually supportive, creative environment to something more combative. Online anonymity is pernicious, promoting false “reader reviews”, cyber-bullying, prejudice and hysteria. I suspect one day it will be quashed once and for all – though something frightful might have to happen first.

Technology moves faster than we can. What we can’t afford to do is ignore that technology. We haven’t got it right yet, but we do need to seize opportunities to make this medium work for us, not against us. Obviously that’s easier said than done, but the first step is embracing the notion and ditching the fear. We’re supposed to be a creative industry; it’s up to us to be creative. And if we “creative people” lack the necessary business and technology skills – let’s face it, some of us would be mincemeat on The Apprentice – then perhaps we should jolly well learn some.

But there’s a future for music journalism, just as there’s a future for music. Contrary to popular opinion, there’s more classical music around now than ever. It’s the dated means of hearing and enjoying it that are fading out, not the music itself. And as long as it’s there, people will want to write about it – in one way or another.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Classical:NEXT takes wing with a whoosh

(Above, a news report from BRTV about Classical:NEXT - in German, and starring a Danish wind quintet, Carion.)

Several people have said to me: "What do you do at Classical:NEXT?" Back from Munich, I could make a few suggestions.

First of all, you talk. You talk and talk. And talk some more. Seven hundred delegates assembled at the Gasteig, 60 per cent from outside Germany. You meet them. You make appointments to see people you know by email,  blog or repute from the other side of the world; they make appointments to see you. Or you just bump into them in the foyer; it's relaxed enough for this to be easy (unlike the London Book Fair, which is rather like Euston Station at rush hour). You introduce your friends to each other and in turn they introduce one another to more friends. Or you just read the name labels and bounce up to someone. And you drink a lorralorralorra coffee.

You listen to talks and discussions. The future design of music venues, for instance - can we afford huge multithousand-seater halls today? Do we need them? Is that, in any case, the best way to listen to music? Or the inspiring Alan Bern from Weimar on the correlation of classical and folk music - try his exciting ensemble The Other Europeans.

Oliver Condy of BBC Music Magazine, Carsten Durer of Piano News and yours truly discussed Perspectives on Music Journalism - a panel from which we can conclude that we live in very interesting times. Olly and Carsten passionately defend print. A lady from New York puts up a hand and declares that none of her younger friends and colleagues read anything but online, and won't pay for it either. I attempt a little realpolitik in between. How do we survive in a world that's determined to have something for nothing? How does a profession that depends on good writing and musical expertise survive in a time when both skills are desperately run down in the education system and about to be run down still further?

You bring your spheres together. I saw my lovely editor, Serhan Bali, from Andante magazine in Istanbul. I met Ilona Oltuski from New York, where she's started the Get Classical Lounge at the Rose Bar, a classy yet informal salon setting in which music enthusiasts can listen to gifted young musicians. I met Fritz Wunderlich's daughter, Barbara, who runs Wunderlich Media, and I became no doubt the latest of several million to tell her with tears in eyes how much we love her father's voice (I listen to his recordings at home even more than to Kaufmann or Calleja). Plenty of pals turned up from Denmark, including the irrepressible Jesper Buhl of Danacord and our old friend Lone Ricks of Travel Art, Copenhagen, who is now an orchestral tour manager - if you are indeed an orchestra on tour, you need this woman, because she has been known to rescue, in person, precious cellos from luggage destined for an aircraft hold. I hung out with Ian Roberts of A Star PR: trapped together in delays at Gatwick for three hours, we held our own mini trade fair in the South Terminal's branch of Apostrophe. 

You can be "mentored" if you so wish: many of us could do worse than spend a few hours learning how to use social media more effectively, for instance. Or you can listen to showcases. Musicians with new projects have about half an hour each to present themselves in the concert hall. Everything from the Sjaellend String Quartet (told you there were a lot of Danes) to the Dutch pianist Daria van den Bercken, winner of the Amsterdampreijs 2012, who has been popping up around Holland with a piano on which to play Handel.

And a new online project, Open Goldbergs, launched at Classical:NEXT. It's a crowd-funded recording by Japanese pianist Kimiko Ishizaka of the Bach masterpiece, offered free of charge, along with associated illuminating technology. Kimiko performed the music while the audience followed the score on its laptops and mobile phones using open-source software In its first three days Open Goldbergs had 200,000 listens and 50,000 downloads. More info and downloads here on their site.

Yes, the world wants something for nothing, yet music practitioners still have to eat. Hey - we're the creative industries. It is up to us to be creative. Talking and meeting and mingling traces new pathways in the brain (or something like that). You start cooking up ideas. Couldn't we have a regular music world network in London that meets, for example, once a month? Couldn't we mix more with representatives from other genres of music, share ideas and build bridges? It's all very well building communities online - but it is still in person, over coffee, that the real progress can be made. And after a while, it seems that anything is still possible, if only we can make it happen. It's up to us to create the future ourselves. That's what you do at Classical:NEXT.  


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Off to Munich

Tomorrow I'm heading for the new classical music trade fair, Classical:NEXT, in Munich. On Thursday morning at 11am I'll be speaking on a panel session about the present and future of music journalism, along with Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, and Carten Dürer, editor of the German magazine Piano News. I think we can promise a lively and thought-provoking discussion! Do come along, join in and say hello if you're there.

The Classical:NEXT programme is jam-packed with intriguing talks, showcases, performances and screenings, to say nothing of the odd party or two. A number of concerts are open to the public - details of these can be found here. All being well with computers et al, I hope to blog some updates on the goings-on while I'm there.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Everyone's going to... Classical:NEXT

It's the big news in the classical music world: a new trade fair for the industry, to be held at the Gasteig in Munich at the end of May, organised by the same team that does WOMEX.

Classical:NEXT is not just about walking from stand to stand: there'll be conferences, discussions, a fantastic schedule of showcases both live and on video - from young artists to operatic productions - and of course there's a valuable chance to catch up with friends and colleagues from all over the world. It doesn't coincide with the Oktoberfest, in case you were wondering, but it so happens that I've been to that (if somewhat by accident...long story...) and all I can say is that if Classical:NEXT is even a fraction as well organised, then it's going to be something very special.

JDCMB won't have a stand as such, but I'll be there: I'm going to speak on a panel about "the future of music journalism" along with Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, and Carsten Dürer, editor of the German magazine Piano News.

More info, registration and everything you need to know here.

I've asked Jennifer Dautermann, Classical: NEXT's Project Director, some questions about why and how the event is being brought into being. It's all about synergy...

Munich Pictures
This photo of Munich is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Jess: What are the aims of Classical:NEXT and what do you hope it will achieve for the music industry?

Jennifer: Our aim is to gather all elements of the wide, mulitfarious world of classical together under one roof. All sectors (labels, distributors, publishers, presenters, managers, artists, journalists, etc.) all epochs (from early music to contemporary), all approaches (from traditional to experimental or genre-blending). These combined forces have boundless potential to create powerful synergy. Together, all these perspectives and specialities can become a force for positive energy and positive development for the sector as a whole as well as its individual parts. This first edition is just the start of that gradual process.

Jess: How did the idea come about? WOMEX has of course been a great success, but what has made the same organisation turn towards classical music?

Jennifer: The initiative goes back to CLASS - the association of classical independents in Germany. As a company that has concentrated on rich musical traditions from around the world, we naturally gravitated to their idea. It may sound like a paradox at first, but if you really love a tradition you not only have to preserve and honor it, you must also revitalize and perhaps even revolutionize it. That is our perspective at Piranha WOMEX.

Jess: Why should we all come to Classical:NEXT? What will distinguish it from any similar events that already exist? 

Jennifer: There actually is no similar event. Classical:NEXT is the only event which actively welcomes all sectors, eras and approaches. All players, big and small. And, of course, we try and focus on what will be "next": New formats, new ideas, new methods, new talent, new interactions and inspirations.

Jess: Will any of the events be open to the general public? 

Jennifer: Definitely. The evening showcase concerts on 1 June, the IMZ film programme and our partner programme "C:NEXT Level" in the Munich Clubs Bob Beaman and Harry Klein. And we have a heavy student discount on the whole programme. 2012 is just the first edition, a "beta" edition if you will. We hope to take the Classical:NEXT spirit out to the general public a little bit more every year with more events.

Jess: Why did you choose Munich as the best location?

Jennifer: Munich has a long and rich tradition in classical music which is, of course, very important.
There are many beautiful cities, but Munich's and the Gasteig's surroundings are ideal for a networking event and the city itself has been open and supportive.  

Jess: What do you think will be the highlights of this first Classical:NEXT? 

Jennifer: The scene is diverse and colourful and so are the participants and their individual tastes - thus I hesitate to identify highlights. The real strong point is that this diversity is finally gathering in one place. Delegates will have a unique opportunity to get to know people, scenes, approaches, and ideas which might be completely new for them.