Why should UK orchestras tour internationally?

Next week City of London Sinfonia will be flying over 5000 miles across the Atlantic for a tour around Mexico! We’re excited to be visiting Leon, Mexico City and Guadalajara for various concerts and education projects out there (you can find out more about the specific venues and places we’ll be visiting on our website). But why should we be travelling all that way? Why not stick to the concert halls and community settings of the UK? Our Chief Executive, Matthew Swann, explains… 

CLS are going to Mexico! This is obviously a time for universal joy and back-slapping. Mexico! The concert halls will be full, the sun will shine brightly, tequila will flow and everyone will have a marvellous time… right?

Embarking on any foreign tour is of course hugely exciting, glamorous (although not nearly as glamorous as you might imagine – think six hour coach journeys rather than champagne receptions), and they make perma-nervous orchestral management teams feel that they are being successful. In this instance, Mexico is not yet on anyone’s regular international schedule, and although we’re far from the first UK orchestra to visit, there’s an element of pioneering spirit as well.

But foreign tours are often expensive, logistically stressful and laden with health and security risks. In the last few years British orchestras have rushed to certain far eastern territories with what some think is undue haste, to take on loss-making tours with dodgy promoters, dodgier contracts and half-empty concert halls. Sure, it helps to keep the diary full but I for one don’t fancy all that stress for no real purpose.

CLS’s first priority should be, and is, to our UK audiences in concert halls, schools, hospitals, cathedrals, care homes, nurseries and opera theatres throughout the UK. This where we can surprise and move people, make most impact and create life-enhancing music experiences for people of all ages and backgrounds. We have to think very hard about whether an international tour makes artistic, as well as financial, sense.

So why on earth are CLS going to Mexico?  Here’s why….

1. Tours are a fantastic way of bringing orchestras together. They take you out of everyday life and into an environment where the performance is the absolute and total priority. If done well, they give musicians (and management) time to experience new cultures, interact with new audiences, and widen their artistic and life experience.

2. International relations. Our Mexico tour is part of a year-long British Council initiative in Mexico to promote commercial and cultural links to the UK. The concerts we give have a deep impact both in terms of the wider CLS family and international relations in general.

3. To show what CLS, and British orchestras in general, are all about. We’re proud to be taking concert programmes and education projects that have a real resonance with CLS and our wider missions in the UK. I think that when orchestras tour internationally, we should take as much as possible of what the orchestra is with us and try to build a wider relationship with the society we are going to, even if only for a short time. In this instance, as well as performing an all-British programme, including Sir John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (a piece we have performed in countless UK cathedrals) we will be performing to young music students in Leon, as part of a major cultural festival in Guadalajara and to young children and their families in Mexico City.

It also keeps the diary busy, is a sign of success, etc etc… all of those things too. And in case you were wondering,  yes I will be drinking tequila in the sunshine. Viva Mexico!

Picture taken from a performance as part of CLS’s tour to Columbia in 2011.

CLS Tour to Mexico
18 – 25 May 2015
Please visit our website for more information about specific dates, time and venues of performances. 

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