Category Archives: Comment

Finding My Way to Cardiff: ABO Conference 2018

Written by Claire Bayliss, CLS Orchestra Manager

The end of January saw my first visit to an Association of British Orchestras (ABO) Conference – this year, co-hosted by BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Sinfonia Cymru and Welsh National Opera Orchestra at the striking Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff.

Collaboration was the theme, and indeed the order of the day before the Conference had even opened; when delegates were forced to share taxis in a bid to overcome the failings of Great Western Railway and arrive on time.

There was a buzz in the air: colleagues catching up on a year’s worth of news, faces being put to names across the business, and networks expanding – all while we were taken through a thought-provoking, challenging and enjoyable series of discussions, presentations, performances and speeches.

International Collaboration was on the cards: how Brexit will affect our industry (the answer: we don’t know until it happens), and how we can still do more to address the Diversity Challenge, especially in consideration of hidden disabilities. Horace Trubridge, the newly elected General Secretary of the Musicians’ Union set his stall. The question of increasing musicians’ engagement in industry discussions was brought into focus with a bold pledge to double the number of orchestral players attending the Conference in 2019. We celebrated successes of our colleagues with the ABO Award and Rhinegold Awards, and we heard from Alan Davey (Controller of BBC Radio 3, BBC Proms and BBC Performing Groups) on the BBC’s plans for classical music.

Collaborative performances were interspersed throughout the Conference: BBC NOW and the orchestra of WNO each took one half of the opening night’s concert; Sinfonia Cymru performed Birdsong, the result of a collaboration with Gwilym Simcock and Kizzy Crawford, and featuring visual projections by Ruby Fox; a jazz quartet from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama provided after-dinner entertainment; and Martin James Bartlett, winner of the 2014 BBC Young Musician of the Year, performed at the closing session with the 2016 Finalist and Woodwind Category winner, saxophonist Jess Gillam.

For me, however, the focus was very much on 10.00 Friday morning when I was to co-present a session as part of the ABO’s Find Your Way 2017–18 cohort. The brief: fresh thinking around collaboration. The challenge: according to the Arts Index, only 37% of the UK population think that culture is a valid use of taxpayers’ money – down from 50% five years ago. How can we use collaboration to make our work more relevant to society today?

Find Your Way 2017-18 Cohort

It has been a privilege to work alongside the outstanding individuals Toks Dada (Programme Co-ordinator, Town Hall and Symphony Hall Birmingham), Helen Dunne (Orchestra Manager, Royal Opera House), Simon Fairclough (Director of Development, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), Nick Jackman (Development Director, London Philharmonic Orchestra) and Annie Lydford (Head of Communications, English National Opera). Together we’ve been examining ways that we can collaborate better with the commercial sector (Us vs All of Them), with our peers (Us vs The Others), and with each other within our own organisations (Us vs Us).

The preparation of our presentation was a collaboration in itself, but after much discussion in face-to-face meetings, skype conference calls and late night messages; many hours of research on brand partnerships, loyalty schemes, co-investment potential and knowledge sharing; two shared documents totaling 39 pages, a complex 3×3 grid cross-referencing our ideas, and the design and fine-tuning of 59 slides; several snatched meetings and rehearsals in corners during the Conference, a tense moment in which we narrowly avoided a catastrophic technological glitch, and the last few minutes of pacing and muttering to ourselves, we were finally ready.

It paid off, and we delivered.

Helen and at the ABO Conference
Helen Dunne (left) and Claire Bayliss (right).

The audience looked engaged throughout – many taking notes. They responded to our questions and laughed at the right moments. Upon finishing, we received a hearty round of applause and some challenging, but friendly questions. Our session had provoked debate and interest amongst our colleagues within the sector.

We set out with the aim of each delegate taking away maybe one or two thinking points back to their home organisation – we achieved that, and more. What a feeling!

But not to rest on our laurels, the next Find Your Way challenge is just around the corner…


The ABO’s Find Your Way programme is a nine-month leadership course offering ambitious and emerging leaders of the orchestral sector the opportunity to further develop their managerial knowledge and skills, under the guidance of an experienced coach. The programme is funded by Arts Council England and the Jerwood Foundation.

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City of London Sinfonia’s commitment to 50% female artistic leaderships

 

 

Classical and orchestral music has long had a problem with diversity. The cliché is that it’s male, white, middle class, and often dead. And it’s a cliché because it’s often true.

City of London Sinfonia want to be part of a movement that changes that. We believe that classical music can transform people across all areas of society and in order to do that we need, and want, to present an Orchestra that better represents that society. There are many issues to tackle here, but on International Women’s Day we want to highlight the issue of gender, and make sure that any young woman who sees the Orchestra – whether in a concert hall or in schools  – to look at any role in the Orchestra and think, “I can do that”.

Even today, positions of artistic leadership in many orchestras are overwhelmingly held by men, even while the majority of musicians on a concert platform are often female. This is not the message we want to send young women learning musical instruments, that you can be a professional musician, but not a leader.

We are very proud that over 60% of our principal seats are already held by female musicians. Our next challenge is to make sure that we champion female conductors and directors, alongside the hugely talented and enlightened male conductors and directors we perform with.

That is why, from this Autumn, City of London Sinfonia’s artistic leadership will be 50% female – Creative Director and violinist Alexandra Wood and Principal Conductor Michael Collins. We are also committed to ensuring that at least one female conductor or director perform at every one of our major artistic series.

City of London Sinfonia can’t change the orchestral world overnight, but we can make sure that talented young female musicians watching CLS can see a realistic, aspirational vision of what they might themselves become.

Matthew Swann: What makes Christmas Christmas?

What is it about Christmas that makes us feel so… nostalgic? ‘Warm and fuzzy’? Simultaneously happy and tearful? Or, at the risk of using a much abused and misused, currently-in-vogue Danish word, ‘hygge’?

It’s difficult to define what that peculiarly Christmassy feeling is (and undoubtedly there have been many learned articles on the subject) but certainly music plays a huge role in it. The music we are used to playing and singing at Christmas invokes all sorts of folk, family and childhood memories and invokes all those difficult to define emotions and feelings.

For the CLS Christmas concert at St John’s Smith Square, ‘An English Folk Christmas by Candlelight’, we are unashamedly exploring these memories, via the incredible heritage of folk music that our classical composers have mined for inspiration.

And here I have an admission to make. While in my younger days, I claimed to loathe Christmas music and all the various trappings that came with it, and spend much of the rest of the year trying to create innovative performances that bring in new audiences… when it comes to Christmas I do like the traditional.

Not big, brash, shiny tinsel Christmas celebrations, but those very English tunes that the likes of Vaughan Williams used to such great effect in his Fantasia on Christmas Carols. There is something uniquely nostalgic and warm about their sound, especially when paired with a stunning venue and candlelight.

Matthew Swann – CLS Chief Executive

Join CLS and the Holst Singers for An English Folk Christmas at St John’s Smith Square on Tuesday 20 December, 7.30pm. Tickets at cls.co.uk.

Matthew Swann: Music at the Heart of Health

News that the Arts Council of Wales is part of a growing recognition that the arts can play a significant role in healthcare and general wellbeing is welcome.

At CLS we’ve known this for a long time, and music-making in hospitals, hospices and care homes is something that we feel is central to how we benefit society and transform the lives of individuals.

That music can help people – emotionally, physically, mentally – and alleviate suffering, provide invaluable creative and emotional outlets will seem to some reading this blog as a statement of the obvious. To others it will sound like a rather grand and fluffy statement. Compared to ‘hard science’ clinical practice, our musicians making music with people in healthcare sounds like an expensive ‘nice to have’. Sure, it will benefit people but shouldn’t be the business of strained NHS and government budgets – leave it to generous philanthropists.

We’re very lucky to have many such philanthropists as supporters of CLS, and without entering into a discussion about the relative merits of private versus public funding, they will always be a hugely valued part of how we ensure our music making can reach as many people as possible.

Many people are convinced, as we are at CLS, that music has a far greater impact on individuals in healthcare than it simply being a ‘nice to have’. There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that there are a real, tangible, quantifiable benefits to using music to benefit people at all stages of life in healthcare. A lot of the evidence surrounds issues associated with old age, not least dementia (although dementia is not an issue which only affects older people), or singing as a benefit to mental and physical wellbeing.

At CLS we have seen the benefits that music making can have on older people in residential care, those dealing with grief and loss, and particularly with young children suffering from severe and life limiting conditions. Recently we have begun to work with young people in hospital schools with severe psychiatric conditions. Our musicians at CLS are incredibly experienced and skilled at making music in these often emotionally challenging environments, and have any number of anecdotes from first-hand experience of how people benefit.

The issue we have, highlighted by the Arts Council of Wales, is convincing all the stakeholders involved – government, clinicians, funders – of the clear and tangible benefits that these projects have. To do that we need robust, empirical evidence, not only that music is an essential part of healthcare, but that the benefits are magnified when delivered through the unique skills, experience and outstanding artistry that professional musicians bring.

One of our priorities over the next few years is developing initial conversations with leading research institutions into far reaching research programmes developing the proof that music making is vital to healthcare. I am convinced that it is not a ‘nice to have’ to be funded only by enlightened philanthropists – as a society we should recognise the incredible benefits that music brings to people, alongside more traditional, clinical practices.

There are risks associated with this approach: it’s likely that not everything we do will deliver the benefits that simple observational evaluation suggests. But I, and our musicians, are convinced that music can make a vital difference to the lives of people in all areas of healthcare – let’s provide the proof.

Matthew Swann Chief Executive