Wednesday 28 May 2014

"Composers, Performers and their Audiences" - an account

Over the 2013-14 season Britten Sinfonia has been collaborating with the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Research Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice on a research project entitled "Composers, Performers and their Audiences" as part of the Guildhall's Understanding Audiences programme. The main project research aimed to investigate how audience members experiences of new work is affected by their level of participation and also what kinds of exchange composers and audiences most value in relation to new work. In the following article student research participant, Jane Salmon gives an  account of the project and how it has influenced her:

In Mid October, 2013, I received an invitation to participate in an audience engagement project, ‘Composers, Performers and their Audiences’. While the opportunity for free tickets to see  Britten Sinfonia was inviting, what really enticed me was the opportunity to observe a professional ensemble in situations that would be new to me.  My participation has been highly influential on my own activities.

Thursday, 7th November 2013

This introduction to the project was fascinating; I met many interesting people from Guildhall, somewhere I always considered to be quite small, that I had not known before. The questions presented in the session led to some interesting ideas about the project ahead and set up the open and group-led dynamic that continued over the next few months.

Sunday, 24th November 2013 - Britten Sinfonia & Pekka Kuusisto concert

After a short meeting, the group joined the audience participants to observe the second half of Britten Sinfonia’s rehearsal for their evening concert. It was interesting to experience the atmosphere and work ethic, particularly in relation to their repertoire.

The post-rehearsal discussion, chaired by Barry Ife, involved the fascinating Judith Weir, Pekka Kuuisto, David Butcher and Caroline Dearnley. At this time, I had not really attended discussions like these but this really changed my concert experience. I entered the concert hall with an excitement that flowed from a greater understanding of the motivation of the people who had put the concert together, and from having discussed their approach to maximizing audience engagement.  Their collective honesty about the concert made such an impact.

The concert was a great success. Asking the audience to refrain from clapping between pieces was effective, and something I had never experienced.  The atmosphere created by the ensemble left me intrigued. The use of lighting and continuous change of ensemble size really suited both the programme and the venue.

The day closed with a questionnaire, which was interesting to fill out immediately after the concert.  There was a noticeably concentrated atmosphere in the room – everyone seemed very mesmerized by the whole day.

Friday, 14th February - Britten Sinfonia & Imogen Cooper concert

Unfortunately  I was unable to attend this event. Since the close of the research project I have received and listened through a recording of the post concert discussion.

Saturday, 1st March - Conference

Composers, performers and their audiences: exploring dialogue and interaction

This busy conference day was one of the most inspiring days of the project. Discussing findings from the research over the last few months was very interesting and noticeably important to address.  The decision to seat everyone on mixed tables was important to the effect of the day, the opportunity to meet such a variety of guests from the music industry was invaluable.  My group (Julia Ient (ACE), myself, Bill Lloyd (Aldeburgh music), John Sloboda, Marion Caldwell (GSMD postgrad performer) was well balanced and the resulting variety of opinions during the discussions were very interesting.

The afternoon’s presentations on related research initiatives tied in nicely with the findings and presented contrasting ideas of ‘the audience’.

Friday, 4th April , 11:00am - Research Close

Despite a small turn out, this session was very valuable to the project. The opportunity to feedback and discuss the project as a whole was very important for me as a participant and it was really interesting to be able to compare and discuss thoughts with another participant.

Further Influences

Being a part of this research project has influenced me greatly, and the variety of impacts this has sparked has proved quite hard to put to paper. Therefore, I would like to discuss two things: a chamber concert I organised in late March, and secondly, some future plans.

Chamber Performance – Saturday, 22nd March, 2014

As part of my course as a BMus 4 student, I have to put together an ‘Independent Performance Project’. Since my first thoughts of what I’d like to do for this, I always wanted to use my chamber ensemble, The Barbican Trombone Quartet. Scheduled for the evening of March 22nd, my planning for the event ran alongside this research project, and naturally this project was a huge influence on the planning and success of this concert.

While I am entirely dedicated to the trombone and think it is a beautiful (and admittedly an indulgent) instrument, I understand that it may not be the first thought that comes to mind when a chamber concert is mentioned. I believe that effective promotion, alongside reputation have a huge part to play in bringing in audience to events like this.  I used social media, a lot of honest emails and carefully thought out ticketing prices to invite in an audience – one that turned out a lot larger than expected.

The idea of being open and ‘revealing the mysterious’ is something that really interested me with Britten Sinfonia’s work.  I can really see the importance of doing this sometimes; we live in an almost ‘access all areas’ culture and I feel the excitement and honesty of doing something like opening up a rehearsal could be very effective. I also really like that Britten Sinfonia constantly adapts this ‘open’ idea whether it be through education work, schemes, pre and post concert discussions or similar ideas.  I also think the ensembles decision to keep other performances and rehearsals  ‘traditional’ is as important. With this in mind, I wanted to find a way to present my own performance and the music it included in an honest and open way; I chose to write a script.  It was important to make the evening relatable, as I was aware a lot of the audience had not previously experienced brass chamber music, let alone a trombone ensemble.  Due to the size of venue, and the provision of an induction loop, we needed to use a microphone to speak to the audience.  To make these ‘speech’ breaks worth the journey I decided to write a script that expanded on the programme notes, delivered by the quartet members in rotation, allowing them to show their personalities.  I was wary of this seeming unnatural, so we all had the opportunity to adapt the script so it read how each of us would naturally speak.

Programming for the evening was vital: not only did I have the task of filling a two-part concert with trombone music, but my key hope was to keep the audience engaged.  This was where the fantastic Pekka Kuusisto’s discussion and approach really came to mind. I wanted to create a programme that had a flow and understanding to it, with each piece having a true purpose for being programmed.  In addition, I wanted to include works that are less performed and include some of my own arrangements and editions.  To mention one, I edited a core piece of trombone quartet repertoire – Beethoven’s Drei Equale for special performance with organ.  In my printed edition I wrote a short note about my choices, which was read before the performance;

Now arguably one of the most important works in the history of the trombone, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Drei Equale seems to be written for the trombone true to its theological meaning – a symbol of divine presence, the voice of the angels and instrument of judgment. The origin of this composition was a commission for a piece for four trombones, specifically for performance in Linz Cathedral on All Soul’s Day, 1812.

Later, in 1827, when the fate of Beethoven's illness seemed inevitable, Ignaz von Seyfried requested that the words of the Psalm 'Miserere' were put to two of the Equale, perhaps with the idea that the 'Prince of Musicians' could be accompanied to his last resting place by his own sublime composition. Based on an authentic account of Beethoven’s funeral, this arrangement includes a translation of the organ part, which, along with the chorus parts, was written specifically for this occasion. While not performed at the funeral, the second Poco adagio equale has been kept in this arrangement, keeping the three original equales together.

Performing this allowed us to introduce the audience to a piece that is written for the trombone at its best while also using the organ – an unusual but successful combination.

The second half of the programme saw the ensemble joined by four more trombone players to perform contrasting pieces for trombone octet. This change in ensemble size introduced a welcome variety to the evening.  We started the second half with an arrangement of Gabrieli’s Sonata Pian’e Forte, which allowed us to use the space as if on antiphonal balconies.  This half also included the familiar ‘Largo’ from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and concluded with Gershwin’s Someone to Watch Over Me.

I believe my programme struck a good balance; I think for the ‘trombone ear’ it would have been pleasing and for the ‘new ear’ it was a good and varied introduction to the instrument, ensemble and its music. The challenge of introducing new arrangements and obscure pieces was met by balancing them with familiar and ‘friendly’ music.

Having participated in the research project as an audience member, I planned every aspect of the evening with the audience in mind. With more time to plan and if I was to do this project again, there are many more influences I have taken from the project that I would like to include; I hope to put on similar events in the future and explore the possibilities.

Future Plans

During the rehearsals for our concert in March, the trombone octet were coached briefly by Eric Crees. He was very complimentary of our playing and plans for the concert and after the rehearsal, he took myself and trombonist Audun Breen aside and suggested the idea of putting together a live performance of ‘The London Trombone Sound’ – a recording made in the 90s as part of Cala Record’s ‘The London Sound Series’ of which Eric did all the arrangements for - a fantastic inspiration. Planning and proposals for this performance have begun and I am hoping for it to be an opportunity to further explore my ideas presented in my ‘smaller scale’ performance and to continue to address ‘the brass ensemble’ audience.

Thanks to Guildhall, this research project and many other influences, I believe I have found an area of work in the music industry that truly captures me. The Sunday in November spent with Britten Sinfonia is a day that I still cannot forget, many of my interests seemed to click into place, and listening and being exposed to an ensemble that have such wonderful talent and ideas is just invaluable. In the four out of five parts of this project I was able to attend, I found myself unusually quiet. The overwhelming inspiration made it very difficult to instantly discuss the ideas that were going through my head. I found this a particular issue at the discussion points at the conference on March 1st. In an attempt to ‘sort’ the inspiration that poured from this project, I have half-filled a notebook, a resource I still revisit and add to frequently. With this as a starting point, I am eager to shape my own professional work, hopefully in the context of a business/company. With a four-page list of components I’d like to include, I am hoping to build something that revolves around all level of audiences and musicians. I’d like to find a way to utilize the vast amount of talent, particularly those starting out in their career; offering a platform for a variety of projects, concerts, collaborations all with audience in mind – hopefully inviting in some new audiences as well as developing the established. Another of my priorities in my work is with education, I believe working and engaging with young audiences is as important as anything else – this is our future audience and can be the most rewarding and responsive.

In the last few weeks, I have decided to pursue these ideas further and have invited a close friend and very talented sound engineer to act as a business partner. With his talents in mind, we have been discussing the possibility of attempting to establish our own online ‘label’ with the hope of providing an accessible source to listen to and learn about music as well as offering exposure to chamber ensembles etc. I have also begun to build contacts and pay particular interest to marketing/copyrighting/social media as I believe this could be an effective way to develop and even attract a new audience. These ideas are clearly still in the very early stages but it is something I really believe in and I hope I can find the advice and guidance we need when I return to my final year at Guildhall this September.


I hope my writing has highlighted how inspirational I have found this experience, it has been a pleasure to participate and I hope my responses will be effective in the overall research project.  While I am aware each person will take, and be inspired by, different things from such a wide project, I believe it deserves a prominent place in anyone’s time at Guildhall and hope to see this wonderful work continue further into the life of Guildhall. Many thanks to all those who helped make such a successful project.

Jane Salmon,
BMus Trombone, GSMD

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