Sticking to one's knitting....

Orchestras around the world face huge competition for audiences and it is always interesting to see what strategies they adopt in order to achieve growth. Now, I have absolutely no problem with thinking outside the box, when it comes to technology in concert halls, unusual venues and the like (have a look at my performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony in 360 degree video in the media link, for instance!), but I think sometimes it is important to state the obvious. 

Orchestras must “stick to their knitting” – that is to say, they should focus on what they do well. It is obvious advice, but often one sees evidence of a lack of logical analysis by orchestras, in this regard. 

For instance, are programmes put together with thoughts of balance, artistic sensibility and the community in mind? Orchestras must have an intense and close relationship with their public. Without dialogue – be it via questionnaires or actual face to face communication – any thoughts of reaching out to the public is simply wishful thinking. Likewise, without this dialogue and a strong sense of artistic integrity, it is unlikely the public will meaningfully engage with their orchestra. 

Now, I am all for confounding people’s expectations of what a concert can mean or how it might be structured and I am also in favour of bringing technology into the experience – but only if it adds to the meaning of our art. Too often, I have seen cameras projecting images on screens in real time as expensive gimmicks that turn off more people than they they do enthral. Gimmicks such as this are not even remotely the answer – what orchestras do is present live music by acoustic instruments in a specific acoustic space. While “Digital Concert Halls” or outdoor projections are brilliant and certainly add to audience connection and numbers, the inescapable fact remains that what we do it is about real music, in real space, in real time. 

Performing in alternative venues – for instance, playing in pubs is fine – but if these performances fail to break even or effect audience growth in a meaningful manner, I fail to see the point. Once again, if a concept seems like a good idea, it should be able to stand up to logical inquiry. By the way, as an oenophile, I absolutely love the idea! 

I suppose I come across as a little “old-fashioned” in this blog, but in fact, I maintain that looking at a challenge dispassionately and with logical thinking, and using our strengths as musicians will allow for lateral thinking in terms of presentation and audience engagement to really have an effect. 

“Sticking to one’s knitting” might sound slightly dull, but as an artist, I can think no other way. Artistic integrity in programming, musical performance, and a story well-told, is the best possible foundation for engaging and enthusing our community.