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Phillip Sommerich

Classical:NEXT 2016: day two – report from annual conference

5:20, 28th May 2016

When using digital to communicate with the audience, remember that it’s about the music and not the technology – that was the advice to orchestras from a conference titled Press Play.

Luke Ritchie, the Philharmonia orchestra’s digital director, said the ensemble had made 350 videos since 2007 which had attracted 8.2 million YouTube views last year. Few performances were filmed because of the cost, venue restrictions and the relatively static nature of the result. ‘But what the public really wants to hear is the players talking,’ he said.

Its latest venture focused on the south-west of England over two years, with a concert in a tent in the first year and a conventional concert-hall performance in the second. That was supplemented by the Music Lab truck which visited more rural areas.

One lesson from that was ‘keep art at the centre of the programme, not technology’. Also, repeating the effort over two years saw a dramatic increase in take-up.

Next up would be a 10-day Virtual Orchestra show at London’s Southbank from 23 September.

Exemplifying orchestra-member involvement was Sarah Willis, horn player with the Berlin Philharmonic who has become a television star. It began when she watched one of the orchestra’s Digital Concert Hall relays and found ‘the interviewer didn’t ask the questions I wanted answers to’.

Working on the theory that ‘musicians talk more easily to other musicians’, she has launched a Horn Hangouts series of online interviews and performances. So successful were they that Deutsche Welle television channel made a series titled Sarah’s Music.

‘I wish more musicians would get involved in this technological explosion,’ she said, challenging her colleagues to follow her example.

James Davis, who moved from the Tate gallery to work on Google’s cultural platform, stressed it was early days for online arts: ‘We don’t yet know what happens when culture and technology meet.’

Google offered content in three strands – art, history and World Wonders – and 24 languages and its The Lab in Paris was working on ways of presenting the performing arts within that context. One innovation is Google Cardboard: goggles fashioned from cardboard at a cost of about $4 which when hooked up to a smartphone become virtual-reality glasses.


Click here for:
Report from opening ceremony
Report from day one
Report from day three


The session was titled New World, but speakers from China, Korea and Australia focused on how musicians in those countries are digging into the ancient past.
Guan Xi, director of the China National Symphony Orchestra, said that his country had 71 professional orchestras, 20 of which had subscription series.

China had also produced many internationally famous soloists of late, but what had been neglected was study of the country’s folk music, a tradition stretching back some 5,000 years.

Increasingly, composers were being encouraged to draw inspiration from that tradition and under one programme, 15 composers ranging in age from 28 to 80 had been sent out to villages, particularly in the ethnically diverse south-west, to study folk music.

Min Kim, of Korea’s Hwaeom Spiritual Music Ritual, said her country too had produced several international classical music stars, including a recent winner of the Chopin competition. In the past 20 years it had accounted for 378 finalists and 50 winners in international competitions.

However, both western and Korean classical music were overshadowed by the huge popularity of K-pop, which draws thousands of tourists from abroad and produced a steady export flow of videos and groups. Other genres struggled to find audiences even with tickets priced at just $10.

But the fact that young K-pop musicians were intensively trained and the tendency of Korean parents to ensure their offspring received music education was helping to improve matters.

Also, Koreans were seeking to reconnect with their traditional culture to rectify the disruption caused by the Japanese occupation of the country, the Korean war and the subsequent race for economic and industrial development.

That was aided by festivals such as her Hwaeom event, the title of which, she admitted, might mislead foreigners.

‘The festival is not about a specific religion – spiritual means artists are really committed to their music and it’s about experiencing that.’

At the festival, Western musicians increasingly performed alongside those playing traditional Korean instruments.

Australian recorder player and festival organiser Genevieve Lacey pointed out that her country had the oldest living culture in the world, stretching back 50,000 years. ‘They were making bread before the Egyptians and were making music for many thousand years.’

While they comprised only 2% of the population, Australia’s indigenous peoples regarded music as part of their identity and that was being taken up by Australian musicians from other cultural traditions.

Australia’s geographical isolation from European culture affected musicians’ career decisions. ‘Being an artist in Australia is something you do because you feel you must. You don’t think why don’t I do what hundreds of thousands of others have done. We must be resilient and imaginative.’

But Australia does have a strong network of musicians and venues, she said, pointing to the 30 representatives at Classical:NEXT. While most of the world knew the Sydney Opera House, there had recently been a spate of smaller-scale concert venues built not with government subsidy but through community philanthropy. She illustrated two examples, one in the Adelaide hills, the other in the small town of Bermagui on the New South Wales south coast, population 1,300.


A revamped main building at Hungary’s Liszt Ferenc Academy, with new concert hall, gave the institution the chance to fill a gap in music education, András Csonka told a Classical:NEXT seminar.

The director of music at the institution said the academy realised it could not only stage concerts with the new facility but involve students in the business of doing that as part of career development.

‘We recognised that students were not clear what the music business is, what career possibilities they have and what they should do for self-management,’ he said. It also became clear that the professors were equally unclear.

The academy now operates a management agency that assists students get their careers off the ground.

Sonia Simmenauer, managing director of Impresariat Simmenauer, said few schools did go beyond nurturing talent to showing how that talent became a career.

Cellist István Várdai said from his experience young musicians were most at risk when they gained their first success. When he won the Tchaikovsky competition at 21, he ‘did not have a clue’ what that meant for a career, and when he followed that with a win in Geneva, yielding a host of concert engagements, he did not know how many and which ones to take. He said some young people ended up with ‘Botox careers’ artificially boosted until they collapsed.

Ms Simmenauer said there were examples of competition winners burning out within five years and Mr Csonka pointed to another problem: Hungary had just started a tv talent show for classical musicians and ‘those who win get huge media support but are not ready to start a career’.


A rare outburst against streaming was voiced vehemently by Paul Baxter, managing director of Delphian Records, speaking from the podium for a session on Streaming – the Challenges and Opportunities.

He had devoted his energy to building Delphian as a brand that produced one or two releases a month, often of relatively little known contemporary music. ‘I don’t give away my titles for free.’

He had recently taken his recordings away from the only streaming service he did support, one which was subscription-based but he still believed was cannibalising download sales of his titles.

But Johan Langerlöf, CEO of streamer X5 Music, said over the course of last year his company had seen a turnaround from downloads accounting for two-thirds of revenue to streaming taking that proportion, with overall revenue up 47%.
‘This is the future, especially for classical music, because everyone has all the classical music in the world at their fingertips,’ he said. ‘I don’t think it is cannibalising sales at all.’

Anthony Anderson, managing director of Naxos subsidiary Select Music and Video, cited the Ondine recording of Lars Vögt playing the Goldberg Variations, which scored more than 5.5 million streams on Spotify but also sold ‘extremely well’ in download form.

When Mr Baxter questioned whether the streams in fact cost download sales, he admitted that he had no evidence either way. Mr Baxter also seized on an admission from Mr Langerlöf that Apple Music was cannibalising Apple iTunes sales.

But an intervention from the audience by Robert von Bahr, of BIS Records, unified panel opinion. The only solution for classical music, he said, was if streaming services separated out payment to classical companies based on the number of streams they attracted.

Mr Baxter agreed that streaming could be ‘absolutely fabulous’ if the revenue model was reformed and Mr Anderson pointed out that at present 90% of streamers are at not paying anything.

However, Mr Langerlöf warned that YouTube was ‘the elephant in the room – it is like a monster that does not pay anything for the music’.


Four music start-up ventures selected by a jury were able to showcase their products in a session titled NEXT:Tech.

First, Johan Idema presented Wolfgang, an app which he said was the concert-hall equivalent of the audio guides offered by museums and galleries.

The text in offered in real explanations of the music being performed, such as why the sleigh bells are heard in Mahler’s fourth symphony of the death march in Shostakovich’s fifth, along with background on the composer and the work.

Although many in the audience reacted with horror, he insisted that the white-on-black-background text had been carefully devised so as not to disturb nearby listeners and the device was already in use by many of the Netherlands’ leading orchestras.

Andy Doe, of dartmusic, explained technology that had been developed by Chris McMurty to overcome the metadata problem that deprives many classical artists of revenue from downloads and streams.

Services such as iTunes and Spotify refused to accept metadata supplied by artists for their own recordings because they regarded classical music as more complicated than other genres so metadata for it had to come from a verifiable source, he said.

Dartmusic broke down classical music metadata into very small packages that was verified and could be adapted to the presentation styles of any service. Within a year of launch, he said, the technology had been taken up by many distributors.

Cat Hope said she and other members of the experimental music ensemble she works with in Perth, Australia, had a problem producing digital scores of their works, because they used graphic notation.

So they had developed the Decibel Score Player, an app which could handle graphic notation and synchronise presentation of a piece on several iPads simultaneously for ensemble work. Scores could be edited and adapted, and the technology could handle a wide range of notation styles. Its use was not confined to contemporary music – she had used it to produce a score for Percy Grainger’s Free Music pieces for theramin.

Bart Van der Roost described NeoScores as ‘iTunes for sheet music’. In fact, he said, the technology could transform any sheet music – ‘from Bach to Beyoncé’ – for use on smartphone, tablet or personal computer, allowing users to edit it and add comments. It also had interactive elements for use online or offline and was to be marketed under the brand name Gustaf (website www.gogustaf.com).


Immersive environments – those that involve audiences in performance – do not necessarily need hi-tech ingredients, a panel on the topic agreed, repeating a theme of Classical:NEXT.

John Kieser, of the New World Orchestra, cited at one extreme his players’ use of the New World Center Performance Hall. Its white walls could become giant projection screens, as used in a performance of Antheil’s Jazz Symphony, with video on the walls of cabaret dancers conjured up Paris of the 1930s. Less technological was the Konzerthaus Berlin experiment of seating the audience with the players and allowing them to talk to each other. Lowest-tech – but equally impactful – was the Chicago Sinfonietta’s Martin Luther King tribute concert, which had audience and musicians joining hands to sing We Shall Overcome.

Joanna Lee, founder and chairman of Museworks, cited the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s residency in Hong Kong as showing the risks of experimentation. It held ACO Virtual in a black-box space fitted with iPads which audience members could use to play along with the ensemble, or even bring their own instruments. ACO Underground sought to conjure the atmosphere of a smoky bar using a smoke machine, an effect somewhat thwarted by local regulations that allowed audience members only a single coupon to imbibe one glass of wine.

Hong Kong’s unfamiliarity with such experimental ventures and the remote location of suitable venues meant attendance was poor ‘but you give them marks for trying’.

Chaz Jenkins, founder of consultancy FUMUBI, said the record industry was still album-based, in an era when digital media allowed very different forms of music consumption.

The days when fans would wait a year or two for the appearance of an album were gone. ‘If an artist does not engage with consumers for two weeks, they get interested in something else.’

Among solutions were Spectrum, a website that allowed fans to access the stem of a new recording and play round with that, Pledgemusic – a crowdsourcing site for funding music – and Japan’s Line Music, which lets someone who likes a piece they are streaming to share it in real time with friends.

Medici.tv’s relay of the entire Tchaikovsky competition had turned it ‘almost into a sporting event’. Mr Jenkins added: ‘People developed a relationship with these young students and by the end there wasn’t just a winner, but a lot of artists who had gained a fan base.’


People in the UK – and particularly the younger generation – are becoming increasingly interested in contemporary classical music, according to Alan Davey, controller of Radio Three.

Sharing a session on radio with Graham Parker, general manager of New York’s classical station WQXR and shortly to become president of Universal Music in the US, he said he had begun having contemporary works scheduled for daytime listening ‘and nobody is running away’.

‘I think the audience is developing, particularly among the younger generation, who have all kinds of interests,’ he added. ‘Audiences are getting more open minded – there is change in the air in the UK.’

Mr Davey said he planned to schedule more contemporary music, including a project later in the year to repeat certain works across the schedule.

Mr Parker said he had not found the same across the Atlantic, where his station is reliant for funding on donors and subscribers. ‘The average age of our audience is 53, and people who listen the most are older. Even our contemporary music audience is only about 10 years younger than that. I don’t buy the argument that young people like contemporary music and old people like Beethoven.’

What the two agreed on was that broadcasting live concerts was ever more important to offer something different to streaming. Mr Parker said a lively Twitter community community had developed around its Carnegie Hall relays.
Asked what effect the recent BBC charter review would have on Radio Three, Mr Davey said one key conclusion was that the station should be distinctive, a quality he felt it already had and he wanted to develop.

The requirement that more programmes be put out to tender – 60% against the current 20% produced outside – would add to costs even though he was confident many would be won by the internal producers.

In answer to a question about whether Radio Three would broadcast more classical music of other culture, he said it was something he would like to do.


Like many music students, Perttu Pölönen found music theory a hard slog. Unlike others, the young Finn has come up with a brilliant solution that he presented at Classical:NEXT.

MusiClock consists simply of a wheel showing the chromatic scale that can be overlaid with other discs that make the notes of all modes visible.

‘I really struggled with music theory because it was so abstract,’ he said. ‘And so did others in my class – of 25 of us, there were only four at the end.

‘But one day, thinking about it I realised there are 12 notes in the chromatic scale and I thought: What else has 12? Then I looked at the clock.’

He is showing a prototype of a wooden version – made from Finnish timber, of course – that could be used in classrooms, aided by a manual that not only shows how to use the various wheels that can illustrate 21 scales but also offers games that can have pupils grasping even awkward examples such as G flat major within minutes.

A piano version can be used by a student to wheel across the keyboard, showing which notes to play for a given scale. Mr Pölönen hopes to have the devices on sale on his website, www.musiclock.net soon and an app version – which enables users to improvise on various tunes by following notes on the clock dials – is already on iTunes.

‘Apple contacted me and said this has the simplicity that Apple really likes.’
Mr Pölönen will spend the summer in California, one of 80 people from 50 countries taking part in a Nasa-organised exploration of technology applications; his contribution will be focused on education.


Qobuz, the France-based streaming service focused on offering high-quality audio deliver of classical music, plans to expand across Europe and into the US next year, it announced at Classical:NEXT.

The operation launched by Yves Riesel in 2008 was taken over by digital entertainment provider Xandrie last December after falling into administration. Xandrie said it had acquired Qobuz as part of a wider expansion programme which would enable it to offer e-books, films, video games, software, music scores and magazines online. A subsidiary of the Thebaud group, Xandrie already holds stakes in more than 10 other digital and entertainment companies.

Xandrie stressed that Qobuz would be retained as a brand and continue to offer top audio quality, album reviews, artist interviews, smart playlists and other features. It was working on improving its hi-res 24-bit audio stream – which it says makes it a world leader – before international expansion.


Billed as ‘the unknown instrument’, the celesta is being targeted for revival by Stuttgart-based instrument maker Schiedmayer. The company has held three competitions for composers to create works for the instrument, which was created in Paris by the Mustel keyboard-instrument building family in 1886. Although the instrument has been scored by composers including Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Bartók and Rachmaninov, and works by Thelonius Monk and The Velvet Underground, the company aims to foster works that give it a more prominent role.

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