Phillip Sommerich

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

9:14, 27th May 2016

The divide between opera and music theatre is breaking down, but the manner and speed varies in different parts of the world, according to the opening conference panel at Classical:NEXT in Rotterdam.

Guy Coolen, of Rotterdam’s Opera Dagen festival and Muziektheater Transparant, said a lot of opera houses were realising that breaking down the barrier was essential for the future of the artform. He pointed out that Rotterdam has no opera house – city authorities realised they could fund construction but not its operation – but still has a strong reputation for staging new works. ‘Because there is no opera tradition, it is able to build a new audience for opera.’ He cited a recent project based on the theme of Wagner’s Parsifal, which saw new works performed at three locations: an old theatre, an office building and a specially constructed giant outdoor staircase near the central railway station. The project involved children and amateur choristers and became a community event.

Producer Beth Morrison said that in the US the term music theatre still conjured up visions of Broadway and Sondheim, and she preferred the description ‘opera theatre’. Opera in the US was generally seen as ‘something that is untouchable and in an ivory tower’.

A performance at the 3,400-seat Met Opera  made one feel ‘far removed’ from the drama. However, her Prototype Festival recently put on operas in 300-seat ‘black box’ theatres and young audiences felt fully engaged in the works.

Sara Fong, from Singapore’s National Arts Centre, said in that country opera is ‘a niche artform with very little support … and compared with that, music theatre is not definable at all’. Western classical music accounted for only 2-3% of performances, but the island state also put on Chinese, Indian and Malayan classical music, reflecting its major ethnic groups.

The Wagnerian Society was about to put on the first Wagner opera to be staged in Singapore: production of The Flying Dutchman set in an Asian context and using local singers, and a new opera company planned to put on three or four works a year ‘in a guerrilla way’.

Whether record labels are still necessary in an era of streamed music divided two speakers on the subject at Classical:NEXT.

Clemens Trautmann, president of Deutsche Grammophon, said it was early days for streaming, currently used by between 5% and 20% of various countries’ classical audience. Labels are ideally placed to provide the expertise needed for the platform, offering marketing, rights management and A&R in ‘a one-stop shop’.

‘It is no surprise that seven out of 10 artists want to be with a label,’ he added.

But Till Janczukowicz, founder and CEO of new classical streaming service Idageo, when asked whether he needed a record label parter, responded ‘I don’t need anything’ and said 90% of the deals he did were licensing music. ‘Orchestras produce music, festivals produce music, young musicians produce themselves and then they seek partners.’

He added, though, that DG does bring brand value to the partnership.

What Idageo offered, he said, was a growth plan – using Facebook, Twitter, offering live concert listings to engage consumers. ‘We don’t just provide a platform for producers, we provide context for the music.’

Equally important was that streaming services collect data. ‘We desperately need data at a time when other subscription lists are beginning to decrease.’

Asked about live streaming, he said there was demand for audiovisual streams of opera, less so for audio-only.

Dr Trautmann pointed to DG’s recent live stream of a Daniel Hope masterclass in its Play With A Pro programme, which attracted 10,000 viewers. ‘Daniel was able to talk about the music with a young student in Italy in a way he would never have been able to in a normal Q&A session.’

That interaction was also at the core of DG’s new partnership with Apple Music to offer advance samples of forthcoming releases. While Apple brought 30 million users to the alliance, DG was ‘a brand trusted by 80% of the classical audience’.

PRS for Music Foundation’s new Composers Fund – giving creators of works direct access to money rather tha having to wait for commissions – came under scrutiny at a seminar hosted by the organisation.

Composer Yannis Kyriakides said his colleagues increasing needed to adopt a ‘DIY approach’ to funding because many were writing for electronics rather than human performers.

Susanna Eastburn, of Sound and Music, said a recent survey in the UK found the average commission fee was just £1,000 and that composers did not have enough time to create or rehearse works.

‘Composers need opportunities and can’t wait for the phone to ring from the London Sinfonietta or the BBC. Also, composers have strong views about how their work is presented and how new music generally is presented to audiences.’ She had attended  ‘many unenjoyable concerts of new music’.

Françoise Clerc, of the French export bureau, said the Diaphonique programme supported commissions in France and the UK – shortly to be joined by Germany – but applications had to come from orchestras or other organisations.

But Eva Kesslová, of the Czech Republic’s Berg Orchestra, said conditions for composers were not as bad elsewhere as they were in the UK, and her country’s Berg Orchestra commissioned six new works a year.

Also from the audience, Stephen McNeff said his stint as composer in residence at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra ‘changed my entire perspective.  It was extraordinary having a triple-wind orchestra and knowing that whatever I did this orchestra was going to be able to play it.’

Sally Howland, from Australia’s rights group Apra, said it was launching a fund directed at composers and seeking to avoid one-performance works by giving additional weight to undertakings of repeat performances. Ensembles were also encouraged to support and co-commission applications – including international groups, which provided a potential export market for Australian music.

The patronage system familiar to Haydn and Beethoven is making a comeback under the Compose4You.nl programme launched by Dutch composers’ group Nieuw Geneco.

Davo van Peursen of Donemus Publishing said that in response to Netherlands government budget cuts and shrinking sponsorship the project was seeking various ways of encouraging private sponsorship. A crowdfunding drive – including a gala dinner for those contributing over €750 – raised €19,000 for one commission.

The project’s website now offers profiles of 10 composers, with biographies and sound samples of their work. Commission fees are calculated through a formula based on performers needed, duration, whether a recording is to be included and other factors.

Commissioners so far included an amateur flautist, a 70-year-old recorder player and a family ensemble. A man commissioned Monique Krüs to compose a surprise-present song for his wife’s 50th birthday, which the composer and a cellist performed during the celebration, leaving the recipient in joyful tears.

Mr Van Peuren said the programme was being expanded next season, with companies, party and event planners, and even funeral contractors being approached.

Click here for:
Report from opening
Report from day two
Report from day three

The most important aspect of a music festival is having fun, according to Hugo Ticciati, whose O/ModernT events have pulled out all the stops in intending that.

At a conference on festival programming one instance he gave was a concert that preceded Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings with a solo percussion piece by James Tenney, performed by Evelyn Glennie.

The audience, approaching the Tchaikovsky with 20 minutes of percussion still ringing in their ears ‘were hearing a familiar piece in a new, modern way’, he said. Other attempts to fulfil his mission included a Mirrored Scarlatti programme, in which Scarlatti pieces were played normally, then backwards – with Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel in the middle. Underlining the message, players walked backwards and some wore clothes back to front. Rameau and The Vertical began with Rameau arias, followed by Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet. In the second half, a DJ used Rameau chords – ‘which are the most funky and way-out chords’ – while hip-hop and ballet dancers competed.

Freelance programmer Masa Spaam said the new Wonderfeel outdoor festival held near Amsterdam followed the same principle. Several curators created programmes of classical and other genres, which festival-goers could wander in and out of. ‘They can compose their own playlists.’

A survey found 55% of people attending usually only went to one classical concert a year.

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra violinist Catherine Arlidge found strong support at a Classic:NEXT conference for her assertion, aired previously in a CM opinion piece, that orchestra members are becoming ‘violin operators’ rather than ‘evangelists for our art’.

‘Most of my career I have sat next to someone who is doing the same thing as me, day after day,’ she said. Orchestral musicians were told when to arrive, what to wear and what to play.

She contrasted the CBSO with the self-governing ensemble created by some of its players, The Stringcredibles. ‘The flavour and feeling in the group is very different to the operation in the big orchestra,’ she said.

Catherine Surace, academic director of Batuta – Colombia’s el sistema programme – said the emphasis in teaching was on teamwork, contributing to the common benefit but at the same time recognising different contributions.

Those qualities were being taught to 564,000 el sistema students around the world but she questioned whether the lessons could not also be passed on to professional orchestras.

In a video contribution, Sir Simon Rattle backed Ms Arlidge, stressing that orchestral players should have leading roles in all activities, particularly when it came to educational programmes. Orchestral players as individuals had a lot to give, he said.

‘The more the players are involved, the more it goes back into the music. It can make a difference and contributes to the health of the orchestra. The idea of “them and us” is long gone.’

Syncing – the use of music in film soundtracks and television commercials – is a major revenue source but there is no magic formula guaranteed to produce that wealth, a panel of experts concluded.

Oliver Davis, a prolific composer for film and tv who is moving back towards classical concert works, said minimalist music is popular because it has a rhythmic pulse which is easy to editor and to lay a voice track over.

That was verified by conference moderator Steve Long, who pointed out that his Signum label had two albums of Mr Davis’ music, which earned more from sync than all the other 400 or so titles in his catalogue.

But Natasha Baldwin, of Imagem, said that while music from Steve Reich and co were popular for film trailers, that was less true in tv ads because a 30- or 60-second spot was not long enough for their melodic development. ‘Bombastic and dramatic’ tunes such as Wagner were more the vogue for that use, with Stravinsky gaining popularity. But she added that trailer producers seemed to be seeking ever-bigger sounds, with 250-piece orchestras being deployed and Los Angeles production companies reworking established tracks to enlarge their sound.

Laura Bell, sync manager for BMG, said the choice for a sync project is often ‘coincidental’, adding: ‘You can have a big orchestral track or you can have a solo that is so wonderful it is chosen. The right piece of music is the one that fits with the image of the film.’

Spotify might offer one clue, Ms Baldwin said. It was finding that the fastest-growing demand was for music to relax or sleep to. ‘That is fantastic for classical music, because we own that space.’

What do young musicians starting in their careers want to see classical music being in 50 years’ time? That question was posed to an all-female quartet of panellists, and received assertive responses from them.

Most discussed was singer Elizaveta Agrafenina’s hope that male dominance would swing towards recognition of female contributions. She admitted that conservatoires were facing a shortage of male singers. ‘It all started in the 16th century when women could perform in public, but 500 years later we got more than we bargained for.’

However, musicology and orchestral directing were dominated by men. ‘The books are usually written by men, orchestras usually hire men and most of the directors are men.

‘If we are to achieve gender equality, we need female role models.’

Mark Pemberton, of the ABO, challenged one of those statements, saying that orchestras in the UK and US were nearing gender equality. There were gender differences in instrumental section ‘which go back to decisions made by adults and children themselves  about which instruments are for girls and which are for boys’.

Ethnic equality in orchestral ranks still remained a challenge, he added.

But percussionist and panel member Beth Higham Edwards said her choice of instrument still shocked some people. She said that the Guildhall school invited a guest percussionist every week and so far this year there had not been one female. ‘Some of my teachers don’t see me in the way they see male students.’

Fellow panel member Mi-Sun Hiltermann insisted her experience as a violinist suggested physical differences between the sexes could influence the issue – many women, she said, had difficulty finding the strength to play high positions on her instrument.

Composer Meriç Artaç’s hope for 2066 was that classical musicians would have the knowledge to be successful entrepreneurs. Many musicians were freelance and needed skills in marketing, making a website and networking, alongside music ability, but few conservatoires offered tuition in those areas.

Tuition in a class context was not what was needed, she added. ‘It is not something you can deal with in a big group. I find it difficult in a big group to make out that I am better than others.’

John Kieser from the New World Orchestra suggested that the answer was what used to be called apprenticeships – sacrificing some performance work for learning other skills from orchestras and other organisations.

Ms Higham Edwards’ wish was for classical music ‘to infiltrate the everyday and be present in everyone’s lives’.

She suggested that classical needed a version of Banksy, the graffiti artist who turns blank public spaces into artworks. ‘The trouble with music is that it is not tangible – it’s there for half an hour and then it’s gone. Could there be a version of Banksy for music who gets performances into unexpected places not once but permanently?’

She cited an article by Pippa Drummond that recalled the era when every town had a music festival, and asked whether that could be revived.

An Australian flautist in the audience challenged her view, saying: ‘We are a bit afraid to make classical music an art. I’m not playing this music just to make people relax or have a fun time.’

Ms Hiltermann’s wish was that ‘classical music(ians) will be merged with different styles of music’. She read out a list of names including André Rieux, Nigel Kennedy and The Piano Guys and, despite audience laughter, insisted they had all ‘decided to step out of the conservative world of classical music’. They were all skilled musicians who operated without subsidy and reacted ‘to the ears and eyes of a broad audience’.

She had had no problem performing with circus, playing an electric violin while standing on a huge ball while it rolled into the ring.

And she had the last words on how the classical music world should ensure its future: ‘Hire us as teachers to go back into the conservatoires and teach the next generation.’

Look to boost revenue from licensing, sponsorship and public performance rights, as revenue from CD and digital sales continue to decline – that was the advice from Naxos founder Klaus Heymann in a Classical:NEXT interview with Gramophone editor-in-chief James Jolly.

In a wide-ranging discussion, he revealed that digital turnover in the US last year for Naxos and three or four labels he distributes exceeded that for CDs. ‘But physical does not make any money, while digital sales are all profit.’

That eased the impact of a gradual decline in download sales, he said, from 59% of overall turnover in2014 to 51% last year and 47% in the first quarter of this year.

He insisted that the revenue model for streaming had to change. ‘The streaming business will only become viable if the revenue from classical is not lumped in with the revenue from pop.’

He described YouTube as ‘the most dangerous digital platform because they don’t ask you for licences’, and it reduced income from other streaming services. Naxos worked constantly on issuing takedown notices for illicit use of its content but he also recognised that the platform offered huge marketing opportunities for artists – his violinist wife’s recordings on YT got 5 million views last year.

Mr Heymann also revealed that Naxos, which distributes the majority of classical DVD labels, would probably start its own audiovisual productions in Europe, as well as distributing two catalogues it has bought. ‘Video is becoming more and more important,’ he said.

He insisted that the CD would survive but said it would do so on the Arkiv Music model of pressing discs on demand. In two or three years’ time, he said, the standard pressing run would be 100 discs – 50 for the artist and 50 for promotion, then pressing two or three at a time in response to consumer demand. At present an initial product run could be as few as 300 discs, with re-pressings down to 100.

He attributed his success since starting the full-price Marco Polo label in1982 to never having worked for a record label. ‘I always had an outsider’s view of the industry: why pay royalties for an artist who isn’t famous? Why do extensive photo shoots when you can have a painting on the cover? I always came from a different angle.’

A website claiming to provide an orchestral auditioning process for the 21st century is being demonstrated at Classical:NEXT.

Muv.ac launched in 2010 with two orchestras registered and now has nearly 100 ensembles, said managing director Luis Perandones, a flautist turned orchestra manager who founded the company with two friends.

Ensembles using the site include in advertising the www.muv.ac web address and applicants submit profiles, including academic record, awards and previous posts. If the ensemble allows, artists can also include videos  – some groups make that mandatory.

The ensemble can then notify all or some other group members of the applicants, for them to review and voted on whether applicants should be invited to audition.

The site operates in four languages –English, French, German and Spanish – and applications are automatically translated into the one used by the ensemble.

Muv.ac charges groups €200-€250 per audition process and individual musicians can registered for free –30,000 have so far –and view current vacancies.

Perandones said every ensemble but one in Switzerland has registered with muv.ac and there had been a strong take-up in Germany, Austria, Spain and Belgium.

‘The number of candidates is growing every year but the number of vacancies has been constantly decreasing. Sometimes there are 300 applicants for a post and it can be very intense. We try to make the process as easy and pleasant as possible. Ensembles find muv.ac can reduce their workload.’

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