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Workshop 1: 23 April 2010

Global perspectives on the ‘orchestra’: Workshop 1

The ‘orchestra’ from symphony to sustainability: Communities, environments, education, technologies

Institute of Musical Research, London, 23 April 2010

Workshop timetable

The aims of this workshop were to explore different approaches and methods in studying orchestras and to share insights into this topic from both practitioner and researcher perspectives. Participants considered what kinds of questions might be developed further in their presentations. Fundamental questions posed included: What should we be asking about practice in the world of orchestras today? What are the social, economic and aesthetic factors that shaped the rise of the symphony orchestra? What are the new technologies and performance environments that practitioners turn to in ensuring orchestral sustainability? The first workshop focused on symphony orchestras but included other kinds of orchestras (notably gamelan and digital) in resonance with the theme of global perspectives on the orchestra.

Abstracts (in order of presentation)

Session 1. Education (Chair: John Irving, Institute of Musical Research, University of London)

Orchestral Musicians in the 21st Century
Helena Gaunt, Guildhall School of Music & Drama

The professional profile of western classical orchestral musicians is undoubtedly changing (Rogers 2002; Creech 2008). The context is predominated by characteristics of rising technical standards on the one hand (Lawson 2003), and challenges to respond to diverse repertoire, ways of collaborating with other artists and ways of engaging with audiences (Kenyon forthcoming). This paper reports on the first stages of research which is exploring how orchestral musicians of the twenty first century perceive the nature of their professional practice. What essential skills and qualities needed to be a top orchestral musician? What key events and people influence an individual’s development towards getting an orchestral job? What helps them to sustain that position over time? The research is being undertaken within the Centre for Orchestra (C4O), a collaboration between the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and the Barbican Centre. The first phase of this research focuses on players from the LSO, and emerging professionals from the Guildhall School. The second phase will extend the research to include musicians from associate orchestras at the Barbican Centre, such as the New York Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw, and Vienna Philharmonic. The aim is to provide valuable insights into orchestral musicians in the twenty first century and into ways of helping students prepare for the profession.

Centre for Orchestra
Eleanor Gussman, London Symphony Orchestra

Over 10 years ago, Boulez described the orchestra as an ‘ensemble of possibilities’. The orchestra provides musicians with not only the opportunity to play core and new repertoire but also the opportunity to challenge perceptions, challenge themselves and create new experiences. Orchestras are performing core repertoire and commissioning new works, but are they really challenging perceptions? Challenging the musicians? Creating new experiences? How important are these questions to the professional orchestral musicians themselves / the audiences / the next generation of performers? Centre for Orchestra is a unique collaboration between the LSO, Guildhall School and the Barbican, creating a forum in London for orchestral development in the 21st century. The programme provides orchestral training, education and early career support for young professional musicians studying at the Guildhall School. How should / will the orchestra develop? What are the next steps? What should the orchestra of the 21st century look like? How can we maximise on the possibilities offered by working in partnership, for example drawing in the expertise of the Barbican and Guildhall School to develop collaborative performance projects with other art forms. What training do we need to provide to help create more flexible orchestral musicians (both aspiring and professional)?

Session 2. Economies, ‘Leadership’ (Chair: Roddy Hawkins, University of Leeds)

Iconic Values and Cultural Engagement: the Hoffman Report and the ‘London’ Orchestras
Stephen Cottrell, Goldsmiths, University of London

In this paper I shall take a microhistorical view of the 1993 Arts Council report into the funding of London’s orchestra, produced by a committee chaired by Sir Leonard Hoffman. I shall consider what this report reveals about the relationship existing at that time between the London orchestras, the State (as represented by funding bodies such as Arts Councils), and the local, national and international constituencies that the orchestras were seen to serve. I shall particularly consider notions of iconic value and cultural engagement, drawing on Marcia Herndon’s 1988 paper which reviews similar issues in relation to the Oakland Symphony Orchestra.

Outside In and Inside Out: the implications of ‘leadership from within’ on the modern conductor’s role
Leslie Lewis, Royal Holloway, University of London

The aim of this presentation is to exemplify and examine the implications of ‘leadership from within’ or ’emerging leadership’ on the modern conductor’s role. Because this intricate and complex style of leadership manifests as a response to complex problems that occur in the performance situation, itself a web of relationships between score/work, ensemble members, and conductor, it is often difficult not only to quantify, but also to perceive. This presentation simplifies this complexity somewhat by limiting its lens of inquiry to the non-sounding coordinative function of musical leadership, a function that I will demonstrate exists across settings even if it is most often identified with conductors. Recent case study material from the Britten Sinfonia is presented to exemplify this dynamic of ’emerging leadership’ and the theoretical work of Hackman is drawn upon to help understand the larger implications of the conductor’s role eclipsing ‘leadership functions’ shared across personnel.

Session 3. Communities, Sustainability (Chair: Shzr Ee Tan, Royal Holloway, University of London)

Stokowski’s South American Adventure – 1940
John Cowley, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

A renowned conductor and experimentalist, who championed new music and novel modes of orchestral presentation, Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) fulfilled two longstanding objectives in 1940. The first was to raise from scratch a Youth Orchestra of talented yet inexperienced players and, after but two weeks of full rehearsal, to take them on a prestigious tour as a fully-fledged professional unit. He allied this purpose with the U.S. Administration’s ‘Good Neighbour’ policy towards South America; a strategy that became particularly pressing following the advent of the Second World War in Europe, in September 1939, when there was a potential for the United Sates to be outflanked from the south. In addition to the ‘good will’ he believed a series of concerts by the Youth Orchestra would generate, Stokowski held that the study and exchange of recordings of indigenous folk and popular music between the two sub-continents would be equally beneficial. From the onset of his project in late 1939, therefore, he announced an intention of making recordings of these various styles in all the countries his Youth Orchestra would visit during its tour of South America and the Caribbean. The endeavour was highly unusual for its time (the pioneering orchestra, for example, included young women and at least one black musician; auditions were held across the country to make the unit as ethically representative as possible). Examination of such particulars throws light on the methods the conductor used to achieve his intentions, as well as details of the course of the tour (which has remained under reported) and the potential of the special recordings of local music, most of which are undocumented and appear to be lost.

The LSO Gamelan
Andrew Channing, LSO Gamelan

A presentation on the LSO Gamelan leading into general discussion on gamelan practice in global contexts.

The London Symphony Orchestra on becoming LSO Live
Ananay Aguilar, Royal Holloway, University of London

Throughout my doctoral research I have explored the values and discourses of classical music in relation to its recording practices. Recording practices have been broadly defined, and include –but are not limited to– engineers’ recording techniques, current marketing strategies and the management of rights. The current transformations of the music industry, with the shift from physical discs to digital formats, the reduction in production and distribution costs, and the subsequent change in consumption patterns and accompanying legislation, provide an exceptionally rich arena for discussing the current state of classical music. Throughout the season 2007/2008, I undertook fieldwork with the London Symphony Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, when it performed and recorded all Mahler symphonies for its label LSO Live. Through observations of and interviews with the LSO’s musicians, engineers and staff, I sought to trace the spaces where the values of classical music were negotiated on a daily basis. In this paper I address the pressures that were brought to bear upon the orchestra since owning the label. I will discuss the changes on the musician’s schedules and practices, decisions regarding recording techniques and sound manipulation, and more wide-ranging strategies in response to the transforming record industry. I will argue that, under the rapidly changing circumstances, the values of classical music, as reproduced by the LSO, provide a sense of stability and continuity.

Session 4. Environments, Technologies (Chair: Tina K. Ramnarine, Royal Holloway, University of London)

The Fragmented Orchestra: Spiking Neurons and Sonic Spaces
John Matthias, University of Plymouth and Nick Ryan, Music Sound Design Consultancy

The Fragmented Orchestra (Jane Grant, John Matthias and Nick Ryan) is a huge sound-installation and distributed musical instrument, which was the winner of the PRS Foundation New Music Award 2008 and was first realised between December 12th 2008 and February 22nd 2009 at 24 sites around the UK and FACT (Foundation of Art and Creative Technology) in Liverpool. In the work, audio is transmitted from the 24 sites over the internet to a central computer. The 24 channels of audio stimulate 24 artificial cortical spiking neurons, which process and granulate the audio. The processed audio is transmitted to 24 speakers at a central space, the project website and back to the 24 sites. We will discuss the development of the work, considering, in particular Threshold by Jane Grant and Cortical Songs by John Matthias and Nick Ryan and also introduce the ’24 Fragments’ event, in which the 24 sites were nodes for 24 hours of performance and improvisation on February 24th 2009. We will consider the relationships between stimulation, inter-neuronal plasticity and public interaction inherent in the work, and briefly consider the possibility of a new Neuronal Music Technology.