I’m in my eleventh week at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and I’m loving it! Recently, I went to the BSO’s very own Proms in the Park staged over three days in Meyrick Park, Bournemouth. This fun-filled 48 hr period included meeting the private donors contributing a significant amount against a backdrop of fab music played by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Spread over three evenings, of which I attended two, the repertoire consisted of John Williams’ film hits on the first night, and then the Rock & Symphonic Queen Spectacular on the second. Both of the evenings were quite different.
The opportunity of meeting the donors was what drew me towards attending the first night to thank them personally for their support of not only my conducting, but of the BSO’s drive to making the classical music world more diverse. If I’m honest, there was a small wave of lumpy-throat syndrome going on beneath my smiling face for I continue to be touched by their support. That evening also featured guests such as Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a number of Storm Troopers, who were meandering around the grounds for photo opportunities at the request of punters.
Although I normally remain non-plussed by people depicting fictional characters, I suddenly devolved into a smallish child and had my photo taken with all of them. I wasn’t too ashamed as I was joined by Dougie Scarfe (the CEO of BSO) who was equally, if not more, excited to meet Darth Vader.
The second evening was just as much fun, but for different reasons. I decided to go to the Rock & Symphonic Queen Spectacular at the very last minute after having a brilliant time the night before. As a result, I was there on my own accord just to enjoy the concert whilst other BSO people were looking after the VIP tent around me. After a while, I volunteered to help people from the Development team to bring further supplies into the tent from a delivery vehicle that wasn’t allowed beyond the car park. This might sound pretty dull to you but this was an opportunity to get to know some of the team more organically whilst feeling that I was contributing something to the evening rather than draining the free bar! The two days were busy but fun at the same time, contributing further to establishing myself as part of the BSO.
The call-out for expressions of interest for the composer-in-residence closes on 1st September. Over the past weeks, it has been interesting speaking to different composers and answering their questions before they submit their responses to the call-out. The top question asked has focused on the type of composer we’re looking for.
It is expected that the chosen person will be writing for new instruments. Therefore, we are on the hunt for someone with the flexibility and the ingenuity to compose new music whilst including references to the classical music tradition. This may include adapting conventions or inventing new ones within their composition process in order to cater for new instruments. Depending upon the formation of the ensemble, compositions may need to be written around the instrumentalists’ needs, fostering a close relationship between composer and musicians.
One of the key things I want to ensure is that there is some kind of cultural transference within pieces for established classical audiences; for existing players to embrace and celebrate the new instrumentation and a more diversified musicianship. By this, I mean that there is some familiarity to music past, possibly with signifiers from established repertoire with which people can immediately identify. How many pieces? I don’t know as this will depend on the selected composer and the dialogue thereafter to ensure organic and meaningful music.
Another question I am asked a lot is about the size of ensemble. The maximum number of musicians in an ensemble performance at any one time will be five but with a flexibility to play in a smaller configuration if needed. The BSO reaches out to the maximum number of people possible. However, it is not always practical for a venue to host a full-sized orchestra. Therefore, the BSO Ensembles, of which there are four (soon to be five!) offer a way for smaller groups of musicians from the BSO to perform at cosier venues.
Personality of the composer is key. This is a serious mission but it needs to be fun as well and in-line with a can-do attitude (cliché sounding tone is unintended). This is to maximise the creative potential of everyone involved whilst conveying coherent messages to audiences (whatever these may be!). The aim is to inspire but with skill, talent and ingenuity as opposed to resorting to stereotypes attached to social categorisations!