Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In Training - The Remix Competition is here!

I am so excited - the In Training remix competition went live on our website today!

Following the lead of DJ Excalibah, who remixed an NLO recording for Newham's Ascension Eagles Cheerleaders to perform to at the In Training event, you can now go to and download for free an excerpt of Mozart's Symphony 41 (one of the pieces we will be playing at the In Training concert).

You can then do whatever you like to it; remix it into a piece of any style and post it as a response to our video on our YouTube channel at

I'm really excited to see what people will do with it...the winning entry will be played at the concert on June 9 so make sure you're there!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Step into 'our world'

I was watching the TV this morning as I was getting ready to go to a meeting at Stratford Circus (the venue for our forthcoming Carnival of the Animals concert on 14th May) and saw this advert come up after my usual daily dose of BBC Breakfast. I couldn't have been more horrified.

"Step into our world" says the narrator, advertising Radio 3's Handel Week as two women step in and out of a circle which plays classical music to them from a hidden speaker (click on the link above to see it yourself). 'Our world'?! What does that mean?! I don't think I could think of a more divisive, patronising slogan if I tried. What happened to trying to engage audiences at an open level? Surely in order to broaden our audience we need to be creating an image of classical music which expresses the inclusive experience it offers and letting people know it's something that everyone can enjoy. I can't imagine this advert will endear anybody to log on and listen to Radio 3. 'Step into our world' just goes to highlight the already evident opinion that exists that people who listen to classical music are from a different 'world'. The comment from BumberClott on the link I've supplied here speaks volumes about how this advert will be perceived - "Oh no, radio 3, don't get me started... snobby music and toffee-nosed presenters make me vomit."

I'm sorry Radio 3, I listen to you most days of the week, but this advert has really got my blood boiling.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dumbing down...hmmm...

As I sat on the tube home on Thursday evening, flicking through one of the free evening papers, I came across the small column that invites readers to email in responses to the question of the day. The question of that day was 'Should Goldie be at the Proms?'

Two respondents replied positively, but one replied vehemently in the negative. Her argument (in as much as she could make one in the bite sized emails that are printed) was that drum and bass has no place at the proms and that it was 'dumbing down'.

As I understood the situation, Goldie's composition is in fact a non-drum-and-bass orchestral piece and so there won't be any drum and bass at the proms at all, whether out of place or otherwise (maybe there should be - another discussion for another time and something we may come back to quite soon in fact in relation to our forthcoming concerts). In any event, need the two be mutually exclusive? One of the many things that Goldie is noted for is his use of strings and influence of symphonic textures and structures; that he cites Górecki as the composer that got him into classical music is not entirely surprising when you listen to tracks like Timeless, Mother etc. Given that the work in question is not D&B I can only assume this respondent wrote 'drum and bass has no place at the proms' but in fact meant 'drum and bass musicians have no place at the proms'.

Surely it is possible for musicians to work in more than one genre? Surely musicians, and in fact anyone, can enjoy more than one genre ? (I know I do). The implication here seems to be that because Goldie has had a career in D&B we are free to make assumptions about the quality of his work and his ability to write in different styles - I haven't heard the piece yet so I wouldn't write it off purely on the basis that it is written by someone who comes from a different musical background.

The more worrying element is the need to associate certain types of music with certain societal groupings. We're all aware of the stereotypes. They do still exist (see Tom Service's article that we discussed here recently) and they seem to be being perpetuated. However, I work for an orchestra while my friend DJs on a hip-hop radio station. When people see us in the street together they don't stop and stare at what an odd couple we make (maybe because we actually look, dress & speak relatively similarly). But then our musical backgrounds are almost identical, from playing in the same youth orchestras to going to the same club nights.

We spend quite some time here asking 'how can we get audiences to classical concerts and engage people in classical music?'. We'll have a tough job when 'outsiders' are continually being pushed away and rejected. In Goldie's own words ''Drum and bass has always been a misunderstood genre. It has always put outsiders off. Unless you're a specialist, you think it's not for you. And classical is the same."

And what is dumbing down anyway? (that's not a rhetorical question - I would love to know people's different thoughts!) I'm not sure I actually have a set definition. I think I know it when I see it. Where is the line between making accessible and dumbing down?

Timeless is a 21 minute 3-part work. Mother is a 1 hour long work for 30 piece orchestra. It has had many accusations levelled at it: pretentious, self-indulgent, overly ambitious, pointless because nobody has that attention span...I don't think dumbing down is one of them though.

I've read at least one article that claims Mother could even be described as contemporary classical music (the veracity of which is another long discussion in itself). If that is true, then I wonder whether in some quarters there might be a further period-based-hierarchy within classical music.

To end on a positive note, I will look forward to hearing Goldie's new work and here's to the many things we are doing to try and break down some of the barriers mentioned!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

YPIA drinks

Vicky and I attended Young People in the Arts drinks last night. It was great to see some old faces as well as to meet some new faces - lots of interesting conversations were had throughout the evening and it was really good to hear some other perspectives on many of the conversations we've been having here.
Thanks to everyone at YPIA for organising the evening.
Again, some photos on facebook!

Camden Council Homeless Households

Yesterday was the last session in our series of workshops with Camden Council Homeless Households. It's been a great project and it's always been a total highlight of my day whenever I've gone along to sessions. Massive thank yous to our brilliant musicians Dave, Lucy, Carolyn, Aga, Orphy and Adrian and also to the wonderful staff at Camden, especially Shaun, Richard and Gerard.

We recorded some of the work from these sessions and I'll be putting some tracks up today at and on our facebook page (please become a fan if you aren't one already!) and some photos later in the week. Do have a listen!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Peter and the Wolf - what did you think?

At our recent Peter & the Wolf concert we asked the audience to fill in some questionnaires - we got some interesting and encouraging responses...

How much did you enjoy the concert?

1 (didn't like it) 0%
2 0%
3 6%
4 45%
5 (loved it) 48%

What was your favourite piece?
The top answers were...

Prokofiev - Peter and the Wolf 28%
Godfrey - Dance no 3 27%
Faure - Pavane 20%
Mozart - Overture to the Marriage of Figaro 16%

It's really important to us that we play new music, whether that's a premiere or a performance of music that is rarely performed and so new to audiences, so it was great to see Godfrey's Dance no 3 being rated so highly.

How many other classical music events have you been to in the last 12 months in East London?

0 68%

1-2 24%

3-6 7%

7+ 1%

Would you like to see more classical music events like this in East London?

Yes 90%

No 0%

No opinion 10%

Thank you for coming to the concert and also for responding to our survey to the 35% of the audience that live in Newham, the 19% that live in Tower Hamlets, 1% in Greenwich, 4% in Waltham Forest, 6% from Hackney, 3% from Barking & Dagenham and 32% of the audience that live in other boroughs. Hope to see you all again soon!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Technology crazy! Making concerts accessible.

Hi followers!

The New London Orchestra office has been going technology crazy today as we've been brainstorming ways to get new media into our concert series in East London. We know the standard classical concert format is getting tired and isn't relevant to a younger generation that we want to see excited by classical music. We've already introduced new venues (Stratford Rex the nightclub for a start), got rid of DJs and all black outfits for the orchestra, we've made our programme notes easy to understand and introduced a musical-terms glossary. But we really want to do more than that.

For Carnival of the Animals on the 14th May, we want to do more to make the concert accessible. At Peter & the Wolf we surveyed the audience using paper questionnaires and also an online version available the day after, emailed to their accounts. We got some great feedback and particularly about the pieces that people enjoyed in the concert. So we thought - can't we get the audience to vote there and then for the piece they want at the end of the concert? And what's the easiest way to do this?! On a clever Text Poll! Introduced to me by DK at Media Snackers (check out for excellent tips and cool media tools!), SMS Poll will hopefully enable us to do a really quick poll during the interval so the audience choose what they want to hear performed as the finale.

Whilst we've got the use of a screen and projector, we want to display some other images during the concert, reflecting the piece and adding another dimension to the performance. If pop acts and bands can have images and videos playing whilst they give a concert, why shouldn't we?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Shutting children out of classical music? Not us!

Tom Service is arguing that not learning an instrument means that less young people go to classical music concerts. Do you agree? Do you have to play or have played an instrument at some stage in your life to attend and appreciate a classical music concert? Thoughts please!

Here's what Julian Knight (the New London Orchestra's Executive Manager) said in reply:

Dear Tom,
I read with interest your article entitled “Why we are shutting children out of classical music”, and agree with your bleak assessment of the state of music provision in schools across England especially with regards the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. Although the many government initiatives you mention will increase access to music-making in schools, these programmes do little to address the problem of individual instrumental tuition. You are right to draw the comparison between playing an instrument and attending classical concerts – I am sure that the more people who learn, the greater our future audiences will be – but there are other ways we, as classical performers, can attract younger people to our concerts.

The New London Orchestra is not alone in delivering a wide range of musical experiences within schools: our own projects use music as a tool to enhance learning in the key subjects of Literacy and Maths. However, there is little evidence that the education projects taking place across the orchestral sector over the last decade have yet had much impact in reducing the average age of the concert-goer, although anything that successfully engages young people with classical music can only be a good thing. We need to look at the concerts themselves.

Two weeks ago the New London Orchestra performed in a nightclub in Newham in east London, a venue more commonly associated with hiphop and dance nights (and, unfortunately, stabbings and shootings). We brought in an audience of more than 500 people of mixed ages from primary school children to older people, most of whom had never attended a classical concert before. 90% said they would like to see more such concerts in their area (there is currently no regular series of orchestral concerts in Newham and no concert hall anywhere in the area). This concert was part of the Orchestra’s long-term community involvement programme in Newham, and was presented from the stage by Artistic Director Ronald Corp. Over the next few years we plan to experiment with other simple ways to change the classical concert experience from being one that is perceived as intimidating to the uninitiated, to an experience that feels accessible, relaxed, and fun. These changes to the format or ‘feel’ of a concert need not be expensive – and need not involve any artistic ‘dumbing-down’.

I am not suggesting that all orchestras in the UK should adopt a different approach to concert-giving overnight: there is still a market need for the ‘traditional’ concert. But a fresh look at the way of presenting and programming some of our concerts – and where they happen – will start to change the demographic of audiences.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Knight

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Live from the Barbican!

Hello followers!

I'm here at the Barbican, just writing a quick blog before the orchestra go on stage. Tonight we're performing Elgar - The Apostles with the Highgate Choral Society who are celebrating their 130th Anniversary Season. It's a huge work and the orchestra is pretty large too, the biggest I've had to fix so far. However we did manage to get everyone on stage (and rather a lot of percussion and percussionists in a very small space!) and the rehearsal went well. There are always issues with trying to raise players of wind and brass up a level above string players, so they don't get a loud instrument in their ear, but today it's been tough as we're also on stage with 180 singers. Healthy Orchestras are a huge talking point at the moment, check out the ABO's website about it:

Another unusual thing to deal with today has been the 'shofar' which is listed in the instrumentation for The Apostles. I have discovered on my quest to find a player and an instrument for this part that Elgar apparently wrote 'shofar' but when he first heard it performed on the instrument, thought it sounded horrendous - quite like a squeaky door or something equally unmusical! He eventually established what he really meant was a 'Jerusalem Fanfare Trumpet' which is essentially a 6ft long metal tube, played using a trumpet mouthpiece. I tracked down someone who had one of these, and coerced Simon Gabriel into playing it!! So thanks Simon, and also well played! Simon has only two passages in the piece to play, but both times he enters at the top of the stage and has a spotlight on him, pretty intimidating.

Anyway, I had better get on backstage and make sure everyone is okay. Most of the musicians have disappeared off for dinner and are just starting to arrive back ready for the concert. I'll post some photos from my mobile tomorrow!

PS. Absolutely LOVE soloist Peter Savidge's voice!