ABO Conference 2018 highlights

The Orchestras Live team joined industry colleagues at the Association of British Orchestras annual conference at the end of January.  Inspired by the sector conversation, we asked the team for their highlights.


Stuart Bruce, Partnership Manager

(c) Paul CoghlinThe flying visit to Cardiff was well worthwhile, seeing familiar faces, connecting with new people, and getting a sense of the live issues running through the sector. I was inspired most by hearing about the great work being done by the New Wolsey Theatre and The Paraorchestra, which resonated with our own work with Able Orchestra and the development of Deaf & Disabled music leaders.

This quote from the session has stayed with me: “Denying people with disabilities a place in the industry because they happen to not conform to existing stereotypes is losing out on a raft of talent and possibilities.”

Read more about The Paraorchestra here



Jan Ford, Partnership Manager

Locked away for a day in the Millennium Centre in Cardiff with the classical music industry I was struck by how many ‘non-classical’ people I met.

It was great to bump into Michele Taylor and to hear all about Ramps on the Moon and to catch up with Rob Adeiran from London Music Masters and enter the debate about inclusivity -versus- diversity and how to counter unconscious bias.

I was inspired by the Octagon Theatre and Royal Exchange Manchester and their truly audience-led programmes where the audience is curating their own cultural journey and coming away with new ideas and books like The Art of Relevance on order.

Read more about You, The Audience action research at the Royal Exchange Theatre here.


Sarah Derbyshire, Chief Executive

It was good to revisit topics that have been covered in previous conferences and look at what progress has been made. This is a key role of the conference, as I see it: not just shining the spotlight and moving on but providing a forum to question, evaluate and celebrate when achievements have been made.

Particular sessions where I felt that stood out were, Diversity in Action: One Year On – an opportunity to review and reflect but also look at other approaches – Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and new initiatives – Harrison Parrott’s new scheme to sign women composers and support ‘Equality on the Podium’. As a result people begin to feel that the contribution they’re making in their own organisation is more joined up with others and momentum builds.

In the space of a year, the sector seems to have started to engage with a much broader definition of diversity – gender, disability, ethnicity, class. Not so much about ‘why’ we need to work differently, more about ‘how’ that’s happening and ‘when’.

Perhaps by 2018 the general assumption will be that diversity equals creativity.

Read more about Equality on the Podium here.


Simone Willis, Trustee of Orchestras Live

We were delighted that member of our board, Simone Willis, was able to make the time to join us for the conference this year. We asked her to reflect on the ideas circulating from a trustee perspective.

This was my first time attending the ABO conference, which was held in my home city, Cardiff.

The theme of the conference was “Collaboration”, immediately evident as our joint hosts – BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Welsh National Opera and Sinfonia Cymru – welcomed delegates to the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay. The workshops were interspersed with performances from these three groups, reminding us that music is at the heart of what we do.

The “Collaboration” theme felt particularly relevant for me, as a trustee of Orchestras Live, since it is a key principle of the work carried out by Orchestras Live – from collaborating with musicians, to communities, to education. Equality and diversity also featured on the programme, showing that we all need to think creatively and collaborate with those we may not traditionally think of engaging with the orchestral sector.

International Collaboration was high on the agenda, accompanied by the known unknowns of Brexit. However, international visitors were keen to forge relationships and highlighted the resiliency of British orchestras. That evening featured a reception in the impressive Senedd building, followed by a joint concert of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, now in its 90th year, and the Welsh National Opera Orchestra.

I was especially interested to attend a session on musicians’ health and well-being as I’m focusing on this topic in my current PhD. It was fascinating to hear about work from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic where recent developments have seen orchestra members working with sports psychologists and physiotherapists to develop an environment that is conducive to the performance pressures musicians face. Participants were keen for best practice to be shared amongst the industry to better support musicians in the work they do.

A stand out session was delivered by the ABO Find Your Way cohort, which is made up of six up-and-coming leaders in the orchestral field. Together, they presented some challenging ideas, beginning with an Arts Index fact, which states that only 37% of the UK population believe culture is a valid use of tax-payers’ money. This figure is currently falling, and they argued for drastic innovation if the orchestral sector is to survive. They highlighted the need for collaboration on a number of levels: with non-traditional brand partners, such as the fashion industry, between orchestras, and within organisations. These future leaders brought into focus the changing nature of the economy and the drive towards consumers purchasing “experiences”. Experiences are inherent within the orchestral concert format and it’s important to effectively communicate these stories to audiences in a way they can relate to, whether that involves incorporating digital media or engaging young people in the narratives that frequently accompany compositions.

Expertly demonstrating the spirit of collaboration, Sinfonia Cymru gave an innovative performance, which showcased the abilities of young musicians to curate an engaging performance offering something different to the traditional concert. The performance featured Birdsong, bilingual songs in English and Welsh, sung by the mesmerising Kizzy Crawford with musicians from Sinfonia Cymru. This was meshed together with video installation (and Sinfonia Cymru IPA beer!) – not only creating the sounds of the forest but visually representing them too.

Coming back to my trustee perspective, I was struck by how many sessions at the ABO Conference were aligned with the work of Orchestras Live: a session on Collaborative Learning explored the need for young people to curate concerts, develop openness and trust to explore new ideas, and for organisations to build effective partnerships that are more than the sum of their parts. At Orchestras Live we believe that collaboration is essential to the survival of the orchestral sector and ensuring its relevance to society necessitates a diversity in the partners we collaborate with: from audiences, to education establishments, to promoters, to orchestras, the act of creating music is a collaborative process.

Simone Willis joined the Orchestras Live board in 2016.  She currently teaches violin and flute for South Gloucestershire Music Hub, and Cardiff Music School. Simone is currently an MPhil/PhD candidate at Cardiff Metropolitan University, researching musicians’ well-being. Her research interests include performance psychology, stress, and well-being, and she is particularly interested in developing strategies that will enhance musicians’ well-being.


Read more about Orchestras Live team here and the ABO conference here.