Earlier this month, Chief Executive Sarah Derbyshire joined an online panel brought together by the Finnish Institute in London to discuss how the pandemic is impacting on orchestras and their audiences. She reflects on the discussion here.
Recent years have seen musical synergies between Finland and the UK growing ever stronger. We only have to think of Dalia Stasevska conducting the Last Night of the Proms and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra’s appointment of Nicholas Collon as their next Chief Conductor, the first non-Finnish conductor to take on the role.
Off the platform, too, there is a growing momentum to learn from different approaches in each country to develop accessible and inclusive orchestral experiences. I first discovered this during my research for our publication, co-edited with Matthew Swann of City of London Sinfonia, From Bingo to Bartok, looking at Creative and Innovative Approaches to Involving Older People with Orchestras. I discovered that, whilst Finnish and UK orchestras share an ambition to reach and engage an ever wider and more diverse audience they take very different approaches, informed by their different cultural contexts. This offers us a real opportunity to learn from different and complementary approaches and I’ve since been exploring that with creative producers both here and in Finland.
So I was delighted when Emilie Gardberg, Director of the Finnish Institute in London, invited me to join a panel in their ‘Present’ series of online discussions focusing on the future of cultural events programming. Through this series the Institute has brought together Finnish, British and Irish cultural professionals to debate a range of topics; for this event our discussions focused on what we are learning from the current pandemic about ways to connect with audiences beyond the concert hall and what this might tell us about future developments for orchestras and classical music.
Also on the panel were Annika Kukkonen, Education Director of the Helsinki Philharmonic, and Jacqui Cameron, Education Director at Opera North. It was refreshing to share some positive examples about how orchestras have responded to the challenges presented by the pandemic. With conventional concerts and audiences off limits, orchestras in the UK and in Finland have been experimenting with new approaches, pushing forward with digital solutions and reaching completely new participants for online sessions. It’s making us rethink how we connect with audiences and communities and prompting us to involve people much more directly in designing and curating their orchestral experience.
That connection with communities, bringing individuals together in a shared experience, is even more critical now, when the need for and value of the healing power of music has never been more vital. Whether live streaming into wards in the Icelandic National Hospital, creating a chorus of 2000 in Opera North’s “Couch to Choir” or bringing together Manchester Camerata musicians and local residents to create a musical record of Withernsea’s pandemic experience in Orchestras Live’s new Unlocked Voices project: orchestras are starting to look at the world of classical music from a different viewpoint.
As our world is convulsed by the pandemic, new formats and collaborative work have the potential to bring orchestras and audiences much closer together, or ‘tuning in to the same channel’ as Annika put it. Orchestras are changing too, looking outwards, experimenting with new formats and looking at their audiences in new ways. Solutions explored now will have lasting impact, building meaningful links between orchestras and communities and creating new and inclusive ways for us to experience the unforgettable thrill of orchestral music.