Developing orchestras: models and trends
Developing orchestras: models and trends

Developing orchestras: models and trends

Annual Conference
Developing orchestras: models and trends

15th – 17th March 2019


by Juan Rojas-Castillo

This year, the annual global conference of WFAO, hosted by the Singapore National Youth Orchestra pointed out the models and trends of developing amateur orchestral practice in different countries. During three days, we had the opportunity to know more about the work of the following organisations: the BDLO (Bundesverband DeutscherLiebhaberorchester) from Germany, the Dresden University Orchestra, the UNOF (Norwegian Youth Orchestra Association), AIMA from Italy, the VLAMO from Belgium, the Philharmonic Orchestra Society, the Braddel Heights Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the music makers, and the Kids Philharmonic from Singapore, the Toyohashi Symphony Orchestra from Japan, the Asia-Pacific Youth Symphony Orchestra from Hong Kong, the South Asia Symphony Orchestra from India, and the North-American Medical Orchestra. 

Despite of the fact that every context varies from Norway to Singapore, some practices are really inspiring to continue working on the future of amateur practice in classical music. Based on the model applied during the conference, this short document present to you the most relevant points of this conference concerning mission statements, funding, programming mix, audiences and development, success and challenges. 

Strategies within the orchestras

Concerning the mission statement of the orchestras, it is interesting to understand how mission keep its primary values and also, how it evolves to respond to a dynamic context of classical music development, nowadays. Amateur orchestras continue promoting the education, the musical excellence and the idea of music for everyone; but also, they assume a clear position on creating immersive learning experiences for performers but also for audiences. They also aim to consolidate a platform for talented musicians to expand their horizons and to develop new skills, particularly in Norway and Singapore, where they develop entrepreneurial and business skills in musicians to teach them how to run an orchestra. The bigger associations like the BDLO in Germany strengthen their mission cooperating with large-scale institutions to influence the cultural-policy making. 

In terms of funds, public funding is still high in some countries, depending on each type of organisation. For orchestras and associations, it represents 40% in Singapore, 63% in Norway, and in particular cases, 20% in Germany or 27% in Japan; or even, Italy with no government support, where they finance their activities just with membership fees and partnerships. So, funding depends on the organisation’s size, objectives and plans for the future. However, it is a fact that it appears a growing interest on developing new sources of funding, particularly with corporate donors but a concern about how to approach this corporate world in order to succeed, how to share and pair values from music practice and the corporations. In fact, some sponsors like Société Génerale in France establish their politics of grants and sponsorship based on shared values between their enterprise and the classical music practice. 

How to programme, and how to attract new audiences

For programming mix, orchestras are already working on diversify the formats of concert, doing collaborative productions, exploring new approaches like storytelling and theatre, but they are also, first, questioning the idea of growing with tickets revenue which is not enough even if it is important to conceive new productions to develop audiences; and second, how to consolidate these actions taking into account that amateur orchestras are not permanent and so, the work should be done in three or four concerts per year. A special highlight is the non-stop work with Singaporean composers in Singapore, where amateur orchestras are engaged to perform but also to commission a Singaporean composer every year. Contemporary music has not been included on programming mix of different orchestras, it is relevant to take into account that the development of contemporary music ensembles could open possibilities to attract new audiences and create new projects. A specific example of a contemporary music project on the psychiatric hospital of Lyon in France has been recalled to illustrate how it could also, facilitates the research of venues and places to rehearse. 

There is a common goal on amateur and youth orchestras tending to attract the non-frequent concertgoers with the idea of conceiving an experience for people, in terms of repertoire (composer themed concerts, new year’s concert, family concerts) but also, in some actions like interactive programme notes, pre-concert talks, animated videos and guides to know more about classical music. One example from Singapore has been presented from the Orchestra of the Music Makers, which develops guides to better understand the concerts in a print brochure but also, animated videos on YouTube. Of course, the amateur orchestras continue developing loyalty on their audiences, music lovers, communities, students and families. In Hong Kong, they start working with kids from 4 years old, offering always the opportunity of being soloist and participating in festivals.

Synergies and social development

“… youth orchestras have acquired a mission on educating musicians on management.”

The amateur orchestras’ success have been represented by their ability to work in a high-level practice context, working with renowned musicians, developing activities as formation of choirs and orchestra ensembles, creating synergies and influencing in a regional or national-scale level, and finally, assuming a serious engagement with targeting audiences and creating ideas to develop new audiences; of course, all of that with a non-profit character.

Moreover, specifically, youth orchestras have acquired a mission on educating musicians on management. They are facing a challenge on working with volunteer managers, sometimes untrained or simply non-able to dedicate enough time to administrate the orchestra, to develop funding or to consolidate community outreach programs. During the conference, this point has also allowed to open a discussion about governance of organisations and how musicians could integrate the management team of the orchestras. The idea is to warranty the appropriation of other actions and projects (community outreach, social media strategies, etc) than musical practice, in the performer’s interest. Also, it is relevant to mention how Youth orchestra Festival in Hong Kong develops conferences and working sessions for orchestra’s administrators, besides the concerts, so festivals became also spaces for knowledge transmission and good practices sharing between professionals. 

New technology and opportunities

“… new technologies are also influencing the way of consuming classical music in young audiences today.”

During the performance Side-by-side of Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore National Youth Orchestra with Ray Chen, we have seen how the soloists social-media strategy as an instagramer allows him to build a strong relationship with the audience, maintaining also his high-level artistic performance. It shows how new technologies are also influencing the way of consuming classical music in young audiences today. Furthermore, it is interesting to point out that amateur orchestras and organisations participating to the conference are also working on it, from the creation of a platform in Norway for training musicians on organisational skills, to the creation of a blog in Italy to keep communication with amateur performers and offer them tools and contents or the digitalisation of scores in Germany to offer them as a library service for amateur orchestras in a national-scale. New technologies and social media strategy represent a relevant challenge for the future. 

Finally, it remains to mention the interest of participants on how to keep youth involve with classical music and orchestral practice, how to reinforce the cooperation with schools, and, how amateurs and professionals could co-exist. This relationship with professional orchestras and academies represents one of biggest points of interest for the future, how to involve professionals on accompanying amateur practice and how amateur orchestras could also inspire them to develop new audiences and to create innovative models.


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