Classical:NEXT day three &#8210 Classical in Brazil, the future for composers, big data, and co-op record labels

- 17 May 2014

Phillip Sommerich reports from the third day of events at Classical:NEXT 2014

Classical in Brazil: Booming but under the radar

Heloisa Fischer: Brazil's classical industry is secretly booming Photo: Leonardo Aversa

Heloisa Fischer: Brazil’s classical industry is secretly booming
Photo: Leonardo Aversa

Brazil’s classical music scene is expanding rapidly in harmony with its booming economy &#8210 but that is a secret, according to Heloisa Fischer, founder of VivaMusica magazine.

She told a conference on Brazil that opened day three of Classical:NEXT that the sector does not publish data on box office receipts or audiences numbers. ‘Some organisations do analyse their results but they keep it in-house and don’t share the results.’

When she launched her magazine in November 1994 she listed 51 concerts in Rio, while for May 2014 that figure was 204.

However, Brazil’s cultural hub is Sao Paulo, which produces a third of the country’s gross national product. The number of orchestras, festivals, operas and social projects has risen sharply in recent years, reflecting the wealth of local sponsors there, while in Rio local government tended to be less generous, she said.

Classical music receives little coverage in the country, she said, with just two monthly music magazines and one newspaper in Rio covering the sector, but there were local and national radio stations devoted to music and an arts tv channel.

The sector made little use of social media and the top three orchestras had fewer than 1,000 subscribers each.

Leandro Carvalho said that when he founded the Mato Grosso State Orchestra 10 years ago that remote region had no classical music following. Today there are several cities with populations above 50,000, the orchestra has given 600 concerts, worked with 300 schools and 1,800 teachers, released nine albums and four DVDs.

‘There is an avid audience for whatever music reaches their hearts.’

Most of Brazil’s 26 states and the federal region had at least one orchestra, he said.

David Chew said that when he left the cello section of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1981 to live in Brazil it was ‘like jumping off an express train on to the platform’.

He decided to use his talent to work with deprived children and set up the Rio International Cello Encounter (RICE), which cultivates local creativity and arranges visits by top foreign artists.

Such has been its success that harp and woodwind festivals are planned and he intends to have 2,016 children playing classical music as part of the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

Who’s listening? And what’s going on?

ABO abroad: Mark Pemberton Photo: Joe Plommer

ABO abroad: Mark Pemberton
Photo: Joe Plommer

Mark Pemberton, director of the Association of British Orchestras, cited a recent concert outing with a newcomer to classical music as a lesson in what changes are needed.

In a conference titled ‘Who’s Listening?’ he described how his companion had been bewildered to see a group of people straggle on stage to fading applause, followed by another person who received slightly more enthusiasm and then another person was greeted with an ovation.

His companion said: ‘Why don’t they say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra”, then “Please welcome the leader of the orchestra”, then “Please welcome the conductor”? Tell them what on Earth is going on?’

Mr Pemberton added: ‘That was a rather good question.’

What’s Next for Composers?

The Beethovenian image of composers with furrowed brows expending their creativity on sheets of paper was not how three speakers saw themselves in speaking on ‘What’s Next for Composers?’.

‘The idea of the composer as some kind of hero receiving inspiration and putting it down on paper is a view that is incredibly out of date,’ said Richard Barrett.

In fact, he rejected the term classical music as something to be admired. ‘I have never described anything I would do as classical &#8210 that word seems to have an air of mustiness about it. When you are talking about Mozart, I see no reason to describe his music as classical.

‘That word has a dustiness about it. A lot can be achieved by being more loose about how we describe things.’

That looseness fits Elisabeth Harnik’s style of composing. Many of her works are based on improvisation. But if she was commissioned by performers not used to improvisation, she worked within their confort zone. ‘My works can be performed in the Musikverein one day and the next in a club.’

She has recently been working on a piece for a gamelan ensemble based in Graz.

Digital lessons: cutting through the clutter

‘Big data’ has been a catchphrase at Classical:NEXT, leaving some observers struggling to determine what it is about.

In a conference devoted to the topic, Professor Paul Moore, of the University of Ulster and the Research Centre for Creative Technologies, offered a jargon-strewn explanation.

Digital technology, and social media in particular, had thrown up huge amounts of information, but what musicians should look to use was not the macro data but the granular.

‘It is not about the technology but about the user,’ he said. He cited an example of useful data analysis: Donah Boyd dug behind the headlines about the social media site stimulating a wave of bullying and suicides among girls and found that 62% of the cases were girls bullying themselves. ‘It gave them status among their peer group and sympathy from their friends.’

Similarly, musicians need to sift through data to find how audiences reacted to their performances, what worked and what did not.

Nick Sherrard, head of digital at Sound and Music, said while surveys tried to show what would happen, online data could show what had happened, in anything from ticket sales to audience reaction.

Harnessing social media has been a focus in conference halls and on exhibition stands.

Bernhard Kerres presented Hello Stage, a website that aims to become a hub for classical music professionals. ‘Many musicians spend a lot of money on their websites but unfortunately not many people see them,’ he said.

Hello Stage aimed to cut through the digital clutter by offering a site with separate areas for musicians, ensembles, promoters and managers.

Since launching in January it has offered free registration and trial periods, with a range of subscription packages.

With 1,500 registered users from 134 countries, it hopes to be a one-stop shop for promoters seeking specialists in particular repertoire, artists looking for dates or managers organising tours.

Another presentation featured the Music Animation Machine, billing itself as ‘a GPS for music’.

It offers to translate music into colourful animation, with each note represented by a coloured bar, its height on the screen indicating pitch and its length duration. Different instruments are in contrasting colours.

Devised by Stephen Malinowski, the technique has been used by the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra to enliven concerts, for children’s concerts in Israel and clubs in Switzerland.

Pure Audio is the name being used to seta standard for putting high-quality recordings on to Blu-ray discs. Stefan Bock of the company said 140 labels were taking up the platform, 80% of them in the classical music area. The standard recently gained a boost with the backing of Universal Music. Naxos has yet to be won over, mainly because it uses video extensively on its Blu-ray recordings while Pure Audio stresses that its technology does not require Blu-ray player to be connected to tv sets.

Mr Bock said some Pure Audio supporters did include video, but the emphasis was on the spectacular audio experience offered by the 24-bit/192kHz standard.

A session from Ginny Cooper of New Arts International presented Tunebase, which offers to provide website designs customised not just to the record industry but individual artists’ or labels’ needs.

The software assembles metadata to provide comprehensive information about artist biographies, tour schedules, recordings available in the web shop, Twitter statistics, revenue data and much else.

MeloMe, on show in the exhibition hall as it prepares to launch, offers audio streaming, video on demand and high-quality audio downloads tailored for classical music.

In addition to a database of recordings, MeloMe has liner notes, reviews, live performance schedules and an interactive element for consumer reviews.

On the basis of download records, it will offer recommendations for further listening.

Co-operative record labels

Why should composers or performers start their own recording labels? Not to make money, judging by three speakers at a conference on that subject.

Gabriel Prokofiev: not in it for the money Photo: Alicia Clarke

Gabriel Prokofiev: not in it for the money
Photo: Alicia Clarke

Gabriel Prokofiev, founder of Nonclassical, said he began the label to get his own works recorded but now has several composers on his books but much of releases’ promotion comes through the associated club events.

Marc Tritschler said German label Testklang began in 2000 as ‘an experimental network’ that mainly issued video recordings and worked on a co-operative basis.

John Anderson, general manager of Odradek, outlined a different approach: the 25 individuals signed to the label are a jury who vote on whether new applicants should be allowed to record.

In the audience was Naxos owner Klaus Heymann, clearly irked by the conference’s subtitle: ‘When traditional record company models no longer work, what next?’

He said all three examples outlined represented ‘a crazy system’ and that successful independent labels emerged from the vision of one person rather than collective decisions.

Ageing audiences: ‘Tragedy or Chance’

Much conference talk was devoted to how to attract younger people to classical music, but one session addressed the older generation under the ominous and puzzling title Tragedy or Chance?

Carsten Dürer attempted to fulfil the mission statement by warning that older concert-goers tended to die, as reflected by diminishing attendance figures.

But his partners on the platform were unimpressed. John Gilhooly of Wigmore Hall said his annual attendance tally had gone from 120,000 in 2005 to 200,000 last year. ‘When people tell me the audience is dying, I say the 80,000 more tickets we are selling have to come from somewhere.’

While there was a tendency for older audiences to flock to artists such as András Schiff and younger ones to favour string quartets playing Bartók, he could see no point in trying to woo patrons by age.

Matthias Naske, executive and artistic director of the Vienna Konzerthaus, said matinees and shorter concerts without intermission were popular with the older generation, but these were long-established practices and he saw little scope for other efforts.


This article was amended on 18 May 2014 to remove a quote misatributed to Dr Claire Mera-Nelson

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