Last week Lark Music attended the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) conference in Manchester. Executive Director David Foster and Client Director Julie Webb were there to make friends, build relationships and deepen their understanding of the challenges facing orchestras in the 21 Century.
The topics discussed were as diverse as the types of musical organisations represented at the conference, from The Glasgow Barons, an ensemble working with asylum seekers in the toughest parts of Glasgow, to the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The arts council were well represented in Manchester and a key message is ‘arts for everyone’. Claire Mera-Nelson spoke passionately about their new 10-year vision for a country where “each of us is valued and given the chance to flourish and where every one of us has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences“. There was a clear challenge for the orchestral sector to seek wider and new audiences and to continue to demonstrate relevance to 21st Century life. The arts council are clearly focussed on the accessibility of the arts to all, and many orchestras are engaged in fantastic outreach, education, and community work, much of which goes unsung. Lucy Geddes, Head of learning at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic highlighted some of the unsung work orchestras do in communities: “Orchestral musicians show the best of themselves when sound social care and community work”.
It seemed to us that fundamental to this vision of arts for everyone is an education system that values the arts, particularly the musical arts, and instrumental teaching. It is widely accepted that music education is in a state of decline in secondary schools, and data shows that numbers for those taking music at GSCE continue to fall. Until this is addressed, can art truly be for everyone?
There was some reassurance for music educators as Helen Whately MP spoke of a planned “refresh of the national plan for music”. However, in another session, new statesmen political editor Stephen Bush commented that whilst the arts should not expect “hostility from the Government” there may be a lack of “headspace given to the musical arts” given the other challenges faced.
The various conference sessions highlighted the diverse range of challenges faced by modern orchestras from funding, to the charge of elitism, to how orchestras access new and different audiences. It also showed the energy, creativity, and compassion of a sector keen to adapt, grow, change and to challenge the usual perceptions about classical music.
Brexit continues to challenge the orchestral community with regard to free movement of labour post December 2020. Helen Whately MP reassured delegates that the Government “understands the importance for musicians to tour in Europe”. However, it was also clear that until negotiations begin, there is no clarity on what the post Brexit travel environment will be. With the almost inevitable loss of the reciprocal European Health Insurance Card, adequate travel insurance becomes a must for the touring orchestra. Musicians will probably also need to ensure they have a Carnet “or passport for goods” next year, plus the necessary paperwork or certification for CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species).
We left Manchester and the ABO proud to work with such a dynamic, creative and independent-minded group of people, but with an increased awareness of the challenges faced by the modern orchestra.
Lark Music is committed to the musical arts, and the orchestral sector and supports a wide variety of musical entities including the London Sinfonietta, the ABO and the Musicians Company.