In the sixth and final step of our online guide to last Saturday’s CONNECT: The Audience as Artist concert at St John’s Smith Square – and its preceding conference at Southbank – we step back and debrief. In this installment, we hear from Barbara Palczynski. Barbara was the Project Consultant on CONNECT and she has kindly given us an insight into the work that’s gone into such a mammoth project, and her very own step-by-step guide to organising a large-scale project.
ARRANGING YOUR JIGSAW PUZZLE
One of the most rewarding parts of being a Projects Consultant is the variety of work that comes your way. Having spent most of last year colluding with app developers and researchers to build our super successful Clapping Music app, it was quite a contrast to find myself sitting in a board room in the Casa da Música in Porto with the heads of four top European music ensembles, agreeing to oversee a large scale artistic collaboration. The Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne normally offers financial support to new commissions but last year they decided it was time to initiate a new approach, to explore new models of supporting new commissions. They chose to bring together four powerful new music moguls under one umbrella to commission new works from two young composers which would actively engage audience members through sharing ideas in the curation process, creative planning and ultimately through their participation in the final work. A sort of semi-immersive approach to developing new works. My task was to oversee it and ensure a timely delivery.
STEP 1: Write a creative brief – something to give to a wide range of composers whom the group felt capable of working to the specification of involving the audience.
STEP 2: Establish excellent communication – the key to running a smooth project. Getting to know the partners and understanding their different ways of working will help earn their trust. On a large scale project this can be a tall order, with the key players in London Sinfonietta, Remix Ensemble, Ensemble Modern and Asko Schoenberg, spread across four countries, a Swiss foundation, and our eventual composers – one in UK and the other in 3 time zones in New York, Amsterdam and China! Thanks to technology, through Skype, SoundCloud, YouTube, Dropbox and Basecamp, we perused proposals, listened to music, watched clips and Christian Mason and Huang Ruo were chosen as our inaugural composers.
STEP 3: Establish your timescale – ours looked pretty tight – but steadily, with some patience and negotiations of our four seasons and composers’ work schedules, we finally settled on performances in October, November and December 2016 across our four countries. The project was finally a reality – now we just had to ensure we had something to perform!
CREATING A PROJECT IDENTITY
After handing the creative responsibility over to the composers, and once the performance dates are settled, the next step is boring but necessary.
STEP 4: Contracting everything from composers’ commission fees with publishers and agents through to concert and rehearsal venue hire to ensure the nuts and bolts are all in place. This process often takes longer than you would expect, namely because turning around emails with multiple partners and settling on agreements can be a somewhat protracted phase. It’s easy to get bogged down at this stage but you just have to push through.
STEP 5: This step is more fun and gets us straight back into creative mode as we work out a project brand which will include a project name and a logo. It must convey in words the vision of the project, and the logo must encapsulate visually the essence of the project. It’s incredibly important that you get this right. So we are in Donald Draper territory. On this project, we need to find a name which can be understood across Europe. Some early suggestions include words like Refresh, Unite, Transform with straplines like Embracing New Audiences through New Music (too boring), Connecting people through music (too obvious), New Music in Motion (hmm, not sure). Putting U in the Music was clever (thanks @JoRynhold) but in the end the team agreed that it needs to be simple.
So we go with CONNECT: The Audience as Artist. Thanks to @thirty8digital, we work together on a logo to complement the project aims and I find there are about fifty shades of brownish grey to match the foundation’s logo. There are multiple rounds of discussions around fonts – who knew people feel so strongly about these things? Luckily there are some very talented people with an eye for design who are really skilled at this. You need to know where the strengths lie in your team and let them run with their ideas. Steer the ship without micro managing, listen and talk to everyone. Emailing is a very useful way to track conversations but it should not replace actual conversations.
STEP 6: The next step involves thinking about how we will get the brand out there. We write a good PR & Marketing strategy to fit the timeline of the project between all the different stakeholders’ marketing teams and to satisfy the funders. The collaborative aspect of the project is going really well and we are getting to know each other across our different countries.
All that remains now is to make the magic happen.
MAKING THE MAGIC HAPPEN
When I worked at the Philharmonia Orchestra we often referred to the Concerts department as the ‘engine room’ and for good reason. Without the concert, there is no product. So it falls to the concerts department now to take the reigns…
STEP 7: The concerts department were responsible for scoping a workshop and development phase with the composers to enable them to map out their scores. Geographically, it was helpful from the London Sinfonietta perspective that one of our composers Christian Mason lives in the UK and his In the Midst of Sonorous Islands take shape quickly with the team. Technology also allows us good communication with Huang Ruo, and we skype and talk and share vivid ideas about the metaphor of his The Sonic Great Wall. The main aim of this workshop phase is for the composers to explore how best to work with the public and for us to understand more about the ideas the composers are developing and for the players to meet the composer. There are 3 workshops in London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. We learn to blow bottles, jingle the Chinese baoding balls, try different techniques to play harmonicas, recite poetry in different languages and meditate to the distant hum of digeridoos. It is quite mesmerising! It enables us to not only hear some of the composers’ musical ideas, but to film them and interview the audience and gather material for the next piece of the jigsaw.
STEP 8: A promotional video. The extent to which a project benefits from a video is debatable, but certainly having a short promo video that you can direct people to on social media seems to be a very easy way to explain the project. It also acts as a vivid testimonial of our multi-ensemble collaboration. At around this time, we also get a very encouraging piece of news. The Max Planck Institute in Frankfurt are interested in conducting a piece of research around our project, specifically around this question of audience participation. They have funding to support the research and they would like to come to the workshops and and help with the evaluation of the project. We agree unanimously that we want to work with them, and they immediately come on board. This is a great bonus for CONNECT as they are a highly respected academic research body in Germany. Evaluation must form part of every project and we will enjoy working with them after the concerts as well.
STEP 9: This is a new challenge for a concert. Our Learning & Participation strategy requires us to recruit a minimum of 50 participants to become ‘the rehearsed audience’ who will take those parts of bottle and harmonica blowers. It is a tall order, and it inverts the process of marketing for ticket sales, when you are actively recruiting audience members to come to participate and perform. But the spirit of CONNECT is very much about finding new ways to find new audiences. And the incentive for becoming a recruited participant is that you get discounts on season tickets. At the time of writing this, with only 5 days to go before the works have their world premieres, the suspense is tantalising and I have learned over many years that time will move very slowly in advance of a big event like this. But for sure, we are all excited for the next and final step on Saturday 22 October.
STEP 10: The world premieres and UK performances of CONNECT: The Audience as Artist. And then we relax, ponder, evaluate – and debrief!
© Barbara Palczynski
Check out photos from the activity packed day below. The majority of images captured give you an insight into the hugely successful conference that preceded the evening performance at Southbank, whilst the performance at St John’s Smith Square was an experience best captured in person!
We would like to thank everyone involved in last weekend’s CONNECT: The Audience as Artist event – of whom there where many! To Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, composers Christian Mason and Huang Ruo, our amazing audience participants who committed to two days of rehearsals, the London Sinfonietta musicians, all who attended the conference, those who spoke at the event and to Barbara – thank you.