Sharon Canavar - How can we encourage music audiences to try something new?

PUBLISHED: 13:31 16 June 2017

Sharon Canavar

Sharon Canavar


Chanelling the power of music.

There’s nothing easier than slipping into a song or piece of music that’s familiar and holds a shared, collective memory. Peter Kay’s Car Share shows the power of music and nostalgia. The BBC comedy featured a fictitious radio station, Forever FM, playing pop hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s. Now it’s been launched as a real radio station in Manchester.

There’s no escaping the power of the classics – in weddings, at funerals, in landmark occasions - there are timeless tunes we turn to, from Robbie Williams’ Angels to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

Music is a soundtrack to our lives. Our summer music festival of course features returning favourites and popular hits. The John Wilson Orchestra sells out every year as they so brilliantly bring the golden era of Hollywood into toe-tapping life.

I love them. I’m also keenly aware of the importance of nurturing the new and the unknown. If you look at those classics, from Bowie to Beethoven, they all broke new ground of their time.

One of our concert highlights this summer is delivered by this year’s artists in residence, Armonico Consort. They’re performing Monteverdi’s Vespers, celebrating the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It’s a dazzling piece of music that has not only survived but remained incredibly popular over four centuries; the classical world’s equivalent of Forever FM. But at the time Monteverdi wrote Vespers, it was considered ground-breaking, so much so it gave the composer a reputation as the creator of modern music.

Like in pop music, with Elvis and The Beatles – who now feel part of our cultural psyche – these musicians challenged their times, with waves of new sounds.

Music, of course, needs audiences to bring it to life. It’s acknowledged that trying to get regular concert goers to new classical compositions is like drawing teeth. Increasingly, concert organisers have to think imaginatively around performances so it offers more than the music to attract new audiences. But as ticket sales are so important, it can be a financial risk.

How do you balance that risk when you’re an arts charity, reliant on ticket sale revenue? There is of course a tradition around philanthropy supporting emerging artists, to ensure risks can be taken, and it’s one we hope to reinvigorate for our next 50 years as public funding becomes scarcer. Without the guarantee of a fairy godmother ensuring our musical Cinderella’s do go to the ball, we will continue to strive to open hearts to the new and the yet unknown artists.

Over the last 50 years, HIF have always invested in new commissions. It’s part of its remit and long-term ambition to take bold artistic risks and ultimately, create an artistic legacy that not only reflects our cultural landscape, but shapes it.

Each year, it supports dozens of emerging musicians with the Young Musician series, alongside initiatives to inspire children, such as our Global Villages music workshops. Importantly, HIF commissions new pieces of music, as much as it can. This July, the Gould Piano Trio performs two new commissions from Gareth Williams and Mark Simpson, flanked by Beethoven to entice audiences to try something new with the familiar.

Investment is needed in the arts for the next Beethoven’s, Bowie’s and Beatles…for that we need acts of bravery, not only by concert organisers, but audiences - music can only exist in the listening.

Without visionaries forging new ways of listening, what does the future hold?

A constant remix on Forever FM? As HIF continues its Future 50 fundraising campaign – to safeguard the next 50 years – collectively, we can help to nurture new music that will be the all-important soundtrack for the lives of generations to come.

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