Rotterdam in the digital age

SOUNZ Executive Director Diana Marsh attended Classical:NEXT followed by the IAMIC Annual Meeting and General Assembly in Rotterdam in May. Approximately 1,200 participants from around the world took part in the four day event which included members of IAMIC. Read Diana’s thoughts and takeaways below.

Rotterdam in the digital age

This year the annual IAMIC meeting was held in conjunction with the Classical:NEXT conference in Rotterdam. Classical:NEXT is an annual, global networking gathering exclusively for classical and art music.

France hosted the opening event and presented a selection of works to honour the past and represent a perspective from its current day composers. For me a highlight was listening to performances by an exciting young String Quartet Quatuor Van Kuijk and flautist Juliette Hurelplaying contemporary music from France.

I chose to focus my time on seminars that had an emphasis on either digital development or diversity. It was satisfying to learn that SOUNZ staff are right up with the play and are already implementing much of what was discussed particularly in the digital arena. This included platforms, playlists and encouraging content sharing.

Composers and organisations alike shared their knowledge and experience on how to grow listeners and viewers through a variety of online platforms. Cross fertilisation of playlists was a recurring theme. If you include others in your playlists you are more likely to feature in other external playlists – something for those of you who promote your own work to consider. What wasn’t really touched on for composers was how to promote yourself in the absence of a recording of your work or a digital score. This really highlights the growing need for composers to have recordings of their works because digital platforms have become a form of performance venue and a way to connect with the audience.

The proposition put forward by one speaker was that downloading is the past and YouTube is the future. I wonder if the more relevant point is that platforms and methods for disseminating music will continue to emerge and we all need to keep up with the best methods for utilising these tools for the promotion of our music. Increased performances from scores on tablets was not covered by any of the seminars I attended but this too, must be an area that composers need to consider when preparing a score for performance – what works on a paper score may not be appropriate for a digital score read from a device.

Another interesting observation that segues nicely into diversity was that through online streaming platforms listeners and viewers are becoming less concerned about genres and instead more broad in what they choose to listen to – the genre barriers are falling away. A statistic from the London Symphony Orchestra is that 40% of its online listeners are under 40 years of age. Genre diversity is a topic that SOUNZ has been focussing on recently, acknowledging that barriers of genre are indeed changing and that we need to recognise this through the work of our composers.

Perhaps one of the most interesting sessions I attended was a demonstration of some new software by a French company NoMadMusic. A product that the company is about to launch as an app is called NomadPlay. This new software can remove parts from performances so that performers can play their part with other instruments for an ensemble of all sizes, for example the piano part can be removed from the performance of a piano concerto or the cello can be removed from a string quartet, to enable the player to perform with the orchestra or quartet. While more detail is emerging perhaps in the future this could be a tool for some composers to encourage the learning and teaching of their works. For more information go to https://nomadplay-app.com/

Classical:NEXT wrapped up with a memorable performance from Massachusetts group Roomful of Teeth, a GRAMMY-winning vocal project that describes itself as continually expanding its vocabulary of singing techniques and, through an on-going commissioning process, forges a new repertoire without borders. They performed Pulitzer Prize winning composition Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw and works from Judd Greenstein and Brad Wells. If you have the opportunity do go and experience one of their performances.

It was great to meet up with colleagues from IAMIC, an organisation for music information centres around the globe of which SOUNZ has been a long-standing member. Sharing our experiences and challenges highlighted that wherever you are in the world the issues tend to be the same or similar for us all. It was also very beneficial to experience and share learning with Chris Archer from Creative New Zealand who was also attending Classical:NEXT this year.

All in all my Rotterdam trip was an affirming and inspiring experience; the affirmation came from attending the Classical:NEXT sessions and the inspiration came from sharing and spending time with my IAMIC colleagues from around the world.