The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra goes Digital

Daniel Raiskin and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Orchestras are always looking for ways to broaden their audience and engage more deeply with them. Many orchestras cite an aging audience and the move away from specialized music education in schools as reasons for a slow but steady decline in audience sizes. In recent years, however, there has also been a trend for orchestras to want to make up for this gap in specialized music education and to appeal to a younger new audience, while fostering a deeper engagement with their current patrons.  This is done in a variety of ways from pre-concert talks to ‘Symphony 101’ type guides. In the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s case? They went digital.

To elaborate, the WSO is making use of a companion app called EnCue at three of their concerts this year, with the intention of integrating this app into more concerts in coming seasons. EnCue is a free-to-download app that sends users live, real-time program notes, images and stories during the performance. The EnCue website lists the app at $350 USD per concert, with potential discounts for multiple concerts. The WSO launched the app at their October 18th (B)eyond Classics series concert, for the performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. Though app-users weren’t separated from the rest of the audience, the screen is dark lit and the hall lights are brought up to avoid disturbing other patrons. This is the first example of something like this being done in Canada, though several orchestras in Europe and the United States have integrated similar technology into their concert programs. Advertising for the concert mentioned EnCue as a point of interest for prospective patrons.

RBC Resident Conductor Naomi Woo during the concert. Photo: Ruth Bonneville, Winnipeg Free Press

For Jean-François Phaneuf, VP Artistic Operations at the WSO, the benefits of the app are twofold. “We’re excited about using this app to appeal to new audiences and increase the level of engagement with current and prospective patrons. We saw some audience members who were deeply moved by the experience. You get to read about Rachmaninov’s thoughts when writing his work and Music Director Daniel Raiskin’s personal connection to a special passage while hearing it all unfold on stage in front of you.” Over the course of two months, Jean-François Phaneuf, James Manishen, Artistic Associate and RBC Assistant Conductor Naomi Woo worked hard to prepare the necessary materials. They tested their content among musically-educated and non-musically-educated WSO staff, and found that short slides (5 seconds to read) and images helped to keep people listening actively. The learning curve for programming the app was steep, but with satisfying results; basic concepts were explained for those unfamiliar to orchestral music, and more complex ‘tidbits’ of information were provided for experts. During the concert, Naomi Woo was backstage with the score, synchronizing the slides with the music for the approximately 200 patrons that downloaded the app. The response from app users was generally positive. By and large, patrons were excited to try something new. Some concertgoers expressed resistance to changes to the concert experience they know and love, but many felt a greater understanding of, and deeper connection with the music through the new information they were given.

There is no intention from the WSO to use EnCue at all of their concerts. It is planned only three times this season for one piece per program. WSO audiences will next see EnCue at the closing concert of the New Music Festival in January, for Michael Daugherty’s Metropolis Symphony and during Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 6 in March. There are plans to integrate EnCue into the second half of every concert for their (B)eyond Classics concert series in 2020-21. With a tech help desk in the lobby at the October 18th concert, most technical challenges were avoided. More studious patrons also requested receiving the slides in advance to ‘study up’ for the concert. Both the WSO and Orchestras Canada are excited about the opportunities presented by giving a wider audience more ways to open the door and access orchestral music in a way that enhances what is presented on stage.

Learn more about the question of digital technology in the orchestral industry by reading our interview with The Space’s Fiona Morris on building a digital organization.

Music As Community Medicine at the Windsor Symphony Orchestra

Musicians from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra visited community and health venues between October 1st and 10th as part of their Music for Health outreach program. Last year this program included 21 performances to more than 1200 seniors in and around Windsor.

The Music for Health program is an important part of the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s commitment to the Windsor-Essex community.  This year’s edition included visits to Hospice Windsor, the Windsor Public Library, Downtown Mission, and senior’s retirement and care centres across Windsor-Essex, delivering beautiful music to those who would otherwise be unable to attend a mainstage performance.

The program is based upon the growing body of evidence that shows the positive impact music has on mental, emotional, and even physical health.  Developed by two WSO musicians who have worked very closely with local music therapists in hospital settings, this program features performances by WSO string quartets and quintets at rest homes, retirement homes and social service agencies across Essex County. Clients are encouraged to participate in the performances using small hand percussion (provided by the WSO), selecting works that the ensemble will perform, as well as sharing memories and recollections evoked by the performance. Learn more on the Windsor Symphony Orchestra’s website.

Youth Month and the 80th edition of the OSM Competition

Youth Month

Since its beginnings, the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal has kept education at the centre of its mission, and has continued to develop new initiatives for engaging young people in classical music. One can think back to the Youth Concerts that were started in 1935 by Wilfrid Pelletier, or to more recent examples such as La Musique aux enfants and the Children’s’ Ball, a gala event that supports educational activities at the OSM and keeps these activities accessible for all.

Continuing the momentum from these initiatives, in November 2019 the OSM will be running a Youth Month dedicated to the many programs offered by the OSM to young musicians, schools and families. The public will be able to discover rising classical music stars during a series of recitals, or to attend the first concert in the Children’s Corner concert series, conducted by the OSM’s new assistant conductor Thomas Le Duc-Moreau. School-aged children will be able to make the most of new freely available educational resources, including (for the first time) the publication of a video of a youth concert filmed at professional standard. Learn more here.

The OSM Competition

Since 1940 the OSM has presented the OSM Competition, Canada’s most prestigious performance competition for young musicians, offering prizes worth more than $100,000 in value to its winners, as well as significant visibility on the international stage. The OSM invites the public to discover 17 violinists and cellists aged between 15 and 25 during the semi-finals and final rounds, which will take place from November 27th to 30th in Montreal. All competition events are webcast to allow for nationwide coverage of the competition. The OSM presents a rich and varied program to competitors and public alike; concerts with previous competition winners, training activities with industry experts, and musical activities at the Maison Symphonique and throughout the city are all part of the competition’s busy schedule. Competitors will benefit from an international jury consisting of, among others, the OSM’s musical director Kent Nagano, and the director of the BBC Proms in London, David Pickard.

Competition winners receive enormous support from the OSM. In addition to cash prizes and scholarships, many have developed a special relationship with the orchestra; the OSM has offered many competition winners the opportunity to perform as soloists, recitalists or chamber musicians with OSM musicians. Kent Nagano also conducts an orchestra of past competition winners during the summer Classical Spree festival. In addition, the OSM fosters partnerships between competition winners and its own artistic partners and international guest artists: an important step for early-career artists.

The orchestra is very proud of the OSM Competition due to the number of ways in which it has enriched the Canadian music scene. Among the winners, many have excelled on the Canadian and international stage, including James Ehnes (violin), Angela Hewitt (piano), Louis Lortie (piano), Karina Gauvin (soprano), Jan Lisiecki (piano), Jonathan Crow (concertmaster, Toronto Symphony), Andrew Wan (OSM Concertmaster), and more recently Timothy Chooi, Blake Pouliot, Carter Johnson and Kerson Leong.

Guest Blog: Playing it Forward

Meeting with young people and making music ever more accessible are priorities for the Orchestre Métropolitain. Each year, the OM sparks wonder in more than 11,000 young people across Montreal through an educational program with two initiatives: The OM at School and Playing it Forward.

The OM at School provides an opportunity for meaningful encounters between students and musicians, in the form of workshops held in schools, and by welcoming school groups to rehearsals and concerts. Last December, the art works of some 15 kindergarten students at École Notre-Dame-des-Neiges embellished the foyer of the Maison symphonique. The students, who attended the dress rehearsal, were able to see their works on display, and to present one as a gift to conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. In preparation for the outing, the students had learned about Schumann’s Piano Concerto, one of the works on the program, and were paid a visit by the OM’s artistic partner, conductor Nicolas Ellis, who answered their questions.

Playing it Forward aims to provide a forum for young musicians and to support their development through mentoring, master classes and other activities. The OM Preludesmusical performances given by young and talented musicians as a prologue to OM concerts, is an example. The young performers then attend the concert free of charge and a few have the privilege of presenting flowers on stage to the conductors and soloists we welcome. Another Playing It Forward project is the creation of the OMNI competition. Devoted to young musicians between 7 and 17, the competition gives entrants the chance to display their talent in a relaxed setting that encourages connections between young people who share the same passion, and discussion with professional musicians. These initiatives are inspiring, not only for the young people involved but also for the OM musicians, who find them a source of great pride.

Thank you to Laura Eaton at the Orchestre Métropolitain for guest blogging for us.

Guest Blog: Ontario Resonance Mentorship Program at Esprit Orchestra

Esprit Orchestra’s Ontario150 Community Celebration Program, Ontario Resonance, engaged, nurtured, and promoted a young group of composers, musicians, and students in a project that created awareness of Ontario as a vibrant place to live through new orchestral compositions combined with innovative explorations in sound. Esprit engaged a group of Ontario emerging composers and partnered them with different student groups, fostering new relationships with and between locales and communities. The emerging composers mentored students to create pieces – often their first compositions for orchestra – which celebrated and reflected Ontario’s places and spaces, environments, and communities. At the same time, the mentor composers composed their own new works, creating a cascade-like process wherein writing their own works was taking place at the same time as guiding young student composers in their composing. Ontario’s heritage was highlighted by music portraying human activity, ethnic cultures, natural environments, cityscapes, and historic buildings. Esprit Orchestra musicians were hired to act as mentors with each student group, providing valuable one-on-one mentoring with student musicians and composers and their teachers, as well as performing alongside student musicians to enhance the experience for the program participants.

Esprit Orchestra in concertOntario Resonance ran from September to November of 2017, culminating in seven performances in schools and venues across the GTA, with student compositions performed by a combination of student performers and professional Esprit musicians. The mentors’ works were showcased in an all-pro finale concert at Trinity St. Paul’s Centre on November 23, 2017 – a high energy ending to the program with a full audience in attendance.

The Ontario Resonance program created a way for artists to serve the province’s population in an imaginative, meaningful, and lasting way. It encouraged recognition of and reflection on the places where people live and environments and communities they are surrounded by. Newly created compositions by high school students and mentoring composers, all written and premiered throughout the program, now exist as souvenirs of their experience. Inspired young composers and student musicians, with their pieces having real purpose, are now encouraged to continue pursuing projects of similar nature as they navigate their studies and move forward into adult life.

All participating parties in Ontario Resonance – mentoring composers, teachers, student composers and musicians, Esprit staff and musicians, recording engineers, volunteers, and audience members – have commented on what a creative, and engaging way the project celebrated Ontario’s 150th anniversary year. Esprit is grateful to the Government of Ontario for their support of this enriching, unique project.

Thank you to Amber Melhado at Esprit Orchestra for guest blogging for us.