Philharmonia’s digital work gets a shot in the arm

The Philharmonia’s reputation as a digital innovator has been further enhanced, with funding from the David and Elaine Potter Foundation, for a senior research and development development role. The new position is taken up by the outgoing Digital Director Luke Ritchie.

As head of Digital Innovation and Partnerships, Ritchie will be taking digital projects, making money out of them, and creating new connections with tech companies.

It’s an exciting development for a number of reasons. The announcement illustrates the Philharmonia’s ongoing commitment to digital development, something that goes beyond social media, and shows some of the thinking the orchestral sector is embarking on to develop and serve new audiences in an innovative way.

The announcement also makes clear that digital endeavour is at the heart of the Philharmonia’s broader strategy. That’s been the case for a long time – supporting inventive concert experiences like Oedipus Rex in 2016, with a rich programme notes that signpost opportunities to explore more in-depth online after the concert.

Philharmonia’s awarding-winning multimedia installation Universe of Sound was a revelation for me when I got to see it last year. Alongside that last year at Southbank was the Philharmonia’s newest creation – a virtual reality experience in which users sit in the middle of the orchestra during a rehearsal – provoked an unexpectedly emotional reaction in me, evoking fond memories of my youth orchestra dats. The Virtual Orchestra continues to tour the country (at the time of writing this, The Virtual Orchestra is at the Cheltenham Festival). The Virtual Orchestra is available on PlayStation Store. There are some interesting statistics about cut-through on the Philharmonia website.

That makes the orchestra an exciting proposition both as an audience member as (I’ll be shameless here) an organisation I’d really want to work with. And that reputation it creates is important because of one point raised in a quote from the Managing Director Helen Sprott in reference to the orchestra’s Arts Council funding of £2.04 million from 2017-2022.

The challenges facing the orchestral sector are formidable, but with Arts Council England’s commitment, a strong management and great artistic leadership in place, and an orchestra performing at the very highest level, the Philharmonia is in an excellent position.

That digital commitment is going to play a vital role in securing the future for numerous orchestras. The Philharmonia is beating a path. That’s not only a good thing for them, but also helps everyone else in the sector.

What the Potter funding also underlines is how little money orchestras have, and in a continued age of austerity, where they need to go in order to continue such important work for future generations.

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