Sara Mohr-Pietsch appointed artistic director of Dartington Summer School & Festival

Once in a while there are stories which arrive in my inbox which do for a moment take me a little by surprise. This is one of them. 

That’s not to say I think appointing Sara Mohr-Pietsch as artistic director of Dartington Summer School and Festival is a bad decision. Far from it. It is a very good thing.

Rather, the announcement demonstrates how refreshing such an appointment is. There’s an assumption that an artistic director needs to be either someone who has previously been an artistic director elsewhere, or someone who comes from a pure performance background. That the press release leads on Sara as ‘a music broadcaster, curator and writer’ and speaks of her other content facilitation and production work, underlines a break with convention. 

Her appointment also reasserts Dartington’s position in the UK festival scene, aligning it with Aldeburgh, Edinburgh and, given Sara’s involvement in and advocacy for the UK’s new music scene, possibly even the Manchester International and Huddersfield.

It would be easy to assume that we’ll see Dartington embrace more unorthodox programming in its summer school and festival. Maybe that’s my imagination getting a little carried away. Though Dartington Hall Trust Chief Exec Rhodri Samuel’s press release quote might suggest that a new approach is exactly what they’re striving for: “Sara is taking on this role at a pivotal and exciting time in the Trust’s history, as we begin the delivery of a programme of transformation and change.”

Sara Mohr-Pietsch starts her role as Artistic Director at Dartington Summer School and Festival in January 2019. Her first programmed festival will be in 2020. 

Wowsers Vasily

News that RLPO conductor Vasily Petrenko is taking up the role of Music Director at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in London is good news for London and slightly bad news for Liverpool I reckon.

Seeing as I live in London and it takes a while for me to get to Liverpool, I’m bound to be happy. Even so, I find Mr Petrenko’s work both appealing and reliable both on the platform and in recordings.

The news came as a bit of a surprise to me, and I suspect to others. That either means I had my eye off the ball, or it really was something that few had considered.

What that really means is that the woes some gleefully commentated on when they had to issue a statement regarding Charles Dutoit back in December last year, are perhaps not quite so prescient.

Well, strictly speaking, for that statement to be grammatically correct I don’t suppose I can really say that with any authority for another few years yet. Petrenko takes up the role of RPO Music Director in 2021, and from then will continue his relationship with the RLPO as conductor laureate.

But the assumption I made in the moment of hearing the news is what interests me the most: that things are suddenly looking up for the RPO as they approach their 75th year.

So who’s applying for the RLPO job then? 

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BBC Symphony Orchestra to move out of historic Maida Vale studios

Announced today. The BBC Symphony Orchestra along with the BBC Singers will move into new premises in East London in 2022/23. 

It’s not a complete surprise. Many who work at the BBCSO’s present home have vigorously pointed to the former skating rink’s unsuitability as a base for the orchestra. In particular its music library which was, the last time I was in there, prone to leaks in the roof whenever there was rain over Maida Vale.

And given that most of the BBC’s other orchestras have purpose-built premises designed for their primary function as a radio orchestra, it seems only right that the flagship band gets an upgrade. 

But there’s a sting in the tail. The BBC’s Maida Vale studios may no longer be fit for purpose, but they are even more part of the Corporation’s fabric than Television Centre was. Historic recordings were made at Maida Vale (not just classical music but in multiple genres). It is an incredible location, and part of the organisation’s history.

I notice the press release makes absolutely no mention of Maida Vale, suggesting its another building the BBC will sell off. It’s a bold move to make such a break with the past. Celebrating the past is an absolute must. Maybe we’ll see that when the BBC marks its centenary in 2022. 

More composers, more music, more listening opportunities

It’s the end of International Women’s Day 2018. I’ve been meaning to write this post all day. But paid work-opportunities have taken priority. Then there was a dinner party with someone who works at the Palace. Sometimes writing has to settle for a position further down on the to-do list.

IWD is an odd thing. It’s one of the few ‘occasions’ I’ve seen coming down the pipe on social media that I’ve risen to. I see the day as an opportunity to celebrate people who have helped me – the sort of Mothering Sunday I’d like Mothering Sunday to be but never really is. Because really, as a bloke, white and almost certainly privileged in some people’s eyes, celebrating the women who have helped me in life and career (all of them) is the very least I can do.

I’ve heard a lot of cynicism today on public transport about International Women’s Day. From men and women. Men goading women, women rolling their eyes at the efforts of their employers to bring more attention to the day.

That’s struck me as a bit of a shame. I’ve rather enjoyed the opportunity to reflect on the strengths of others. And I’ve also appreciated the various resolute endeavours announced today as well.

And in particular, Trinity Laban’s announcement that music by women will make up more than half of its concert programmes in 2018/19 academic year. They’ve also announced their intention to publish an online database of female composers past and present.

Like Birmingham Conservatoire and the Royal College, endeavours such as this provide higher education institutions with a much-needed opportunity to amplify their brand. But more than that for me, this commitment like the Keychange Pledge announced by PRS Foundation a couple of weeks back widens listening opportunities. That means more content to discover. It also means more content to assess, judge, celebrate and embrace. And that means an even greater need for objectivity when listening.

Pictured above is Harriet Harman, staff and students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music launching ‘Venus Blazing’, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance’s campaign to celebrate music by ‘missing’ women composers.

Read more about Trinity Laban’s commitment and their new online database on the Venus Blazing website.

Tackling gender inequality in music festivals

Last night PRS Foundation celebrated getting 45 international music industry conferences and festivals to a pledge to achieve or maintain gender balance across their events by 2022.

Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, Huddersfield, Spitalfields and the BBC Proms all feature in the list alongside European and Canadian events, and a host of other events I wouldn’t normally consider.

A dedicated programme of international opportunities for the 60-strong membership of musicians and composers from Estonia, Iceland, the UK, Spain, and Sweden is the practical demonstration of the Keychange initiative in action.

The event was there to make a bold, proud commitment to women in the music industry. I sat back reading the press release, skimming over the names of the other festivals and conferences I hadn’t heard of, and feeling rather small. It’s at these kind of events that classical music’s scale is put into context. Put another way, it’s at these kind of events you come to appreciate how inflated classical music’s bubble really is.

I know of people – musicians with hunger and dogged determination – who would rather that their presence on stage isn’t defined by gender, but instead because they are musicians. The Keychange pledge is the first step in positive action which, I’m betting, will see that aspiration I’ve heard others articulate a reality.

At the heart of this initiative is, inevitably, a collection of partners and sponsors, Creative Europe – funded by EU money – being one of them.

But there is someone else who I think we don’t acknowledge enough – PRS Foundation CEO Vanessa Reed.

For me, she’s one of a handful of people within the industry who consistently delivers on her vision, translating plans into action by drawing on her enviable strength, drive and determination. She is both engaging and engaged. I think we take people like this for granted in the music industry. Sadly they are a rarity. Someone to cherish.