Curating Concerts – A Beginner’s Guide (From Another Beginner)

Benjamin Anderson is a freelance bass trombonist in Melbourne who has performed with Orchestra Victoria, the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra. He is dedicated to promoting and performing new music and has a penchant for baking.

Ben AndersonIn my career as a freelance bass trombonist I have performed plenty of orchestral concerts, played a few solo recitals (all part of tertiary education programs) and been involved with a number of chamber ensembles. But in all of these cases someone else was steering the ship, whether it was the person who booked me for a gig, or some admin worker at the University slotting me into a recital schedule. Recently I embarked on a new venture – organising my own concert. Along the way I learned many of the things that can go wrong (and a few of the things that can go right). I thought that it would be worthwhile sharing some of my thoughts here in the hopes that other people would be able to learn from my mistakes, or perhaps for the more seasoned concert organisers, have a chuckle at my naivety.

 

Programming – what to play?

I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard of Charles Wuorinen. I hadn’t when I started my undergrad. I remember in first year I found the score to his piece Archangel on the library shelf and was dumbfounded. If you haven’t heard his music before, go look it up. Even if modernism isn’t your thing, it’s worth looking at the scores or hearing a recording. His music is hard. Really hard. Brain-numbingly complex. Despite the first reaction, I kept returning to the library to look at scores for a number of his works. I was intrigued by how difficult his trombone parts were, but I also started to find myself enjoying this music (in a rather masochistic way). It’s also unusual to find a composer who features the bass trombone once. Wuorinen has three times.

Out of this fascination the idea for a concert started to brew. I wanted to play these three pieces, but what should go with them? I knew very little about Wuorinen; I’d read that he had won a Pulitzer and had been commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but beyond that, nothing. I got straight onto Wikipedia (like a good musicologist) and read a bit more. The most interesting thing to me was the section on the composers that influenced him: Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Schoenberg and Milton Babbitt. Now those names were familiar to me, and after listening a bit more to his music and the other composers an idea formulated. Perhaps Wuorinen’s three works could be presented alongside short pieces from Stravinsky, Schoenberg and Babbitt. While this program made sense to me, I started to realise the scope of what I was putting together. This was going to involve 20+ musicians, and all of the pieces were crazy hard. But I was hooked. I had to present the concert. The next step was to find a place for it.

Proposals – making your concert happen!

So. I had an idea. That’s fine, but at the end of the day you need a venue, marketing, front of house, backstage help, performers etc. And I was in no way equipped to organise all of this myself. So I put together a proposal to do the concert as part of a fellowship at the Australian National Academy of Music. Each year ANAM offers a small number of coveted fellowship positions, and I thought as a previous student I might be in with a chance to get one. I drew up a budget, organised a conductor, and chatted with other performers about being involved. By this point I felt like the concert was going to happen. My application was shortlisted, but ultimately I wasn’t successful. That was a big blow, and I thought that might be the end of the road for this idea. But it stayed in the back of mind, waiting for the next opportunity. This was the first lesson I learnt: don’t let one rejection crush an idea; there will always be more opportunities if you keep your eyes peeled.

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