Setting up a classical ensemble in the current climate is hard, but bowing to popular tastes is not the way


Following the success of their recent Wigmore Hall debut, the London International Players look forward to a concert at Cadogan Hall on November 8. Their founder and artistic director, Ana de la Vega, discusses the origins of the group and examines some of the thrills and challenges faced by a new chamber ensemble in the current climate.
 
It’s extremely difficult to start an ensemble in today's musical climate. Once you’ve thrown your hat in the ring, one would hope that honest and excellent playing metamorphoses into success, but when you begin to experience the over-saturation, the lack in finances, the drama of it all....then a career in hairdressing seems tempting! Everyone needs their hair cut, right? But then again, everyone needs classical music; they just don’t know it yet!
 
The London International Players came together organically. Our paths crossed at random at the Menuhin School and at IMS Prussia Cove, but basically a resonance both in life and music spoke, and it is that energy field, some sort of organic electricity, that the audience seems to be picking up and reacting to very strongly.

Our coming together also had a lot to do with finding each other at similar moments on our musical journey: in our late 20s, early 30s, all with considerable international solo, chamber, and orchestral careers behind us. There is a confidence, knowledge, and generosity amongst us that comes with relative success and experience, but with the majority of our musical lives still ahead of us, there is a huge amount of learning and searching to do together. This blend of confidence, together with youth and a striving for the greatest beauty imaginable is, in a way, the commonality, the glue.
 
We are excited about our product, but how do we attract an audience into a concert hall to share our excitement? Firstly, through imaginative programming, where our goal is to explore themes and ideas, philosophies, spirituality, moments in history, aesthetics in art..... and, in turn, to create landscapes which invite thought and participation from a wider audience - helping them to engage - because through these themes they see their own knowledge in literature, history, culture, other areas of the arts, or simply life.

This then helps them to see the inherent connections to classical music, the most abstract and specialist of the arts; one must show the door in, not scare our precious and dying audiences with something they can’t grasp, but help them to stick with us! As an Australian born into a completely non-musical family, I have from a very early age witnessed and worked out how to draw people into a world of which they have no understanding, and sometimes no interest - a skill developed out of necessity and out of a longing to share and to be understood. And now, as an endangered species (we make up two per cent of recorded music sales), classical musicians must find ways to be relevant to more and more people.
 
I feel strongly that popularising classical music, crossing-over, bowing to the common man’s taste, is not the way; people don't want to feel gratified and indulged, they want to feel satisfaction that they have achieved something intellectually, understood something they thought was out of reach. We can do this by helping them to create a link between the music they are experiencing and the knowledge they already have. I have seen this time and time again in my own family and in my own country. For the programmer or the player, this is greatly rewarding.
 
Our Cadogan Programme, 'Bach to Britten', is built on the aesthetics of purity, simplicity and transcendence: one can explore this in literature, other art movements, philosophy and religion. Our St John’s Smith Square ‘Strauss 150 Years’ series also tells a story people can grasp, because it is a discussion of Germany in the interwar period, America as the safe haven in the early 20th century and what developed thereafter.

Our Wigmore Hall debut was a landmark moment, as it is in the life of any ensemble. We play at the Berlin Philharmonie on May 23 next year and are also in discussion with the Flagey in Brussels. You feel the history of our heroes and forefathers when you play in these halls; it is extremely exciting, a sort of arrival and joining of the ranks, but even in these great concert halls, the real challenge for today’s ensembles is the classical music audience itself... this is what collectively needs to be looked at. In my opinion the free concert and giving of comp tickets is rife and dire in London. We reduce the appeal of what we do, we devalue our art, and in the process we are killing our own industry.

Listen to the London International Players perform the Adagio from Mozart's Flute Quartet, K285 live at the Wigmore Hall below:

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