Interview with BBC Proms: “It’s all about investing in new talents”

21 September 2009

In an interview, Ellara Wakely, Learning Manager at the BBC Proms, the oldest festival Europe celebrating its 115th edition in 2009, stresses: “It’s about investing in new talents.” Mrs Wakely talks about the “Inspire Young Composers' Competition” – one of the artistically innovative approaches of BBC Proms to involve people from all parts of society and to support the creative skills of young talents. European Festivals Association (EFA): One of the most innovative projects of the BBC Proms is the Inspire Young Composers' Competition. What is the most inspiring element of this project? Ellara Wakely (EW): For one, working with that age group is very interesting, because 12 to 18 is actually a very broad range. Young people writing music at that stage do music at school and many of them do it on their own. One of the most exciting things is when we bring them together. The scheme is not just about entering the competition, entering your own work, but it’s about attending the composers’ lab and attending a day during the Proms season where they get to meet other composers and musicians. Secondly, the winners of the competition get the opportunity to carry on, to record the music that they have written and to work with professional musicians and professional composers. The commission is perhaps slightly different to what they have been used to writing. In a way they get the chance to kick-off their career. For young people at that age it’s quite a big thing to have their music broadcasted and work with professional composers. Also, we renamed the competition – it used to be called the BBC Proms Young Composers Competition – and we renamed it in “Inspire” because what we wanted to do with it was to make it more than a competition and make it a place where people can gain inspiration for their own creativity. That’s something that we wanted to tie to what the Proms does. When I was young and I was writing my own music, going to the Proms was such a great way to find out about new music and the whole repertoire of music. So Proms is an opportunity to explore music. EFA: Why do you think this project is important in the context of the BBC Proms? What are the short and the long-term outcomes of this project? EW: The Proms on a wider scale, is about reaching the widest possible groups of people and reflecting the wide range of classical music repertoire. We are commissioning an awful lot of work. This is closely related to the learning work we do at the Proms: we work with families, young people and children - and amateur musicians. The young composers work for me is a really important part of the programme. The BBC is a big commissioning body of new music. Encouraging people to write music and explore new music works very well with the whole season. Of course it’s about investing in new talents. It’s also about giving people the opportunity to find out what we do and what the BBC does to capture new music. It’s very exciting to hear this music and to be able to work with these young people because you never know who you will be working with and where they will be going next. EFA: The competition is only open to UK residents. Do you also support an international exposure of the young competition winners, i.e. by collaborating with other festivals at international level? EW: It’s a nation-wide competition. So far we have not collaborated with other festivals at international level, but we would love to do it. I know that some orchestras do competition projects in Europe. It would be fantastic to make that connection with people that are writing all over the world. Because one of the things that is really important is that young composers see what others are doing. In the UK, this is what they get from our competition. To link up with what is going on more widely in Europe and to create partnerships maybe with other members of the European Festivals Association would be an exciting development for the competition in the future. EFA: Celebrating its 115th season in 2009, the BBC Proms is the oldest festival in Europe. How does the festival manage to still be a trend setter in terms of the production of an artistically high-quality programme and original formats? EW: BBC Proms gets to show case so much fantastic work and we work with so many partners and with so many creative minds. The Proms’ audience is very receptive toward new music, to hear music that perhaps in another context they would not be so open to listening to. Often you will have an audience who would come to hear for example this year one of the anniversary composers, Mendelssohn or Händel. And in between they might hear some new music they might not have chosen to come and hear. This is one of the reasons: we can push boundaries. Our audiences are prepared to listen and enjoy and to gain from this. EFA: The long history poses a double challenge: to meet the high expectations of traditional audiences as well as to encourage new audiences to participate in the events. How do you manage? EW: By offering something to everyone. You have people who come to every single concert and you have people who want to come and hear one special concert or you have people who want to be challenged and want to hear music that they don’t get to hear anywhere else. We always maintain that the Proms must be an accessible festival and anyone should be able to hear classical music. For example the prices are kept very low. There are many opportunities for people to experiment. Of course not everybody wants to be challenged and hear something new, they want to hear their favourites. But you can do that at the Proms as well. So you have a really wide range of people coming for very different reasons. Thanks to our many different formats we also manage to merge these audiences. Somehow many people have an open mind when they come in: they accept to hear things that are different – that’s why it works so well. September 8, 2009. Interviewed by Juliane Reissig, Communication Assistant European Festivals Association. Related documents: • FestFlash on Creativity and Innovation No 4 / 2009