With the launch of our 2014/15 season fast approaching, Liz Baines, CBSO Planning & Tours Manager, tells us what it’s like to plan and organise the CBSO concert season and, following one of the busiest touring seasons, the Orchestra’s international tours.
Planning up to 130 concerts per year, liaising with dozens of conductors and soloists and arranging international tours takes many months and a lot of hard work from a huge number of people, but after it all you feel fantastic – there’s nothing like the sensation you get seeing Andris Nelsons, music director, walk on the stage at the start of a season and knowing that you made it happen.
So how do we go about planning a season? We’re always working up to two years in advance ensuring that we’ve booked Symphony Hall, where we are the resident orchestra, and other venues but the planning really kicks in around the New Year. At that point, we will have had many conversations about repertoire with Andris and most of his programmes will be finalised. It’s always exciting knowing what he has in store because he has such a variety of repertoire that he likes to perform.
Simultaneously, we look to guest conductors to start to plan the other parts of the season. We have a regular pool of guest conductors that we like to work with every year, and it’s always great to be able to invite them back – people like Vassily Sinaisky, Andrew Litton and, of course Edward Gardner, our principal guest conductor.
Guest conductors usually provide quite a few ideas of pieces they’d like to perform and suggest soloists with whom they would like to work. Most of them conductors always want to work with our fabulous CBSO Chorus, but the Chorus is so in demand by other UK and international orchestras that we need to ensure we get some prime dates with them with Andris Nelsons and Edward Gardner so their diary fills up very quickly. One of the CBSO Chorus dates include a Singalong with Simon Halsey, chorus director, and we liaise with Simon to ensure we choose an appropriate choral work to entice a large number of people who wish to participate.
This is always an ongoing dialogue concerning repertoire with conductors. Where there are differences of opinion we have to negotiate – for example, the conductor might suggest some pieces they would like to do but that aren’t going to quite work for us for any one of a number of reasons – perhaps we performed it last year or actually, we don’t think the audience would like it. Eventually, we find a balance which everyone is happy with.
As well as the main classical series, we also programme lighter concerts, our Friday Night Classics concert series. This is often our opportunity to try out some new ideas and our recent ABBA concert was one of those such concerts. It was so much fun and fantastic to see the musicians dressing up and letting their hair down. We’ve got something new for our Friday night concerts next season and, without revealing what this is yet, we very much hope it will be just as popular and as much fun!
We also of course have our Family Concerts and Schools’ Concerts appealing to our younger audiences and we liaise with the Learning & Participation team for their thoughts on suitable programmes and presenters. Again these are great fun. If you haven’t been to one with the whole family, I’d thoroughly recommend them – you really get to see the Orchestra’s lighter side.
In addition to our Birmingham season, our overseas touring schedule has been busy over the last few years with Andris. To organise them, we work with his agents, who have a touring department based in Hanover. Once we have decided on the dates we will be touring, they go about selling the CBSO to the concert halls and promoters worldwide. Of course, we want to have as many concert dates as possible but you also have to have in the back of your mind – “can we physically get from Paris to Vienna overnight?” often the Orchestra members could do this but we also have a truck full of equipment and instruments which could prove to be a sticking point and make this a step too far!
There are so many people involved in organising a tour – after all, you’re transporting nearly a hundred people around the world – so you can’t leave anything to chance. It’s a truly international affair with the agents in Hanover to talk to about the travel and hotel bookings and all the team in Birmingham as well. There’s the platform manager who has to work out how to get the truck from A to B, there’s the orchestra manager ensuring we have the correct musicians required for each programme, the assistant orchestra manager helping with all the paperwork like visas and tax forms, and of course, ensuring that all the musicians and artists are in the right place at the right time.