Classical:NEXT – change the world

Now in its third edition at de Doelen in Rotterdam, Classical:NEXT continues to set the pace when it comes to innovation. Director Jennifer Dautermann speaks to Andrew Anderson about the programme for this year’s conference. 

Classical:NEXT exists in opposition to the stereotypes of the classical music genre; namely accusations that the sector is both stuffy and stagnant. Instead, it seeks to create new partnerships, promote experimentation and find a new future for classical performance. And it does all this on a budget as thin as the hairs on a violin bow.

“We’re all about risk,” confirms Classical:NEXT director Jennifer Dautermann. “We take a lot of chances: some work and some don’t. We see ourselves as both a laboratory and a work-in-progress, something that is always in flux and never finished.”

This year’s conference will see more than 1,000 classical music professionals gather in Rotterdam at de Doelen concert hall from 17 – 20 May to continue the experiment, with Dautermann citing a number of new elements on the schedule.

de Doelen Classical:NEXT
de Doelen

“Usually the opening concert sees one country profiling their scene, but not this year. Instead, this year’s opening event is about musicians and projects working to make a difference in their communities and the wider world. One ensemble on the bill is Chineke! Orchestra – who play the opening reception, and whose founder Chi-chi Nwanoku MBE will address the delegates.

“The opening also features video presentations of initiatives such as Zohra Afghan Women’s Orchestra, Detroit’s Sphinx Organisation, Soweto’s Buskaid, Berlin’s Selam Opera!, the Refugee Project of NYC, Gondwana Indigenous Children’s Choir of Australia and the Amazonian multimedia opera piece, 3thousandRIVERS.”

That strand – of the classical music’s power to change the world – is one that weaves through the entire conference.

“We felt a positive change theme was more appropriate for the state of the world in 2017,” says Dautermann as she outlines the programme. “This includes a session from Komische Oper in Berlin, which has held Turkish outreach programme Selam Opera! since 2011. It is one of the most successful outreach schemes I’ve ever seen.

“For Classical:NEXT Komische Opera will lead a workshop that we hope inspires delegates to think about how they can increase engagement with communities and groups who are not coming to their concerts or visiting their houses right now.”

Classical:NEXT is also running sessions on how the classical music world can become more inclusive, such as a discussion led by UK composer Shirley Thompson and a talk from Afa Dworkin, whose Sphinx organisation assists the development of Black and Latino classical musicians.

“Sphinx has done an incredible job in the US to train Black and Latino musicians to become active parts of the classical music world, at every stage from school level to professional development,” adds Dautermann.

As for the risks, one session in particular captures the eye: ‘Epic Fail’. “You go to conferences and all everyone talks about is how great their project was, but no one ever talks about how they messed up,” says Dautermann. “This session, run by UK arts consultant Andy Doe, will give people a space to share the times where they tried and failed. It’s fun, but it is also a chance for us to learn from one another’s mistakes.”

Delegates at Classical:NEXT 2016

Another experimental angle that Dautermann is pushing in 2017 is Indie Classical. “It is something I started working on in 2007 with C3 Festival,” recalls Dautermann. “I noticed there was so much going on in the grey zone between club electronic and classical – it has enormous audience potential.

“Before C3 and Classical:NEXT came along there was not an established network for the genre, so it was not easy for bookers to find. In addition, in places like Germany there is a strict differential between serious music and entertainment music. Indie Classical sits between the two, so it is hard to get funding for it.

“I believe this is legitimate music that deserves recognition, which is why I am always pushing this forward, we act as a lobby for the genre.”

Classical:NEXT will not only host an Indie Classical network meeting and a concert by one of the genre’s pioneers, Sven Helbig, but it will also run a session with the provocative title ‘Neo Classical: Bright New Hope or Load of Kitschy Crap?’

“It’s going to be a lively debate, I think,” laughs the director. “People tend to have very strong opinions on it. Some people just think ‘yuck’ while others say ‘wow Nils Frahm, he’s incredible!’

“If anyone asks me I say ‘it can be both’. Some of it is great and some of it is kitschy crap. But, of course, traditional classical music can sometimes be kitschy too – we shouldn’t forget that. The purpose is to get the fur flying and ask people how it can help the classical world. What is it that pop fans want? What appeals to them in this music? What experiences can it offer? Can it be utilised to help the classical world in general?”

This article is an extract from a feature that appeared in the May edition of IAM. To subscribe to the magazine click here. IAM’s Andrew Anderson will be in attendance at this year’s conference.