ISPA 2015 Malmö/Copenhagen congress: Musik i Syd

Musik i Syd (Music in the South, or MiS) holds a unique position in the Øresund Region, a transnational area of overlap between southern Sweden and northern Denmark that incorporates the major cities of Malmö and Copenhagen. A music producer and arranger in its own right, MiS also programmes and coordinates a vast array of concerts for audiences on both sides of the famed Øresund Bridge, exerting a great deal of influence on the classical and performing arts scene in an area with a population of some 3.8m people.

‘We’re highly active on the music scene, which we’re most associated with, but we also collaborate in other areas of the performing arts,’ explains Peter Wilgotsson, manager of classical music, jazz and international exchange at MiS, and programme director for the upcoming ISPA 2015 Malmö/Copenhagen congress, which MiS is overseeing. ‘We work predominantly in the south and the Øresund Region, but we do programme nationally and internationally too. Each year we have a little over 3,000 concerts, of which probably half are for school audiences and young people.’

MiS plays a significant role in artist import and export for the region – both individuals and groups, including full choirs and orchestras – and its influence on the Øresund music scene frequently reaches beyond classical or contemporary classical into chamber music, jazz, rock and world music. In recent years, one of its key concerns beyond building a well-developed youth and education programme has been increasing access for audiences outside the area’s major population centres.

‘It’s hugely important that people shouldn’t have to travel long distances to one of a few big cities in order to have a high quality music experience,’ says Wilgotsson. ‘The biggest challenge in addressing that is, of course, an economical one: we first have to get the artists out there, then we have to find a suitable hall or venue in the area to host a performance, and finally we have to bring in those audiences.

‘We do this by working with a local promoter, who can act as a producer and a guide to help connect the performance with all of those local resources. On our own, as an organisation based elsewhere, it’s much more difficult. The audiences are out there – we know this, and have proved it many times – but we’ve found that these local promoters, with their specialist knowledge of those areas and networks, are usually the best way to reach them.’

Like many other organisations, MiS is increasingly looking towards digital platforms as a way to boost engagement and reach. It recently began working on a collaborative channel called Digital Scenes 2013-15, supported by Arts and Culture Skåne and featuring the Com.postions project, which seeks to ‘take advantage of site-specific music in Ystad, Kristianstad and Lundas’.

‘It’s something we’re really excited about,’ confirms Wilgotsson. ‘It’s a natural progression, in the sense that the digital era is here now, and here to stay, but I also hope it can be used and experienced in a way that strengthens the will of audiences to actually go out there and experience the music live.

‘For all the benefits of digital outreach in terms of increasing access and building audiences, it’s a concern for all of us, I think, that digital platforms can’t and shouldn’t replace the live experience. Hopefully, tools like Digital Scenes get people to really want to be at the concerts, as well as providing access when they can’t.’

One key advantage of digital platforms, Wilgotsson agrees, is that they offer a great way to engage with young people. ‘I look at my own kids, and I realise that this generation is more or less immersed in that world from birth. It’s happening even in pop music now, with artists like Björk and her work on the Biophilia album tour, for example. [Björk composed segments of Biophilia using an iPad, and encouraged audiences to use apps to enhance the live experience].

‘I think that’s definitely the sort of area we might look to explore further in future … but again, I do firmly believe that it’s most important for us to experience the music and the artists live and direct. That’s the real thing, and it’s the best of what we do. It’s an experience that people need to have, to feel the power of the performance in the flesh. Even if you’re back in the 20th row, you’ll still feel it very differently than you would through a screen. It’s a physical experience, in a way that watching a screen just can’t replicate.’

The pros and cons of digital platforms will be a talking point at the upcoming ISPA 2015 congress, overseen by MiS and taking place 27-30 May at venues in both Malmö and Copenhagen. Other featured topics will include: how to build relationships with future artists through outreach activity for children and young people; the role of arts and its institutions in wider society; alternative project financing channels; and gender equality.

Gender equality has been a subject of renewed focus in Scandinavia in recent years. ‘Actually, I’d say more in Sweden specifically,’ Wilgotsson laughs. ‘Some other Scandinavian countries view us as almost trying to do too much in that regard, I think! But what I hope the ISPA discussion will explore is the idea that it’s a very important issue, and one that must be addressed by artists, composers, conductors and managers – but that at the same time, what we must always focus on primarily is quality. It’s not just a question of gender, but also of what’s best for the sector, artists and audiences.’

In terms of project funding, Wilgotsson notes that the MiS model is quite typical for Sweden in many ways, but less so in others. It’s financed via a combination of government and private funding, with an emphasis on the former, which Wilgotsson says is fairly standard. (He notes that in recent years, the government has delegated more responsibility for the allocation of its funding to the individual regions themselves, but that ‘it’s still the same money in effect.’)

‘What’s perhaps less common about our approach today,’ he continues, ‘is that we’ve been particularly successful in our efforts to generate private and partnership funding in addition to that government support. In fact, our own sources now represent around 30 per cent of our total income, which I think is quite high compared to many cultural institutions in Sweden.’

One of the most exciting new developments in Malmö city is the growth of the Malmö Live project, a hotel, a congress centre and a concert hall, together with new apartment buildings and offices. The Malmö Live Concert hall is run by the City of Malmö. The city will gain a much-wanted concert hall offering world-class acoustics and multiple stages for Malmö Symphony Orchestra. The main auditorium will seat 1,600 people, with smaller stages inside and outside the building hosting a wide array of music genres, shows and performances. The concert hall is placed, along with the conference centre and hotel complex, right in the heart of the city.

‘It’s essentially three buildings working together,’ explains Wilgotsson of the new development. ‘The concert hall will be technically advanced, but I’d definitely say it’s a functional building; it isn’t designed to make architectural headlines, but as a deliberately practical step forward. I’m very excited about it – it’s going to be great for the city, because it will provide a living centre point with all kinds of uses and reasons for people to go there. I really like the fact that as many people will visit simply for a cup of coffee as to see a concert. It creates an environment that connects our society more closely to the arts, which is always a good thing.’

Looking beyond ISPA to the rest of 2015-16, the MiS calander appears typically busy both at home and further afield. As well as its aforementioned work with local promoters around the Øresund Region, MiS still programmes for its existing core venues of Växjö Concert Hall, Kulturkvarteret Kristianstad and the Palladium Malmö, as well as overseeing several of Sweden’s major music festivals (including Båstad Kammarmusikfestival; the world folk gathering Korrö Folkmusikfestival; and the biennial Lund choral festival, arguably the biggest of its type in Scandinavia).

‘We’re also in the process of reassessing one of our other major festivals, the biennial Music Around, which is due in 2016,’ Wilgotsson says. ‘We’re hoping to make the next version something quite different – we’re changing the format to focus more on chamber groups and major ensembles, rather than the traditional emphasis we’ve previously had on symphony orchestras. If our plans in that direction work out, you could almost think of it as a new festival for the city, so that’s really exciting too.’

And in the international arena? ‘We’re very keen to try to introduce some more Musik i Syd programming to cities like London and Paris – we already do some work of that sort, of course, but I’d love to focus a bit more on that as a priority over the coming years.’

With a prominent new venue in the centre of Malmö beckoning, a strong digital channel guiding audiences back to the live experience,  you can fill up your world contacts book be at ISPA 2015. Registrations now open here.