The LCO Does The Right Thing and Does it Right

I’ve been wanting to share a few post-concert thoughts from Saturday’s program with the Lancashire Chamber Orchestra. In spite of the fact that the centerpiece of the concert was an unknown work by a relatively unknown composer, we had a very full house for the evening, and I think the outcome was no accident.

I’m not an arts administrator, but, all things being equal (doing the usual advertising for the usual orchestra(, I’d say that attendance depends on programming, scheduling, venue and luck. Mess with any of those, and, all thing being equal, you’ll see a decline in attendance.

Fortunately, this week taught us that not everything has to be equal- we can cheat. In fact, in this case, we were able to get a much bigger audience for a slightly off-beat program than for our much more conventional concert in June. Yes, you can replace the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante with the Gal Violin Concerto and improve your ticket sales!

(kw, annette-barbara vogel and eva fox-gal just after the uk premiere of the gal violin concerto) 

The biggest and most powerful reason that I think we were able to fill the hall for this concert was because some of the musicians were very pro-active in reaching out to the community. It’s amazing how effective a musician who is excited about a unique piece of music can be. In this case, a couple of players who got fired up about Hans Gal and the fiddle concerto seemed to be able to make a huge difference. Leadership, passion, energy: key members of the orchestra brought all that to the table this time. 

On the other hand, I’ve seen an orchestra very dear to me struggle with poor audiences for years in spite of heroic efforts by the musicians. What’s wrong? Do not enough people know about the orchestra? Do too many have a negative pre-conception?

Here’s where I think re-branding can be really powerful. In the case of this week, LCO got a new website up and running a few weeks before the concert, and completely redesigned our printed materials. Programs and flyers had been essentially identical for many, many years, with the same logo and same layout. This time, everything was new- the logo, the fonts, the layout, even the paper stock.

On one had, the new look is simply hipper and better, with higher production values, but also, it’s different. Prospective audiences may not have any opinion of an orchestra’s quality, but still stay away because they’ve seen the posters and brochures around for so long that they no longer read them. If your orchestra is in a rut, change things. Fresh faces, fresh energy, new look.

Likewise, OES has a much improved program look this year- better paper, clearer printing (especially the pictures) and a more modern design. I’ve been begging for this for years, and I think it’s really going to pay off. Just think how well they’ll do when they get a fresh conductor to put on the posters….

However, in the end the most important thing this week was that we picked the right piece. For so many new listeners to take a chance on the Gal, it was important that they love it. By the end of the performance, the place was bursting with energy. I believe the cast majority of the orchestra, Annette and me all felt we’d done something better than worthwhile, and that the audience was glad for the investment they’d made.

In fact, in a busy and interesting year, I think conducting the UK premiere of the Gal Violin Concerto (only the 4th performance of a work premiered in 1933) is going to be among the most important moments of my musical 2009. It’s seriously great music. It sounds like a cliche, but I felt very privilaged to conduct one of the first performances it’s ever gotten.

Thanks also to Hans Gal’s daughter, Eva Fox-Gal, for joining us for the concert!

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

Learn about Kenneth at

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2 comments on “The LCO Does The Right Thing and Does it Right”

  1. ComposerBastard


    Can you give us some of your specific thoughts about working through this work (Gal) – how the rehearsal process went and the kind of issues you faced and overcame – considering this is such an underproduced work, and you are performing it in a more modern environment?

  2. Kenneth Woods

    Hi CB

    Good idea- I’d hoped it in any case. No promises as it’s a mad week and I struggle to write about last weeks news, but I’ll see what I can do!

    In any case, we’re doing it again soon, so you’ll be hearing lots more about Gal on Vftp.


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