Written evidence submitted by Orchestras Live



Digital Culture Media & Sport Committee Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors
Inquiry into the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on DCMS sectors’.


Written evidence submitted by Sarah Derbyshire MBE on behalf of Orchestras Live.




  1. Introduction – Orchestras Live

1.1.   A national organisation, and an Arts Council NPO, Orchestras Live believes that orchestras are for everyone and that live orchestral music has the power to inspire people for a lifetime. We build complex relationships and investment between local agencies and professional orchestras to produce life-enhancing and often life-changing orchestral experiences for a diverse range of people across England, particularly in culturally under-served areas.

1.2.   We have over 50 years experience of making the incredible music, artistry and skills of world class orchestras widely accessible. Without our intervention little or no sustainable orchestral activity would take place in the areas we operate. In a typical year our active regional and local partnerships include 25 of the country’s finest professional orchestras and around 60 investing partners - local authorities, venues and music education hubs – as well as a raft of cultural, social and community organisations.  Our work encompasses over 50,000 live orchestral experiences, of which 40% provide first time live experiences for young people and their families.

1.3.   In 2019/20


  1. What is the focus of this submission?

2.1.   This submission focuses on the impact of Covid-19 on the orchestral sector’s ability to meet the needs of audiences and participants in culturally underserved areas, illustrated by Orchestras Live’s direct evidence.

2.2.   The Committee will receive extensive evidence from orchestras, concert halls, performing arts organisations and their membership bodies that spell out the economic and practical impact on our sector.  This submission focuses on the less-well served communities that our work benefits and who are themselves disproportionately suffering from the impact of COVID-19.


  1. What has been the immediate impact - Financial

3.1.   Orchestras Live derives no ticket income from events but our work supports others to maximise income and develop new audiences. 

3.2.   Financial analysis shows that our direct income to end Sept 20 is nearly 25% down on Sept 19, reflecting lost partnership investment and fundraising.

3.3.   Our expectations of fundraising are significantly lower since many new prospects identified for funding development in 20/21 have indicated a focus on supporting current grantees through Covid-19 rather than accepting applications from new organisations. A number of our warm/repeat prospects are pausing/reviewing grant making until Q3.  This impacts on our ability to address the situation throughout 20/21. We have no potential to convert sales to donations.

3.4.   Currently 17% of partners are unable to confirm investment for 20/21 due to their own financial losses resulting from Covid-19 and continuing uncertainty. These partners include local authorities, Music Education Hubs, festivals and small-scale promoters in culturally underserved areas. 


  1. What has been the immediate impact Performances and activity

4.1.   OL’s work with communities across England depends on partnership retention at regional/local level and corresponding investment in orchestral co-productions. Losing connection with communities has hit us and the wider sector badly; orchestras are losing work putting their survival and musicians’ livelihoods at stake; communities are suffering.

4.2.   Closure of venues, schools, public spaces and community centres where our activity takes place has resulted in immediate cancellations from late March.

4.3.   A summary of confirmed lost activity to date:

4.4.   Some work has successfully transferred to digital platforms and this has proved to be of significant benefit to participants who would otherwise be isolated during Covid-19.

4.4.1. The Destinies project explores how music and drama can empower unaccompanied migrant children and looked-after children and is co-produced with Derbyshire's Virtual School. Since last autumn, a workshop team from Ava Hunt Theatre and Sinfonia Viva has held two mini-residencies with the participants, developing a sense of company and creating music based on their diverse life experiences. The artistic team includes an Arabic-speaking viola player who can connect with the migrant children whose English is not strong.

4.4.2. Whilst the intended performance during the Easter holiday had to be postponed, several online sessions have been held instead and proved effective in maintaining the creative interaction with and between the group members.

4.4.3. This cycle of creative exchange is continuing through monthly blocks of workshops across the summer, giving the opportunity for the ‘company’ to meet, share and perform their work as it evolves. Our plan is to sustain this cycle until a time when it is safe for everyone to meet up and finish the piece; the digital dimension has become an integral part of the process and will feature in the performance to a certain extent, making it a hybrid live/digital event.

4.4.4. The process is proving successful in giving vulnerable young people a voice and a sense of identity within the safe space of the company. The digital work has been important in making them feel less isolated and providing some fun and stimulating activity during such a worrying time. The wellbeing benefits of online contact between friends in shared creative activity have been significant. One participant, who had become depressed and recluse during lock down, was lifted emotionally by the workshops.

4.4.5. Encountering Wordsworth is an inclusive large-scale music, poetry and multi-media project celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Wordsworth.  It was due to culminate at the end of April, featuring a performance of newly created work by our team of young composers and primary schools, Manchester Camerata and composer Laura Bowler.

4.4.6. With 80% of the project completed, we’ve been able to move swiftly to take the entire project online. The remaining young composer workshops will take place virtually with Laura, sound artist, Dan Fox and Manchester Camerata musicians, working together to finalise the newly created music. Laura has also recorded films for the primary schools to learn the songs and the entire team will be working together to produce a special film collage of the project to be premiered online in July, which will eventually form part of an installation at Wordsworth Grasmere’s new visitor centre. We hope the full project culmination concert will take place in April 2021, followed by a performance by Cumbria Youth Orchestra in July 2021.

4.5.   The principles of digital creative exchange as exemplified above are being adopted and extended in other Orchestras Live projects, such as our long-established Hear and Now intergenerational project in which groups of young people and older people in different parts of the country are being connected in a collaborative process to make a new piece with the Philharmonia Orchestra, which is likely to lead to online and live performances over the next year.

4.6.   It is important to ensure that, in the transfer to digital delivery, we do not exclude those who have no online access. The Hear and Now project is making sure older people who are not online are included in the creative and social interaction through posted resources, telephone contact and mentoring support from young people within the intergenerational collaboration.  Southbank Centre’s Art by Post is another initiative that aims to avoid the most vulnerable and isolated people falling through the net.


  1. How effectively has the support provided by DCMS, other Government departments and arms-length bodies addressed the sector’s needs?

5.1.   Orchestras Live has not received any financial support from DCMS, other Government departments or Arts Council England.  We have applied for a modest level of ACE Emergency Response NPO funds and await a decision.

5.2.   We recognise the challenges faced by ACE in assessing the impact on the sector and appreciate that they have been resourceful in repurposing their existing funds to provide support as quickly as possible to the sector and to meet the most immediate needs.

5.3.   We believe that, in order to ensure the survival of the cultural sector beyond immediate emergency support, DCMS must make additional funds available both for stabilisation and for a creative route out of the pandemic. A flexible approach will be required and one that recognises risk, as organisations will need support in trialling new ways of working that addresses systemic flaws in the sector that Covid-19 has made much more apparent.  Funds to support innovation, for example in the digital sphere, should be made available and, again, recognise that many organisations will not yet have fully developed expertise in this area.

5.4.   The Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and for Self-employed Income Support scheme, whilst they have gone some way to supporting organisations and established self-employed artists, have left many individual musicians, particularly those in the early stages of their career, without any support.


  1. What will the likely long-term impacts of Covid-19 be on the sector, and what support is needed to deal with those?

6.1.   As we emerge from COVID-19 and plan into 2021/22, the orchestral sector will face a new landscape for live performance and participation, shaped by public health measures and public confidence in attending or participating in live music.  We expect these to have an impact beyond the immediate duration of the current pandemic.


6.2.   Venues will have restricted capacity; there will be social distancing measures that performers also will have to abide by; schools, health and social care settings and community facilities will approach reopening to external visitors with extreme caution.


6.3.   We expect that there will be some venues and performing arts organisations that are forced to close, merge or significantly downsize as a result of prolonged closure due to Covid-19.


6.4.   At the same time, there is increasing evidence that underserved communities, such as those where Orchestras Live focuses its work, will experience greater economic and social hardship than those in more affluent areas


6.5.   The need for the social and healing power of music will become acute. Support is needed now, whilst orchestras and venues are not engaged in live performances, to connect directly with potential audiences to better understand how they feel engagement in orchestral music can address the issues experienced by culturally underserved communities.


6.6.   Support is also needed to provide organisations’ stability from which to shape a coherent solution for orchestral and promoter partners as well as the musical workforce during and after lockdown, bringing orchestras and partners together to develop more agile models.


6.7.   Solutions explored now to engage with new audiences, at a time when physical distancing compounds social isolation, will have lasting impact, building meaningful links between orchestras and communities, building new and diverse audiences, supporting long term resilience and relevance of the orchestral sector.



  1. What lessons can be learnt from how DCMS, arms-length bodies and the sector have dealt with Covid-19?

7.1.   There has been a tendency to focus on cultural infrastructure: in our specific sector – the orchestras and venues that provide the framework for public live concert performances.

7.2.   There has been little attention paid to the impact that the loss of shared live musical experiences has on audiences and participants, or to the increased need that will become evident once lockdown is lifted.

7.3.   As a result, the huge resource that is the orchestral sector – both performers and non-performers – and its potential to contribute to small-scale, low cost solutions at local level is so far ignored.


  1. How might the sector evolve after Covid-19, and how can DCMS support such innovation to deal with future challenges?

8.1.   A commitment to strengthen national and regional networks of cultural partnerships, particularly between cultural organisations (including orchestras), local authorities, Music Education Hubs/schools and health/social care providers would provide a strong framework on which to rethink and rebuild a sustainable pattern of orchestral activity rooted in consultation and collaboration.

8.2.   Digital technology offers new ways to address issues of inequality and access, combining imaginative digital and live approaches to creative participation. Beyond times of social isolation, this work will inform and complement new physical performance models when live events become possible, helping orchestras and musicians adapt to the new environment.

8.3.   Such work offers opportunities for cross-sectoral collaboration, sharing expertise – sound technicians, digital producers and creatives from music, dance and theatre sectors.


8.4.   DCMS and arms-length bodies can support innovation through investing in an action research approach to address specific issues such as to expedite new performance models, including digital, better equipping the sector to face COVID-19 challenges. For example: