Lead, Engage and Inspire

Euan Murdoch is travelling Around the World in 60 Days and blogging about it…

I finished off my week in the Bay Area with visits to three thriving music organisations. Each one is deeply engaged with their audience and strengthening these connections through high-quality artist-led work. Their success can be measured by the success of others.

Kronos Quartet/Kronos Performing Arts Association states that their mission is ‘to continually re-imagine the string quartet experience’. Anyone who has attended one of their performances over the past four decades knows to expect the unexpected. Every programme includes new music and there is a restless, risk-taking edge to them. However, their goal is to reach, challenge and expand audiences and to work with a new generation of artists to redefine the genre. They have commissioned over 800 new works to date and are having a profound global influence on artists, composers and audiences. At the heart of their work is a willingness to collaborate and an endless curiosity to explore new ideas.


Kronos continues to lead the way and to introduce large new audiences to chamber music. The challenge to the wider sector is how do we follow-up this initial experience and what can we all do to ‘re-imagine’ how to present every work as if it was a brand new piece.

Starting a festival that is artist-led from scratch offers the opportunity to be unique and responsive while drawing the best ideas from elsewhere. It also allows the host community to engage in something which is inclusive and organic, and ultimately a source of great pleasure and pride. The festival model is perfect for this as it is flexible enough to fit any community, anywhere in the world. Alex Ross observed in his February New Yorker article that audiences are hungry for these kinds of intensive experiences and the chamber music genre is ideally suited to offer them.

Music@Menlo based in the heart of Silicon Valley began ten years ago with a vision and ‘belief that classical music viewed through intelligent lenses has the power to transform and to bring people of diverse backgrounds together’. Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han are at the helm of an extraordinary team of committed musicians, administrators, governors, supporters and volunteers that has really put this community on the regional, national and international map. For three weeks every summer Menlo is transformed in to a hot-bed of chamber music. As well as an extraordinary line-up of performances showcasing some of the world’s finest, aspiring professional musicians and younger local musicians are selected to be part of the Chamber Music Institute and give Prelude Performances every evening. All the performances are recorded on the Music@Menlo LIVE label and released to audiences around the world through various broadcasting networks.

Video Livestream 2012: Cafe Conversation with David Finckel about the use of internet in regards to classical music and live performing

In a true Silicon Valley quotable quote, the management team used the term that it is time to ‘broaden the bandwidth’ in order to develop their model further. They are at capacity in terms of their venues and the scope of a three-week festival, and continue to explore ways to move forward while preserving the uniqueness of the Music@Menlo experience. It was wonderful to hear so many people in this community and artists around the States pointing to this model as one to emulate. As with all leadership, their impact can be measured by the success of other similar initiatives that are using them as the springboard for starting their own festivals.

calperformancesCalPerformances is based at University of California, Berkeley. As part of their brief they manage five venues that cater for everything from the Mark Morris and Alvin Ailey Dance Groups, to theatre and residencies by orchestras including the Simon Bolivar Orchestra from Venezuela, the Philharmonia from London and next season features the Vienna Philharmonic. Their programme encompasses jazz, world, new, chamber and early musics and is simply to die for! However they are much more than a presenter and have taken on the role of advocating for music education and fostering engagement with their audiences.

The Bay Area has several academic institutions with world-class facilities and staggering artistic line-ups, however, it is the willingness to advocate for others and to reach out and engage with their audiences and artists that marks out CalPerformances as a leader. Having had a taste of working within academia myself I know how rare this is. However, it is vital that institutions do throw their doors open, take risks, share what they have and reveal what they know in order to engage and inspire.

– Euan, 11.05.13


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