#ConcertLab: House of Music

#ConcertLab: House of Music

Andrew Taheny


Southbank Sinfonia’s #ConcertLab series explores innovative new approaches to the presentation of orchestral music. Whilst we still share music in many ‘traditional’ concerts over each season, #ConcertLab provides opportunities for experimentation and collaboration across genres and media, along with chances to re-think how we use performance spaces to engage with audiences. So far this year, we have undertaken two #ConcertLab projects: in The Collectors, we enlisted the support of world-renowned English folk musicians Sam Sweeney and Rob Habron to prepare a programme of folk-inspired orchestral music and original folk arrangements for mixed chamber ensembles; in The Night Sky, St John’s Smith Square was turned into a planetarium, with audience members dispersed amongst the orchestra as they gazed at ceiling projections during a programme of music inspired by the cosmos. Both were very challenging and rewarding artistic experiences for the members of the orchestra. The Collectors pushed many of us – myself definitely included! – out of our comfort zones, providing an opportunity to dive head-first into unfamiliar styles of rehearsing and performing. However, we ended up with a set of varied original arrangements that we were excited to present, and we definitely widened our creative toolkits as musicians along the way. In The Night Sky, we had to work with timed audiovisual material and perform at much greater distances from each other to normal, but this all contributed to a uniquely immersive experience for the audience (and players!) that I particularly enjoyed. We continue in that spirit of immersive music-making with House of Music, which will see St John’s Smith Square transformed into an enormous salon for a diverse and century-hopping programme of chamber music.

Photographs from The Night Sky and The Collectors

The primary inspiration for House of Music comes from the once-famed ‘Schubertiades’, which were celebrations of music by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) and his contemporaries, held in the homes of the composer’s wealthier Viennese supporters. The first was held on January 26th 1821, and they continued for several years. Schubert never enjoyed financial stability in his short life, so as well as being highly valued social events these evenings offered him crucial opportunities to promote his music to potential patrons and musical collaborators. However, the Schubertiade was just one example of a wider socio-cultural phenomenon. Private musical and literary salons had swept across Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and by Schubert’s time they had become the best places to hear the latest music and poetry, and discuss the latest philosophical and political ideas. They were also key to the development and popularisation of the modern piano, which often acted as a centrepiece to the proceedings. As a result, much chamber music involving the piano, from solos to song duos and mixed ensembles, could be heard at salons like Schubertiades. With Schubert at the helm of the piano, close friends, colleagues and local arts lovers could hear his latest compositions alongside other select repertoire in a relaxed and intimate setting. According to Franz von Schober, a librettist and friend of Schubert, ‘the atmosphere was as simple and unpretentious as the rooms themselves, or rather, as Schubert’s character’. Caroline Unger, a celebrated Viennese singer, evocatively described the rooms where ‘a dim light shone, and the radiance of the candlestick picked out a face here and there’.


So how will we bring the spirit of these musical gatherings to St John’s Smith Square in the present day? With light fixtures and comfortable furniture dotted around the concert hall, members of the audience will be invited to move through the space to hear a variety of bitesize chamber performances by members of the orchestra, traversing centuries of musical styles. You can expect an intimate party with a live, multi-era playlist (including music by Schubert!), each ‘track’ being introduced by players who will tell you what they love about it. Whilst Schubert and his friends certainly wouldn’t recognise all of the music we will have on show, we know that they would recognise the joy of sharing music with friends in this kind of open and informal way.

I’m really excited to take part in this project, as I most enjoy performances that feel as though they are genuinely about sharing and storytelling. At Southbank Sinfonia, we always introduce the music we perform and seek to give a bit of insight into its background and why we think it is special. However, here we will really be foregrounding this aspect, bridging any gaps that might otherwise exist between audience and performers, as well as between styles of chamber music. Whether you are a seasoned concert-goer or a complete newcomer, we think there will be something unfamiliar, memorable and hopefully moving for everyone. We look forward to seeing you there!

Find out more about Andrew here

Book tickets for House of Music (25 April) here