Can New Music Reach a Wider Audience?: Discussion at SoundState This Weekend

Fiona Robertson, panel chair and Sound Festival Director

Can New Music Reach a Wider Audience?: Discussion at SoundState This Weekend

Fiona Robertson speaks to The Journal of Music about a panel discussion on contemporary music taking place at the Southbank Centre this weekend – a 'provocative' question to some: who is listening?

As part of the new SoundState festival of contemporary music, which takes place at the Southbank Centre in London this weekend (16–20 January), a panel of composers and presenters will tackle the question ‘It’s New Music, But Who’s Listening?’.

The discussion will consider who the audience is for new music, asking if it is primarily other composers, an initiated group of listeners, or if new music reach can reach a wider audience, and if so, how?

Chairing the talk will be Fiona Robertson, Director of the Sound Festival in Scotland. She will be joined by John Harris, Co-Director of Red Note Ensemble and Director of the New Music Dublin festival, and composers Daniel Kidane and Sally Beamish.

Speaking to The Journal of Music, Robertson said the session was organised to discuss ‘a provocative question that could be interesting.’

One thing we’re mostly concerned about is to do with audiences, an ongoing question in terms of new music… why are we doing it, who’s listening? Is the audience just other fellow new music professionals, or does [new music] have a potential wider reach and relevance in society?

It is one of a number of discussions and workshops in the festival, which features over 30 world and UK premieres, and Robertson believes it presents a rare opportunity for dialogue with the audience being discussed:

What’s interesting is that the audience will hear the questions that we’re asking ourselves, and gain an insight into how composers work and how we programme stuff to make it more relevant, but equally the other way around.

I’m hoping that the audience itself will have an idea of why they come or don’t come… it will be interesting to listen to them and hear their perspective.

For Robertson and the Sound Festival in Scotland – which takes place in October/November this year in Aberdeen – the key to reaching out to new audiences is ‘embedding’ them in some way, for example, a concert for eight bassoons in the 2017 festival consisted of local musicians and teachers, or a work which involved recordings of the voices of local people. 

For me it’s less about putting people in coloured clothes or tweaking the lighting, which is trendy, but how do you find a way to get people involved in a different way, that makes them take ownership of it, and allows them to come in. It’s about connections between people. 

‘State of Sound: It’s New Music, But Who’s Listening?’ will take place on Saturday 19 January at 2pm at the Southbank Centre. Book a free ticket here.

The SoundState festival will feature over 50 composers including Helen Grimes, Rebecca Saunders, Anders Hillborg and Du Yun. For further information, visit

Published on 17 January 2019

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