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Posts for September 2016

Thursday, September 22, 2016 9:00am

Juggling & Jigsaws: How we put the ASO Season together

Simon Lord ASO.jpg

ASO Director, Artistic Planning Simon Lord tells us about how we put the ASO Season together, and what he’s been doing to prepare for the Season 2017 launch on 29 September…

As Guest Conductor, Michael Stern and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra start to rehearse Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony which they’ll perform at the Adelaide Town Hall on Friday night and preparations continue for the ASO’s Season 2017 Launch next Thursday, there are other sounds filling the air of the Grainger Studio...phones ringing, tapping keyboards, and conversations about future seasons are all happening.

Photo credit: Shane Reid

The ASO’s Director, Artistic Planning, Simon Lord has been with the ASO since 2011 and Season 2017 will be the sixth Season that he has shaped. When we sat down for a chat this past week, I was not entirely surprised that much of the planning for ASO concerts happens at least a year or two in advance of presenting the concert itself.

Simon explains that this is common practice for orchestras around the world; the preparation to put 75-100 players onstage to present a program starts long before a  note of music is performed is a monumental task which involves a lot of people.

“So, where to start?” Simon contemplates.

“Actually, the here and now is probably as good a place as any,” Simon says.

“The Season 2017 Brochure has now gone to print, and we’re putting the bones of Season 2018 in place.”

Simon discusses how in Adelaide, the architecture of a Season is very dependent on venue availability, followed by our other standing commitments to the State Opera of SA, the Australian Ballet and the Adelaide Festival of the Arts.

“So, putting the bones of it in place is quite mechanical: we start with the Artistic Leadership Team’s (Chief Conductor and Principal Guest Conductor) available weeks and the process from there is about ‘building blocks’. We start with “staff conductor” weeks and put these alongside the available venues: people and buildings go into place first.

“This is not always necessarily so for some orchestras which have their own homes – their own concert halls – those orchestras tend to be more in control of their own destiny than the ASO.

“For example, an orchestra like the Berlin Philharmonic will know that they’ll be in their concert hall (the Philharmonie, pictured) or on tour, so will have their dates booked far in advance…possibly as far ahead as 2020, maybe even further ahead.


“Also, because those orchestras tend to work with high profile artists, conductors like Simon Rattle, Gustavo Dudamel all have diaries which are booked far in advance. Hence, the need to plan accordingly.

“It’s very much to do with people’s availability – a sort of jigsaw puzzle at this point.


“Season planning is also part of a bigger conversation that goes on with the Australian State symphony orchestras. When we meet we’ll all share what we’ve got planned…someone says this is when a certain artist is planning on being on tour in Sydney or Perth, and then another orchestra may say, ‘well, that works well with a week we have…’ and so on and so forth.

Simon explains that this collaborative approach helps the Australian symphony orchestras to make savings by sharing costs with each other, so to bring some of the best international soloists in the world to Australia and to Adelaide.

“Now is really around the time that guest soloists start coming into focus for 2018; people that the ASO and I want to bring to Adelaide – some are established friends – some are artists making their ASO debut.

“By November/December, some of the season should really be shaping up, and by early in the New Year the conversations about repertoire start to happen.

“Depending upon the conductor, the project and soloists, the first conversation about repertoire is often between me and the conductor, soloist or the artists’ management or agent.

“It is a truly consultative process, with important input from the ASO’s Artist and Repertoire (A&R) Committee, the ASO’s Managing Director, and other stakeholders.

“I chair the A&R meetings which happen about six times a year. On that team is Vincent Ciccarello (ASO Managing Director), Nicholas Carter (ASO Principal Conductor), Natsuko Yoshimoto (ASO Concertmaster) and five elected players chosen by the orchestra, each representing a different part of the orchestra (e.g. strings, brass etc). It’s often aspirational, identifying artists, as well as deciding as to what the orchestra should be playing – it’s a melting pot of ideas.

“It’s also about looking backwards and forward at the same time. For example, we consider which Beethoven symphony the ASO played in 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013… I have a database in my head of what’s happened since I’ve been here. It’s also important to consider what repertoire may have been missing from previous seasons. It’s like a symphony orchestra’s DNA.

“You need to be pragmatic and understand what will fit in certain venues (e.g. which pieces work well in what spaces and getting the context right). And, of course, there is a budget to consider. For example, performing Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben is a costly enterprise compared to say presenting a Mozart symphony. Then, there’s the question of audience, the box office, what do people want to hear? We constantly talk to marketing colleagues about this to ensure we’re in sync. Audiences are different all over the world, all over Australia.  One has to be sensitive to that.

“One of the key things I’ve learnt is that you must take the audience’s pulse  – understand what it wants and knows, and also what it might not know and not want! And, of course, that all needs to be balanced by what the orchestra needs to play for it to maintain good artistic health.


“Then there’s the commissioning of new work. It can often define an orchestra’s identity. This process happens much earlier, when we identify composers with whom we want to work… For example, we’ve been working on many different commissions since I started at the ASO, and some of these new works will finally be heard in our 2018 Season. It can be a slow burn – but it’s so important. Music is a living thing.  Orchestras are not museums.

“A lot of my job is about the people; relationships and friendships that can build up over a long time. And often a new work will be born through a story like that…with an artist, a composer…"

Simon discusses how Andrew Ford’s recently performed Electric Guitar Concerto – Raga that the ASO performed in the 2016 Adelaide Guitar Festival came into being…

“The original idea came from the composer and then here at the ASO we ‘joined the dots’; our friends at the Adelaide Guitar Festival were key since that provided the context for the performance of this new work. Next, Andy went out and found a willing and generous commissioner,” Simon says.

And so, a great new piece of music was born.

“Much of what I try and do is about bringing people together. I’m constantly having lots of conversations – often at all times of the day and night – with colleagues all over the planet. Sometimes, ideas fly, sometimes they don’t.

“Conversations about the art – the music – happen between January and March and there is often  a lot of ‘to-ing and fro-ing’. Everybody has a view, but there are certain pieces that we endeavour to protect for our Artistic Leadership Team.

“Sometimes these are the bigger and more expensive corners of the repertoire, so we’ll identify those works first, budget accordingly and then other works fit around them. Out of this, themes start to emerge…ideas, shapes, stories to tell – often the Season theme will come to me in the middle of the night or when I’m riding my bike home from work.

Henry Ward Beecher once said, “all words are pegs to hang ideas on” and this metaphor is also true for the organic emergence of a Season’s theme, it can be certain works or perhaps a composer’s anniversary which becomes the peg to hang an idea on…

“The creative and fun stuff happens early in the New Year but discussions really happen all the time. For example, we’ll soon be having initial idea chats with colleagues at the Adelaide Festival, not only about 2018 projects but hopefully 2019 ones too.

“Then, in March next year, soon after the Adelaide Festival, we return to the mechanical side of Season planning; the budget. Needless to say, no one person decides this stuff – it needs a lot of people’s input and attention.

“Once the ASO Board approves the budget in July/August, we then focus on the negotiation of fees, the dollars – the travel, the essential ‘nitty gritty’ stuff which is time consuming. And the ASO’s Artistic Administrator, Stevan Pavlovic is key in all of this.

“Then it’s getting it to market time – the materials – print and digital, the design, the delivery – followed by the unveiling of the ASO’s Season at various launch events in October. And then the concerts start to happen and the program finally jumps off the printed page.

“The whole thing can be a bit like doing a three-dimensional jigsaw and often it’s a bit like working in multiple timezones: the long-term forward Season planning; the more medium term stuff where we prepare for what’s happening in 2-3 months’ time; and then, there’s the here and now…being on the ground with the artists, with the ASO,” Simon says.

“And then of course – the best bit – being there for the concerts and hearing the music come to life.

This article was written by Michelle Robins, Publications & Communications Coordinator, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto
Fri 23 Sep 8pm
Sat 24 Sep 6.30pm


The ASO unveils its Season 2017 on Thursday 29 September
Visit aso.com.au for all the details on Thursday


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