Concerts and Composers

James Rose, Dougie Scarfe (the CEO of the BSO), Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers at the Proms in Meyrick Park, Bournemouth. Credit: Starlight Photography

James Rose, Dougie Scarfe (the CEO of the BSO), Darth Vader and his Storm Troopers at the Proms in Meyrick Park, Bournemouth. Credit: Starlight Photography

I’m in my eleventh week at the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra (BSO) and I’m loving it! Recently, I went to the BSO’s very own Proms in the Park staged over three days in Meyrick Park, Bournemouth. This fun-filled 48 hr period included meeting the private donors contributing a significant amount against a backdrop of fab music played by Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Spread over three evenings, of which I attended two, the repertoire consisted of John Williams’ film hits on the first night, and then the Rock & Symphonic Queen Spectacular on the second. Both of the evenings were quite different.

The opportunity of meeting the donors was what drew me towards attending the first night to thank them personally for their support of not only my conducting, but of the BSO’s drive to making the classical music world more diverse. If I’m honest, there was a small wave of lumpy-throat syndrome going on beneath my smiling face for I continue to be touched by their support. That evening also featured guests such as Chewbacca, Darth Vader, and a number of Storm Troopers, who were meandering around the grounds for photo opportunities at the request of punters.

Although I normally remain non-plussed by people depicting fictional characters, I suddenly devolved into a smallish child and had my photo taken with all of them. I wasn’t too ashamed as I was joined by Dougie Scarfe (the CEO of BSO) who was as equally, if not more, excited to meet Darth Vader.

The second evening was just as much fun, but for different reasons. I decided to go to the Rock & Symphonic Queen Spectacular at the very last minute after having a brilliant time the night before. As a result, I was there on my own accord just to enjoy the concert whilst other BSO people were looking after the VIP tent around me. After a while, I volunteered to help people from the Development team to bring further supplies into the tent from a delivery vehicle that wasn’t allowed beyond the car park. This might sound pretty dull to you but this was an opportunity to get to know some of the team more organically whilst feeling that I was contributing something to the evening rather than draining the free bar! The two days were busy but fun at the same time, contributing further to establishing myself as part of the BSO.

The call-out for expressions of interest for the composer-in-residence closes on 1st. September. Over the past weeks, it has been interesting speaking to different composers and answering their questions before they submit their responses to the call-out. The top question asked has focused on the type of composer we’re looking for.

It is expected that the chosen person will be writing for new instruments. Therefore, we are on the hunt for someone with the flexibility and the ingenuity to compose new music whilst including references to the classical music tradition. This may include adapting conventions or inventing new ones within their composition process in order to cater for new instruments. Depending upon the formation of the ensemble, compositions may need to be written around the instrumentalists’ needs, fostering a close relationship between composer and musicians.

One of the key things I want to ensure is that there is some kind of cultural transference within pieces for established classical audiences; for existing players to embrace and celebrate the new instrumentation and a more diversified musicianship. By this, I mean that there is some familiarity to music past, possibly with signifiers from established repertoire with which people can immediately identify. How many pieces? I don’t know as this will depend on the selected composer and the dialogue thereafter to ensure organic and meaningful music.

Another question I am asked a lot is about the size of ensemble. The maximum number of musicians in an ensemble performance at any one time will be five but with a flexibility to play in a smaller configuration if needed. The BSO reaches out to the maximum number of people possible. However, it is not always practical for a venue to host a full-sized orchestra. Therefore, the BSO Ensembles, of which there are four (soon to be five[!]) offer a way for smaller groups of musicians from the BSO to perform at cosier venues.

Personality of the composer is key. This is a serious mission but it needs to be fun as well and in-line with a can-do attitude (cliché sounding tone is unintended). This is to maximise the creative potential of everyone involved whilst conveying coherent messages to audiences (whatever these may be!). The aim is to inspire but with skill, talent and ingenuity as opposed to resorting to stereotypes attached to social categorisations!


Have you thought about what we do…

I think I am allowed to say this…

Many musicians have an obsession to detail. It is kind of obvious if you think about it; take a violinist in a symphony orchestra – in an average year she/he will give about 130 public performances (plus rehearsals) – at the BSO that would equate to over 300 different pieces of music… that means several hundred thousand notes to be played… that means several hundred thousand notes of different pitches, lengths, intensities, difficulties and combinations… that means several hundred thousand notes of different pitches, lengths, intensities, difficulties and combinations and all of which have to be done at exactly the same time (and to a tolerance of let’s say a few 1/100ths of a second) as the other 13 violinists in the section.

It’s kind of remarkable when you actually think about the detail of what an orchestra does on a daily basis; 70 to 100 highly skilled people using a variety of techniques and equipment to realise in sound the vision of one person (a composer), written down in graphic notation (music) and subject to the interpretation of one other person (a conductor) but with the collective insights and experience of everyone involved. It is no surprise that Sir Alex Ferguson said that the greatest team work he ever saw was in a Symphony Orchestra.

Faced with all this, is it any surprise that musicians become fascinated (occasionally obsessed) by detail?

This manifests itself in interests outside music too and is one of the many reasons why musicians are such interesting people.

For me, since I was a kid it has always been cars. Every Wednesday I would get up early to ensure I was the first one to read my Dad’s ‘Motor’ magazine when it came through the letter box. I used to cut out all the bits from the newspaper about Formula 1 and stick them on a massive sheet of thick brown paper on my bedroom wall. When I got my first car (Austin Allegro…) I used to clean it all the time, come sun, rain or even occasionally snow. You get the picture.

DougieScarfeMercedesYou may now understand the extent of the joy I feel every day due to the brilliant relationship that the BSO has with Sandown Mercedes-Benz Group where I am able to drive a fabulous M-B everywhere I go representing the BSO. Given the orchestra covers an area of 10,000 square miles as its territory, the car is seen right across the South and South west and at our 35-40 different performing venues each year.

I love the challenge of ensuring I park the car in as visible place as possible (you may have noticed) – kind of why not – and all the better if I can get it close to the BSO instrument lorry.

parked outside the main entrance to the Philharmonic Hall

So the cars. I have been driving the E-Class Cabriolet, nothing better when the sun is out although the ‘soft-top’ is so good that you notice little difference from a hard top car in terms of noise. Engine wise the E350 I have at the moment is fabulous fun – the B3081 back from Bristol a couple of weeks ago at night was a joy – but overall I’ve enjoyed the E250D the most as it has great torque for safe overtaking on our legendary road network, but you can still average over 45mpg plus on a long journey.

Mercedes45mpgIn the job I often drive artists back from concerts at night and the comfort and ease of the cars makes a huge difference as these special people start to unwind after the stress of performance.

And then there is the incredible detail and back to where we started. To quote Mercedes-Benz – “Applying a loving attention to detail, our engineers pull off the feat time and time again of developing new Mercedes-Benz models embodying the brand’s hallmarks of fascination, perfection and responsibility” – for me this is just the same with a world-class orchestra playing Prokofiev or Beethoven.

MercedesAnalgueClockThere is the obvious detailing like a beautiful analogue clock set within a contemporary dashboard or the fabulous seats or the intuitive Sat Nav or the overall driving experience but it goes beyond that; I have become particularly fascinated by the way that new technology, which monitors how efficiently you drive, helps you achieve excellent mpg whilst also keeping up high average mph – the perfect combination. As it requires you to drive very smoothly, it is also great for passengers.







I might have to drive between 60 and 260 miles after a concert at night so the computer system that monitors ones driving and warns you when you are getting tired, though really spooky sometimes, is a great reassurance and aid to safe driving.

So, huge thanks to Sandown Mercedes-Benz Group for enabling me to apply my love of cars and driving to the fascinating life of running a great Symphony Orchestra, and for enabling me to show that the Mercedes-Benz mantra of ‘the best or nothing’ is equally applicable to the amazing musicians of the BSO, bringing great music and cultural engagement to 10,000 square miles of the South and South West.

Dougie Scarfe
BSO Chief Executive



Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra – Extraordinary Reach

I can’t be the only one that views paperwork and form filling with that a sense of life-slipping-away inevitability. Still, it is part of life and although it can feel like you are counting the number of paperclips recycled in a fiscal period, at other times it can be rewarding as you have a chance to tell a story, one of which you can be really proud.

One such story is contained in our ‘Schedule of Activity’, a paper we produce each year that lists the scheduled work for the Orchestra, and what a narrative it tells:

  • 150+ performances in 40 cities, towns and villages
  • Amazing flexibility of delivery from four or five piece ensembles to an orchestra of over 100 musicians
  • 70% of performances given away from our home venue
  • 100% of work devised and created in our home venue @LighthousePoole
  • Over a third of work devised to help build new audiences
  • From the UK premiere of a CPE Bach Passion to Burt Bacharach, from an acclaimed Prokofiev Symphony Cycle to Pirates Ahoy, from work for the under 5s and work with 18 music hubs to a pioneering orchestra for people with the early stages of Dementia, a creative musical energy that is unique in our region.

Dougie Scarfe – Chief Executive

All of this delivered over a home territory of 10,000 sq miles, and as we know, the transport infrastructure in the South West is… well just look at Dawlish.

There is much debate at the moment around funding, in particular the tensions between the Capital and regions. Those of us who have been in the profession a long time will remember the ‘Glory of the Garden’ and the Wilding reports from the 80’s and know that this is a perennial debate, yet to be resolved.

Time will tell what comes from the latest look at this but what I have found in my twenty one months at the BSO is an organisation that proudly defines what it means to be a world-class orchestra serving a remarkable (and fabulously beautiful) region with fantastic audiences and fiercely loyal supporters.

So maybe paperwork has its good moments after all. Next time Bach, Mercedes and the A35.

Dougie Scarfe
BSO Chief Executive