When soprano Rebecca von Lipinski and BCMG pianist Malcolm Wilson launch Gerald Barry’s new song Crossing the Bar into the world at the end of February, a quiet milestone will be reached. For this will be the 75th Sound Investment premiere, a fact which seems hardly possible. I well remember the glitzy launch of the scheme in Birmingham’s newly-opened Hyatt hotel back in 1991, for which my predecessor Simon Clugston recreated the ‘premiere concert’ of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro , as given in a Paris salon in 1907. In fact it’s the only time BCMG has played Beethoven, since a Beethoven Serenade joined the plethora of Ravel works in the programme. (Not quite the only time – in 2008 we premiered the work Beethoven by none other than Gerald Barry…yes, a Sound Investment commission too!). Simon Rattle, Peter Donohoe and soprano Elise Ross were the star cast, and the launch was presided over by George, Earl of Harewood and broadcaster Natalie Wheen.
Sound Investment was Simon Clugston’s brilliant idea, long before anyone had coined the term ‘crowd-funding’, and the scheme’s name was suggested by a then CBSO violinist. It was always as much about sharing the thrill of commissioning new works as the serious business of raising vital funds to support composers writing for BCMG. In the early days, as a small organisation, it took time to build our family of Sound Investors, with a small handful supporting those first pieces. But when around 20 Investors clubbed together to support Judith Weir’s Musicians Wrestle Everywhere in 1995 I recall feeling that a critical mass had been reached. Three times that number supported Colin Matthews’ magnum opus Continuum five years later, toured round Europe with Simon Rattle and, despite my occasional wondering if Sound Investors’ interest might wane, the scheme has simply gone from strength to strength.
What are the keys to its success?
First, if you love music, it is hard to beat being in the room when a composer’s notes first leave the page, in the hands of dedicated performers, knowing you’ve played a small part in that journey (and I know as I’ve been a Sound Investor myself). Second, the composers love it too – several becoming Sound Investors themselves in support of their colleagues – and I believe that communicates back to those who’ve supported them. Third, for BCMG it has profoundly affected the way we do things, and our Sound Investors are like an extended family, always enthusiastic and ready to support – and I am sure those family ties feel reciprocal. But finally, it’s a testament to the richness and variety of music being written by composers today, and the essential nature of an artform which some scientists now believe may have predated speech in human evolution.
Now, whenever I commission a new work, I do it with the freedom and confidence of knowing that there is a band of people out there who will get behind the composer and our players, and support them and the whole enterprise, without ever knowing exactly what will materialise – but always believing they will be rewarded by the adventure.