Association of British Orchestras Conference

The Association of British Orchestras conference took place from Wednesday, January 24, until Friday, January 26, at Bristol Beacon. IAYO, who is an associate member of ABO, was represented in person at the conference by Rachel Dunne Lambe, our Youth Participation Officer, and by young Irish musicians via a collaborative video contribution that was played and discussed during the opening ceremony. Below, Rachel gives us a brief overview of the conference, highlighting aspects that she feels might be of particular interest to IAYO members.

“The ABO Conference theme for 2024 was Creative Solutions. The three-day event offered participants the opportunity to seek out and share creative solutions to many of the issues and concerns facing professional orchestras. While the ABO predominantly represents UK-based orchestras, many of the issues and concerns shared by the delegates are also relevant in the Irish context. Of particular interest to my role within IAYO was that the voices and experiences of young musicians were very much placed centrally on the conference schedule.

In the latter part of 2023, we worked with ABO and a small sub-group of youth orchestra organisations from the UK on how we could bring these younger voices to the fore in a meaningful and beneficial way. This work culminated in ‘Young Voices Speak Out’ a short video where young musicians shared the issues they cared about and their thoughts on how the arts world might respond. This video was shown during the official opening of the conference and was followed by a panel discussion where panelists such as Lord Parkinson, the UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of the State for Arts and Heritage, and the Department for Culture, Media, and Sports responded to the challenges presented by the young musicians.

This emphasis on the role of younger musicians’ voices in discussions continued throughout the conference. Both in the two deep dive discussion sessions and intermingled in the smaller break-out discussion groups. Regardless of the theme of the presentation, it was clear that creative solutions were not truly possible without bringing in the younger musicians and their views and ideas. The ABO has kindly uploaded some of the presentations and notes from the conference to the ABO website. It is not possible to go into detail here about each specific topic, but I am happy to send out a list of the speakers and topics if anyone would like some further reading.

ABO had identified two areas for deep dive discussions: the first focused on how to build a narrative for classical music to thrive, and the second focused on how creativity can help shape the future of the musical workforce.

The second deep dive acknowledged that pathways for young musicians into the orchestral industry were an area of major concern for many orchestras. It would only make sense, in that case, to hear from the young people themselves as to what it was that they sought in their playing careers. The session was hosted by Manus Carey, Deputy Principal, Royal Northern College of Music, with provocations from Samantha McShane, Creative Director, Manchester Camarata, and Linton Stephens, musician and broadcaster. For young musicians, it provided an opportunity to share their hopes, expectations, and concerns about playing in professional settings. For the organisations present, it gave space to look at how they might encourage younger musicians to join them and to stay. It was a very open and honest discussion, and I think it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that at times it was quite challenging for those of us attending. There was a unifying factor in the passion for ensuring the future of orchestras, and there was much crossover with elements of the discussion in the deep dive next door.

The shorter ‘break out’ presentations and discussions at the conference provided a wider range of topics to get into. From the role of AI to sustainability in the arts sector, from Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and to the physical and mental well-being of musicians, there was a little bit of everything available.
I would have liked to attend each session, but cloning myself was not an option. One of the sessions that I did get to attend was titled ‘Multiple Voices Make Good Decisions: Making it Meaningful’. This session was enlightening and helpful for me and my work in IAYO. Chaired by Lucy Gilliard, CE, Sinfonia Viva, the panellists were Gavin Reid, CEO, Scottish Chamber Orchestra; Rachel Sunter, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Scottish Chamber Orchestra Youth Assembly; Elen Derrett, Youth Leadership Co-Ordinator, Orchestras for All; Katie Lucas, CBSO; and Maisy Neal, CBSO Youth Ambassador. The panellists and many of the attendees shared with us their journeys in developing youth participation in decision-making in their orchestral organisations.

The inspiring part for me is that we too are on that path and are making progress. The groups present shared what worked for them and what didn’t work, and they were very upfront about the things they had learned. As they talked through the processes they engaged with, it was beneficial to hear about the successes and pitfalls they encountered. There were many similarities between their situations and approaches and ours. It was also interesting to hear how involving younger voices in their organisations resulted in positive outcomes for the orchestras themselves. Luckily for us, they are just a step ahead, so we have that opportunity to learn and develop from and with them. The key point that was driven home by the panelists was to just do something, to try, and if it doesn’t work out, go back to the drawing board with the young people and try again. We gain nothing by doing nothing, but we can gain so much by doing something.

We have forged connections with some UK-based youth orchestra organisations that share a similar ethos and goals as ourselves, and going forward, I am hoping to see an increase in the participation of young Irish musicians in conferences such as this”.

Catch up on the presentations at