Ingrid Bols has just completed her first year of PhD study researching orchestral programming in the UK and France under the supervision of Dr Eva Moreda Rodriguez and Prof. John Butt.
When I first arrived in Scotland, I attended several concerts of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow. The orchestra was playing Russian music such as Tchaikovsky, German music such as Beethoven and Finnish music such as Sibelius, all that under the baton of their Danish principal conductor. The orchestra itself was formed by musicians from various countries, and many languages were spoken among the audience. Despite all that, I was overwhelmed by one thought: ‘This is so British!’
Why did I feel such a difference from the French concerts I was used to? This mystery became the starting point of my master thesis and is now the core of my PhD research entitled ‘Programming choices and national culture: the case of French and British symphony orchestras’.
I was also surprised to see in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall a poster for a concert of John Williams’ film music just next to a RSNO poster including pieces by Mahler and Beethoven. Given that they were both posters for RSNO concerts, I should not have been surprised in any way by this display. However, it deeply impressed me, because I was not used to find film music advertised in the same way as classical music.
It seemed to me that British and French orchestras integrated film music differently in their symphonic programmes, and so, for my Masters’ thesis, I decided to analyse the 2015-2016 season of six French orchestras (Lamoureux Orchestra, Orchestra of Toulouse Capitole, Strasbourg Philharmonic, Lille National Orchestra, Lyon National Orchestra and Paris Orchestra) and five British ensembles (Philharmonia Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra). I got the results I partly expected. Almost every British orchestra had performed film music in their main season, but only half of the French orchestras did. Moreover, the statistics showed that British orchestras performed twice more pieces of film music than their French colleagues.
However, I think that the difference goes deeper than mere statistical figures. The way symphony orchestras integrate screen music in their programmes tells us about their role within their society. French and British orchestras offer different responses to the integration of this relatively new repertoire in the Western musical canon.
The call for papers for the second issue of the journal Musicology Research, entitled ‘Music on Screen: from cinema screen to touchscreen’, was the perfect opportunity for me to explore orchestral performances of this area of the symphonic repertoire which, I am convinced, can provide part of the answer to the question whether there is or not a national distinction between symphony orchestras. Last month, my article ‘Programming screen music: the case of French and British symphony orchestras’ was published in Musicology Research, as my first step in academic publishing.