It was a lovely surprise to be contacted by Making Music, to be informed that APO had been shortlisted for the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Inspiration award. We had to keep the news under wraps for a couple of weeks while we collated some photos and videos from our activities over the past year, so that the RPS could create our nomination page. As we pulled this material together, any imposter syndrome that we felt at our shortlisting was replaced by the realisation that we have done quite a lot – and we should be proud of that. We deserve to be up there with the five other excellent organisations who’ve been shortlisted, and hopefully you’ll agree by supporting us in the public vote!
Putting on ‘standard’ concerts at venues where we’ve performed before becomes easier over time as you get used to the routine, although it’s still very time consuming. When you try to do something different, like putting on three performances in one day, with two of them being relaxed performances (as we did for #APOplanets in February 2020 just before the pandemic hit), it gets more difficult. Thus, the level of difficulty when you’re trying to make online or limited activities work in the pandemic goes up an order of magnitude, because it’s quite unlike anything you’ve done before.
It’s also noteworthy that, strictly speaking, the crowdfunder campaign for freelance professional orchestral musicians, and the concert to which it pertained (which is now happening on Saturday 25th September, 5pm, at the Hexagon) both fall outside the nomination period. It demonstrates quite how long we’ve had to wait to present it, including a delay from July to the end of September. The rationale for this was that all adults will have had the chance to be fully vaccinated by then, which is important in the face of the Delta variant, though of course the vaccination programme has now been extended to lower age groups as well.
Again, the amount of work that has gone on behind the scenes to get this concert off the ground has been staggering. We are indebted to the team at the Hexagon, who have been very helpful and positive about the prospect of welcoming the largest ensemble (58 players, plus me!) to the venue since the pandemic began. Risk assessments and Covid mitigations are under constant review, adding to the uncertainty. Meanwhile, the business of trying to reach our crowdfunder backers against the backdrop of aggressive spam email filters preventing our messages from reaching them has caused a fair amount of stress!
Even with a generous deal from the venue, supported by Reading Borough Council, putting on APO: The Professionals, has shown how expensive large-scale orchestral concerts are to put on. And that’s not because the musicians are expensive (they’re being paid the Musicians Union casual rates which, given the level of skill and musicianship, are very good value); it’s because there are lots of them! And though this is a decent-sized orchestra, it’s not as big as you’d need for a lot of repertoire.
Of course, we’ve tried to hire an orchestra for a programme that can be covered by the crowdfunder costs, but there is still a small deficit to make up from general sales, which have now opened. We hope the music lovers of Reading will agree that this concert, as well as being an important statement of support for freelance professional musicians, will be worth coming to as an uplifting and rewarding occasion.
In a way, it marks a bit of a watershed, as the regular non-professional orchestra will resume in person playing from October with a day’s workshop, before we work towards a concert in the Great Hall (which has, for the past 18 months, been a Covid-19 NHS testing centre), in February 2021. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that our hopes are not dashed by a winter wave requiring further restrictions.