Orchestral Management

Alex Walden

Orchestra Manager, BBC Concert Orchestra

I guess I’m not a person who goes for an easy sedentary life. Though sometimes after a long week I wish that was different. Life in Orchestra Management and the music industry in general challenges you every day. It takes energy, diplomacy, problem solving, emotional intelligence, thick skin and an undying love for the music and performers who play at the highest of levels.

Managing any group of people can be demanding and musicians are no exception. Even after having the most difficult day with some players, having that moment where they perform well, can enrich the soul and strongly remind you why any of us in orchestra management aspired for such a position.

I’m a little more unusual in my career path to orchestra management. I am not a former player and I didn’t study music after A level. Whilst I always had passion for music, it was more for the sound production. I started out in Campus Radio which led me to working for BBC Radio on a casual basis. When an engineer went sick I was asked to mix a live studio session for broadcast. After years of volunteering and learning about production, I had the opportunity to show what I could do. From radio I went to work for a music production company in Soho. I learnt many aspects of music production and I was lucky to be given the opportunity to be involved from start to finish. I spent years as a copyist, mainly for orchestras, but I also learnt to record, mix and edit in post-production.

I worked on a range of productions and recordings. TV themes, radio jingles, tv commercial jingles, drama, entertainment and concerts. Whilst there are as surplus of TV composers in the market, not many would know how to work with an orchestra. I started to act as a producer, arranging and supervising the recordings. I produced music items for TV shows, many for the BBC.

Having worked around orchestras most of my career I was asked to do some freelance Orchestra Managing on muddy field dates around the country. Most of the attributes that helped me in my recording and TV career translated perfectly to orchestra managing. I enjoyed the experience, maybe not when it rained, and thought I could do more. Ten years ago I noticed that the Orchestra Manager’s job was being advertised at the BBC Concert Orchestra. Wanting a change of direction in my career, I applied.  I think my broadcast production background helped me as this particular job is very broadcast driven. I have to understand not only the needs of the musicians but also the director or producer.

I am also a workplace mediator which is very useful. Conflict resolution is part of the Orchestra Manager role and we are forever searching for that good compromise. Managing noise exposure for our musicians is one of the toughest things we are faced with today.

There are days I just want to sneak home, pour myself a drink and sit in silence but there are others that bring such joy I’m moved to tears. If ever I’m asked for advice on how to enter the music industry I will always say that tenacity and willingness to muck in at every level is required. Being hungry and volunteering for free at my campus radio station is a good start. That led to taking up the offer of working in local radio and shadowing various people I got to meet. When the opportunity is given, you must grab hold and not let go with the approach to anyone who asks, ‘the answer is yes, what’s the question?’