Association of British Orchestras

Concert & Tours Manager

Matthew Lax

Deputy Chief Executive: Operations, Sinfonia Viva

For someone who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight but wants a rewarding job that you can see the end results and all the hard work paid off, I can’t think of a better role than Concert Manager. I have a very varied job but I get to work on projects in all stages of their life, from initial budgeting through to their culmination and final performance.

As the management team at Sinfonia Viva is small (we are a team of 6) most of the team cover a variety of roles. My job as Concert Manager is no exception. I am basically Orchestra Manager, Stage Manager, Librarian and “anything else that needs doing”. Every event, and therefore every day, brings something different. This, combined with a great team of colleagues in the office and on stage, is what makes the job so enjoyable.

I gained the experience for my job through my time studying music at the University of Nottingham, getting involved in running as many student ensembles as possible. I also got to know several of the Viva musicians when I was there as quite a few taught in the department. In fact it was through one of them I found out about the vacancy for the job I now hold.

The bulk of my time goes to the Orchestra Manager role. You can read more about this in the careers section of the ABO website, but in a nutshell it involves the personnel management of the musicians in the orchestra. As a freelance orchestra, we employ musicians when we need to put on a concert (rather than having players on contract) so I have to manage a very long list of players and get together the best orchestra I can for each concert. We have a group of 36 “core players” who, although still freelance, are our regulars. This role also involves managing the orchestra schedule, which I send out regularly to our core players so they know what work is coming up, working closely with our Section Principals to manage the extras lists and with our education department for projects which involve an educational element.

I mentioned earlier that I’m also the Orchestra Librarian. This involves managing our library of music, hiring or purchasing repertoire for concerts if we don’t own it, liaising with conductors over particular editions, marking up parts and even part creation on Sibelius in the case of new commissions. I also have to make sure I know what instruments are required for a concert, particularly percussion, as I need to make sure we book players who not only play the required instruments but can also provide them. This is particularly important in the percussion department but even in the woodwinds you can’t always assume that every oboist will play cor anglais, for instance.

With my Stage Manager hat on I travel with the orchestra whenever they are out, managing the concerts or rehearsals. My most important job on a concert day is making sure the tea urn is on as soon as I arrive. In preparation for concerts this means sending out technical riders to venues to make sure we have everything we need to put on a concert including chairs, stands, lighting, sound equipment. As we regularly visit places that are not normally a concert venue, often it is a case of finding out what there is there and either bringing ourselves or hiring in the rest. We have a van, which I drive, to transport the equipment which could be anything from stands to a podium, keyboards and PA system. It can be a bit of a jigsaw puzzle to pack when we need everything! The only thing guaranteed to be on the van every time is the all-important tea urn and for “muddy field” concerts, the obligatory wellington boots and bag of pegs!

I’m also the liaison for conductor and soloists, helping arrange rehearsal schedules, helping with travel arrangements and looking after them on concert days. Quite frequently I find I need cloning on concert days – one time I remember getting ready to send the orchestra onto stage for a concert, trying to prise scores out of the conductor’s hands (they do like to study them until the last possible minute) in order to put them out on stage, and being accosted by a soloist (who shall remain nameless) with a craving for bagels, all at 7.20pm!

In addition to the day-to-day routine (which is so varied I suppose it can’t really be called a routine) I am often given extra roles. I have been seen to be photographer and page turner as well as doing any required stage moves - pianos on/off for concertos is the obvious one. I have recorded concerts, done score-reading for lighting cues (cueing a sudden blackout when the last 40 or so bars are identical and are racing by is particularly challenging) and, more recently, cued all the fireworks which is fun apart from not being able to see the fireworks because I’ve got my head in the score!

With Sinfonia Viva comes variety and challenges, whether it is a hard-to-find piece of music, electronics, indoor pyrotechnics, or just a busy Saturday when every orchestra in the country seems to be working. It means I am constantly being challenged and the job is as exciting now as it was when I first started.

Annual Conference

The next ABO conference will take place in Bristol,
hosted by Bristol Beacon, from 24-26 January 2024.