Comment: Jane Beese and Gillian Moore

Jane Beese and Gillian Moore on the Southbank Centre topping PRS for Music’s top music venues list . 

The Southbank Centre topping PRS for Music’s list of concert venues really was wonderful news (view the M story). This reflects the work that we have been doing here since the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall in 2007 following a £111 million refurbishment.

In 2011 we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Festival of Britain and welcomed more than 2.8 million visitors to the Southbank Centre. Around 300,000 visitors attended ticketed events, which featured a diverse array of artists including Ray Davies, Lang Lang and Billy Bragg. Meanwhile 100,000 people enjoyed more than 400 free events.

2012 sees us in the second year of our relationship with MasterCard, which allowed us to once again facilitate a four-month festival across the summer. This year, as a response to the world coming to London for the Olympics, we celebrated with the Festival of the World. Both festivals were created as umbrella events under which our usual programming, including the likes of the Meltdown Festival, still took place.

In 2013 we will stage a year-long festival called The Rest Is Noise in which 20th Century classical music will be explored. The festival is based on Alex Ross’s book of the same name and the London Philharmonic Orchestra will play a major role in it.

All of our venues have become much more alive in the last five years and to be recognised for that and the ongoing work we do with emerging and resident artists is really exciting.

When you come to the Southbank Centre it is more than just a matter of attending a concert – it is an experience set in a cultural context. We work hard to enhance the experience of the crowd and try to create an educational narrative around a show. That has proved attractive to both artists and audiences.

We are a heavily public funded organisation but a lot of the music programme does work on a very commercial basis; the very mixed economy of the site is increasingly commercial and entrepreneurial. The Southbank Centre has changed greatly in recent years. As an organisation we are learning how to be clever economists but obviously the public funding is absolutely crucial to our work.

In July we staged the New Music 20×12 Weekend with performances of 20 new 12-minute works, commissioned to mark the Olympics year, by 20 composers. The event celebrated new UK music from both emerging and established artists. The PRS Foundation supported the event and that helped enable us to present fourteen of the 20 works as free performances across the Southbank Centre.

We have a very big learning and participation department that is seamlessly tied into the arts programming team and so the presentation of free work is at the heart of what we do. Throughout the Southbank Centre there is a sense that a passing audience can bump into art.

There is a cultural audience in London who are hooked into knowing what is going on all the time. Obviously we are here to support that audience but we are also here to support a much wider audience who perhaps find the world of contemporary dance or classical music a little intimidating. Our programme, we hope, is for everyone.

We support emerging artists in a number of ways. For example, we have a residency relationship with Tomorrow’s Warriors Youth Jazz Orchestra with workshops run by its artistic director Gary Crosby. We also have a strong relationship with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and our learning and participation programme invites young musicians to perform.

There has to be a balance for all programmers when it comes to how they engage with new artists and their music. Most of us have a hit list of new artists that we want to work with and we all have a big network of contacts. It maybe that an artist comes to us through an agent, but a key part of our role is to always be out there listening to and looking for new music.

The record company framework of artists being discovered, then supported by the industry does not really exist any more – as a result we have become more of a filtration system.

Among the programming team we have representatives of contemporary music, classical music, art, literature. There is only a certain amount of space in the auditorium, so we have an ongoing, robust yet polite, dialogue about how best a balance of programming can be achieved.

We are running 21-acres of prime central London real estate and work hard to make it a destination for the public.

Jane Beese is head of contemporary music and Gillian Moore head of classical music at the Southbank Centre. Their roles involve booking music across the centre’s four venues; The Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery.

In 2011 the Southbank Centre held 422 music events, which were attended by more than a million people.