Discover how Birmingham Contemporary Music Group launched the pioneering audience development and fundraising scheme, Sound Investment, to raise funds for their new work.
Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (BCMG) is a registered charity based in Birmingham. It was formed in 1987 by players from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle – the Group’s Founding Patron. The Group has strong relationships with its Artists-in-Association Oliver Knussen and John Woolrich, and also with Thomas Adès.
BCMG constantly seeks new ways of engaging more people with the most exciting artists of
our time – be it through national, international or regional touring, its learning programme, specially devised Family/Schools Concerts, free Meet-the-Composer events, or a new series of Insight Events.
BCMG seeks to perform the most inspiring and forward-looking music of our time to the
widest possible audience, to offer a diverse range of quality learning opportunities and to
stir up interest in classical music as a living art form.
At the core of BCMG's work is the performance of new music. It is therefore essential to their achieving their aims that they raise sufficient funds to commission new work.
The Sound Investment commissioning scheme was launched in 1991 with two objectives: to
raise money for the commissioning of new music and to share the thrill of bringing a new
piece of music into the world with as many people as possible.
BCMG’s Artistic Director issues the commissioning of new pieces. These are a mixture of UK and international talent, and of young composers at the very beginning of their careers, mid-career composers and established figures. Recent Sound Investment premieres include:
David Lang, Param Vir, Howard Skempton, Charlotte Bray, David Sawer, Richard Baker,
Alexander Goehr, Tansy Davies, Silvina Milstein, Luke Bedford, Gerald Barry, Helen Grime,
Brett Dean, Richard Causton, Simon Holt, Kevin Volans, Judith Weir, Jo Kondo, Dominic
The nature of pieces ranges from small-scale (John Woolrich, The Mustering Drum, for 4 percussionists), via a range of mixed BCMG ensembles (10 - 15 players), jazz collaborations (Dave Douglas, Blue Latitudes) to large-scale music theatre and dance pieces (Michael Wolters, I See With My Eyes Closed; David Sawer, Rumpelstiltskin); and even a piece for 1000 voices ‘shouting in the streets’ (David Lang, Crowd Out).
The composers currently awaiting premiere are Edmund Finnis, Helen Grime, Gerald Barry,
Benedict Mason, Kevin Volans, Ivo Nilsson, Colin Matthews and Harrison Birtwistle.
This variety of genres, combined with the experimental nature of some of the commissions, means that the scheme appeals to a broad audience and that, once involved, donors remain
engaged with the scheme and are more likely to make repeat donations.
All money raised goes directly towards the commissioning of new music: the commission
fee is divided into Sound Units. The cost to fund a sound unit was originally set at £100 in 1991, however this was raised in 2007 to £150 – the level it sits at currently – to help bring it in line with the proportional rise in commission fees over that period. This rise brought the price to where it would be had inflation been taken into account over the intervening years.
Having a single price for the Sound Units keeps the scheme democratic and simple, allowing
as many people as possible to become involved in commissioning new music. For example, they can spread the cost of their £150 donation over a number of months by direct debit.
BCMG promotes the scheme through reviews and newspaper features, BCMG concerts and their website, but discovered that word of mouth was also a powerful tool. Sound Units have proven to be popular gifts for birthdays, Christmas, weddings, birth and retirement!
Benefits for Sound Investors:
- An invitation to rehearsals and a special reception at the premiere
- The opportunity to meet the composer
- The chance to receive a score signed by the composer
- Being kept up to date with the progress of the piece before and after its premiere
- Acknowledgment in score and concert programme
Sound Investors are kept up to date with news of their past commissions, as well as news on
any current commissions they are supporting. BCMG try to keep investors informed of known forthcoming performances and recordings of their pieces, or news of the same composer where it is relevant. Sound Investors also receive regular e-newsletters with general updates on the scheme, and twice a year they receive a catalogue with news on who BCMG is currently commissioning.
Increasingly the organisation tries to engage donors via social media and with digital
content, such as rehearsal videos and interviews with composers, as well as a short
promotional video advertising the scheme.