‘It’s my age that’s the speaking level, not that I’m black’: Toks Dada, the Southbank’s head of classical music | Classical music

Toks Dada is reeling off the concert events that make up the opening weekend of the Southbank Centre’s season, beginning tomorrow, and as he begins to expire of fingers he seems to be an increasing number of like a toddler in a candy store. Who would begrudge him the thrill? It’s, in spite of everything, the primary correct season he has programmed in his position because the Southbank Centre’s head of classical music.

Dada began on the Southbank in December 2020. Days later, Christmas was cancelled and the performing arts sector as soon as once more discovered that any glimmers of hope concerning the lifting of Covid-induced closure have been extinguished. “It was a difficult time,” says Dada, speaking within the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth Corridor because the Queen’s lying-in-state queue begins to kind by the river outdoors. “Nevertheless it gave us a chance to ask ourselves tough questions on what classical music is as we speak and the way we may finest help and mirror that.”

When he began on the Southbank he was seen as a possible changemaker – however in fact many organisations, not solely within the arts, talked loads throughout lockdown about new methods of working solely to search out themselves pulled again in the direction of the identical outdated factor as soon as it lifted. Dada stays optimistic. “What I’m seeing is that the urge for food for change continues to be there. There are some issues we’ve carried out that I do know different organisations wish to do too.” The modifications he goes on to element may appear to be small tweaks to a possible concert-goer however are a much bigger deal in a juggernaut organisation such because the Southbank: experimenting with totally different begin instances for concert events; committing to a household occasion one weekend a month; a digital providing that’s joined up with the onsite programme; saying the programme half a season at a time fairly than the entire 12 months directly. “Even now, post-Covid, once we’re solely open 5 days per week, that’s 185 occasions a 12 months. That’s plenty of tales to be attempting to inform the viewers abruptly.”

What does he imply by tales, although? Isn’t it sufficient only for folks to wish to come to a live performance? “In fact, for some folks. However for others … Think about you’d by no means been to a classical music expertise earlier than. You decide up our brochure, there’s 185 occasions in there – how do you make sense of that? A part of my job is to make sense of it. And which means working actually carefully with our resident orchestras.”

Víkingur Ólafsson performing in Berlin.
Víkingur Ólafsson, the Southbank Centre’s artist in residence, performing earlier this 12 months {Photograph}: Stefan Hoederath/Redferns

For instance of what which may seem like he cites the pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, “the sort of artist you possibly can’t put a label on”, who’s within the second 12 months of a residency on the centre. His appearances this season will embody concertos with the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, a solo recital and a duo live performance with the baritone Matthias Goerne. “As a result of we’ve introduced strands such because the worldwide piano sequence in home, and since we’re working far more carefully than we’ve carried out earlier than with our resident orchestras, we’ve been capable of help the imaginative and prescient of an artist who desires to work in all these alternative ways,” says Dada. “It’s made it a lot simpler for us to curate the programme. Somebody who comes to listen to Víkingur in live performance with the Philharmonia can even see that he’s doing a brand new work by Edmund Finnis in recital two days later – which could not essentially have been the sort of factor they might have thought-about, however one hopes that due to the artist they may give it a attempt.’

None of those modifications is especially revolutionary in itself; however it’s good to see the Southbank consolidating itself as a spot the place innovation can occur by bringing outward-looking organisations below its wing. New to its roster of resident orchestras are Aurora, whose theatrical concert events are geared in the direction of new audiences as a lot as established ones, and the majority-BAME ensemble Chineke! The household occasions will occur courtesy of the Multi-Storey Orchestra, on tour from their Peckham automotive park venue, and the Paraorchestra, comprised partly {of professional} disabled musicians. All these teams match properly into an concept to which Dada retains returning – that the accountability of a venue such because the Southbank is “to mirror classical music as it’s as we speak”.

UK classical music is roofed; however what in regards to the artwork kind internationally? “It’s true that Brexit and Covid mixed have made it tougher for venues to welcome worldwide expertise in the best way they want to,” he says. “As we’re now open 5 days out of seven throughout the whole inventive programme there’s a discount of 28% of dates in contrast with pre-pandemic. The mix of that and tighter budgets means you’re merely not capable of welcome the identical variety of massive worldwide orchestras that you’d have carried out earlier than. That doesn’t imply that we’re not a house for worldwide ensembles – we completely are, and we’re leaning again in to our position.”

Aurora – now part of the Southbank’s roster of resident orchestras.
Aurora – now a part of the Southbank’s roster of resident orchestras. {Photograph}: Nick Rutter

Dada provides that the Budapest Pageant Orchestra are within the diary for the as-yet-unannounced second half of this season. But what issues will seem like for arts venues by then is anyone’s guess given skyrocketing gas payments. The general public open areas that make the Royal Pageant Corridor “London’s lounge” and that deliver potential audiences to the very doorway of the auditorium will want plenty of heating. Dada speaks of warning with out giving freely any agency plan, however it’s protected to say they gained’t be going again to concert events seven nights per week simply but.

He’s eager to emphasize that in some ways he will be seen as a protected pair of fingers. At solely 32, he already has a decade of expertise on the boards of enormous arts organisations, most not too long ago Welsh Nationwide Opera. Whereas he talks about younger audiences discovering seen position fashions and illustration on the live performance platform by way of Chineke! and the Paraorchestra, absolutely he’s one thing of a job mannequin himself as a black man within the very white world of top-level arts administration? He doesn’t deny it, however he laughs. “If something, it’s my age that’s the speaking level! I naturally include a distinction of expertise and a special perspective.”

Totally different possibly, however his perspective features a deep-seated love of the massive orchestral repertoire. “One thing I really feel actually passionately about is that the normal types are by no means going to go away. Typically once we discuss including in new issues the notion is that what was there earlier than has due to this fact been discarded, whereas truly it’s doable to embrace all of those types.”

Furthermore, being a decade or two youthful than the remainder of the boardroom doesn’t make him an outsider. “No, I’m an insider! I spent a lot of my teenage years virtually residing in live performance halls.” He began studying violin aged eight (he would go on to check viola and humanities administration on the Royal Welsh School of Music & Drama). “I used to be hooked from the get-go. I’d sit up late at night time watching Proms repeats on BBC 4. I wished to be a part of that world.” The native Saturday morning music faculty broadened his musical horizons – “we have been so fortunate, the availability was improbable, and classical music was simply so accessible in Manchester at the moment” – after which there was the Bridgewater Corridor. He talks, misty-eyed, about listening to Stravinsky’s Firebird performed stay for the primary time, and singing with the Hallé Youth Choir in Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius. “To today even simply enthusiastic about it chokes me up. That’s why we’re doing every part we’re doing right here, as a result of I would like as many individuals as doable to really feel how I really feel now once I’m speaking to you about this wonderful music.”

Leave a Comment