Results EO-LAB II

Results and lessons from the Creative Europe funded cooperation project European Orchestra Laboratory II (2016-2019)

Untapped potential

In November 2018 an article written by EO-LAB II project leader Richard Wigley entitled ‘The power within’ appeared in the widely-circulated British magazine Classical Music. It reflected the ambitions and early outcomes for EO-LAB II with its central point that the societal impact of symphonic musicians can be amplified if their creativity and energies are fully engaged. ‘The power within’ (read the full article HERE) reflected the early progress and challenges of EO-LAB II and formed the basis for a number of presentations given during the Association of British Orchestras’ conference held in Belfast in January 2019. Now, after the official termination of this exciting European orchestral cooperation project in October 2019, we can report, happily, that the ambitions described in that article have been largely achieved and their legacies are apparent.

The power within described the current life of a symphonic musician and the constraints placed on their creativity and personal leadership; it proposed a sea-change in the top-down management tradition towards the release of all that untapped creativity and musical energy through collaborative leadership. We now have the clarity to pursue legacy programming and structures from EO-LAB II, in particular the contribution that musicians can make to wellbeing in society (which forms the basis of an EOLab3 programme). The following from the Ulster Orchestra shows this:

As a result of EO-LAB II, Jonathan Simmance is now the Ulster Orchestra’s Animateur whilst continuing his role in the Orchestra’s viola section. Jonathan has been the key inspiration for many projects led by him and his musician colleagues in the past three years. In addition to being a fine viola player he is a composer, arranger, workshop leader and singer. He now spends 70% of his time devising, leading and managing projects for the Orchestra’s Learning and Community Engagement programme, and the rest inside the Orchestra. As a trusted colleague he is able to make exceptional things happen across the organisation in a way that the old top-down structures can’t. The Ulster Orchestra’s delicate funding model requires it to deliver deep into a divided society and Jonathan’s appointment has ensured that our community targets can be met.

Main Goals

Capacity Building (New business models)

Within the goals of EO-LAB II there is an acceptance that a schism exists between musicians and managers. This gap is pervasive across almost all symphony orchestras so we anticipated changes that could be made to reduce the negative impact of this ‘standoff’. The standoff is often ascribed to a lack of mutual understanding of other’s roles; it is indicative that musicians who move into management often comment that the myriad of administrative tasks completed to achieve a single concert performance is beyond the imagination of most playing colleagues who tend to focus on the one or two ‘failures’ of management as a source of extreme exasperation. Equally, it is often misunderstood how pressured it is to perform on demand to a high artistic and technical level in front of top quality colleagues. EO-LAB II sought to reduce this gap of understanding by allowing musicians to become project leaders and to work closely with administrative staff to achieve mutual success. In the longer term a number of successful new partnerships within organisations have demonstrated the benefit of this approach.

The project had a huge impact on our organisation and it has profoundly changed the artistic goals of the orchestra towards a more audience-oriented process of artistic creation. It has enabled our orchestra to engage with the important questions about the future of the orchestra, and also to actively involve our musicians. It is not just the task of the management to attract audiences for the concerts. The management and the musicians have to work together as a team. That is mainly possible when both sides understand each other's work. Giving our musicians responsibility – and giving them the opportunity to realise projects themselves with our support – has created understanding for each other's needs. Both sides, the project leaders and the management team have gained at least some understanding of the working methods and the everyday challenges experienced by the both sides. This experience has helped us to better understand the views and reactions of the musicians and increase our own awareness of how communication can be optimized.

The management has been continually learning with the projects – whether in terms of the technical requirements, personal support or how the musicians approach their tasks. Implementing the EU project was also a wonderful opportunity for the team itself, as it enabled us to develop ourselves.

The learning for future projects is to let administrators and musicians work more ‘side by side’ in projects, as a real team.



Those orchestras with challenging financial positions tended to look more closely for new solutions to their current management structure. Changes in the top down model of management tended to be cultural (ie more likely to consult and co-create with musicians) rather than structural (ie the example from the Ulster Orchestra above). It is right to acknowledge that change comes slowly in orchestras and we anticipate a more permanent legacy of cross-organisation planning to result from EO-LAB II.

An example of good practice developed in EO-LAB II is the Musicians Leadership Group at the Hallé:

The project has brought together a ‘Musician Leadership Group’ which is a mixture of orchestral players, choral leaders and administrators. We feel this cross-skill approach is immensely powerful to unite the organisation under shared goals and aspirations, and to provide a practical mechanism for joint working. Everyone involved makes a significant but different contribution to the greater whole, and in so doing we have all become more aware of each other’s’ challenges, frustrations and passions. It also gives an informal forum for open discussions about general things that are happening at the time, that may or may not have been adequately explained to everyone, but which will have a reason and thought process as to why they are so. This communication is a wonderful way to develop trust and respect, and find a way through the acknowledged challenges together. We are looking for very practical ways to extend this approach to collaborative working across the whole organisation.

Audience Development

The key to audience development in EO-LAB II was to connect with community ambassadors who could access audiences that were not normal attenders. The connections made by these vital people and organisations are the lifeblood of the EO-LAB II project. This is a key pointer to the future for orchestras who want to reach deeper into society; it is critical to build trust via those who know their communities best. A strong example of this is the singer Ida Kelarová who connects the Czech Philharmonic to her Roma children’s choir Čhavorenge: 

A Čhavorenge performance in Visoke Myto (Eastern Bohemia) was attended by EO-LAB II project leader, Richard Wigley. It was apparent that there were two distinct audiences for this occasion and that non-Roma members were uncomfortable and unsettled at the beginning. Their children were singing together on the stage which was a powerful indicator of a new understanding for the young people. In the audience there was a sense that Roma and non-Roma weren’t used to sharing a space. As the performance generated musical energy the audience gradually relaxed and were able to share the music-making freely. A simple thing happened, the Roma audience were often standing, whilst the non-Roma were more comfortable sitting throughout; towards the end however all were standing as the music inspired them. It was a beautiful experience and one that demonstrated that music can cut through deeply felt issues. It was all in contrast to the experience after the concert when Čhavorenge returned to their hotel and were subject to abuse from hotel guests.

There are other strong examples of groups that would otherwise have been disconnected from their orchestra, like (in Northern Ireland) young singer/songwriters, women affected by the troubles, a former IRA prisoner and his community, (in Romania) children in orphanages, (in Austria) inhabitants of a rural area in Lower Austria, (in Barcelona) pupils from schools in a neglected area, hundreds of amateur singers and their friends and relatives, (in the Netherlands) amateur wind band players, the community of a village, patients in health care institutions, (in Manchester) employees of targeted companies and participants of singing meet-ups joining sing along concerts with the full orchestra.

The research undertaken by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam shows that the groups accessed tended to be ‘new’ audience:

The audience of these new experimental ‘EO-LAB II’ music productions, and the audiences of two regular concerts of the orchestras were surveyed during their concert visit. The audience research showed that the EO-LAB II music productions attracted visitors who were on average less used to go to concerts of symphony orchestras than visitors of their regular concerts. In addition, the audiences of the EO-LAB II music productions were generally younger than the visitors of the traditional concerts. The orchestras thus succeeded to attract a new audience with respect to previous concert attendance and age. In most occasions the EO-LAB II audience was also less highly educated than the regular audiences, or of lower occupational status, which indicates that in these cases a new audience has been recruited with respect to educational level and occupational status as well.

The audience research also revealed that the ratings of the EO-LAB II concerts were with no exception quite high: all EOLab concerts got grades from the audiences above 8 points on a scale from 1 to 10 (excellent).

Capacity Building (Training and Education)

There were two main moments of joint training of musician-project leaders for the project, and examples of training offered within each orchestra. The joint residential in Vienna began a dialogue in the project that beneficially highlighted the differences in approach from each partner. Whilst it is difficult to say that one experience like this is transformative there is no doubt that it began a new journey for many of those present. The direct outcome was:

At the request of the musicians across the partner orchestras EO-LAB II provided a second residential training experience in Sinaia, Romania to focus on project management skills. The outcomes from this second residential were a strong request to share musicians across the orchestras to exchange important learning and experiences. The result of this was heard in Belfast at the ABO Conference when members of partner orchestras were invited to join the Ulster Orchestra to perform the massive 4th Symphony of Shostakovich and to experience the Conference programme.

Training in project management was offered to musicians in the Netherlands, in Derry, and in Austria. Czech Philharmonic offered a workshop weekend on social inclusion to its musicians and the Hallé a training day introducing everyone to leading and facilitating creative workshop processes and connecting these to the key areas of the orchestra’s work.

The ability of musicians to be leaders in EO-LAB II, whilst broadly successful, did have its challenges. Interestingly, some musicians unintentionally replicated the top down model by taking a ‘command and control’ approach to leading their project and were then frustrated by the informal rules and structures in place. This approach created more mutual frustration than those project leaders who were more collaborative and mutually respectful. It took time and patience for players and administrators to align their expectations and here the results tended to be more positive.

Managing EO-LAB II

The project leader, Richard Wigley, travelled extensively to monitor projects across the partners. This provided opportunities to ensure that the core principles of EO-LAB II were recognised and acted on. This shaping of the project also enabled frustrations and solutions to be shared and learned from.

Many of the visits were to Romania as there were substantive issues with getting a clear structure into the project there. There were 6 changes of culture minister during the life of the project which made governance problematic. The personal energy of Marin Cazacu to lead this project and many others was inspirational; Marin has achieved extraordinary things in Romania despite many obstacles. However, it wasn’t clear how musicians were going to take a lead and how the aims of EO-LAB II could be fulfilled against a backdrop of ever-changing politics and funding. It is reassuring though that there are many musicians in Romania who are entrepreneurial and used to developing and leading projects. This capability was highlighted during the visits of the project leader with modest results. Without this intervention the involvement of musicians would have suffered further.

Moreover the project management was ensured through close cooperation between the project leader, the project coordinator, the project’s financial controller and the project assistant, as well as by means of the regular fruitful and inspiring meetings of all partners in the home towns of the participating orchestras.


If we look forward it is interesting to see what legacies EO-LAB II can provide. Primarily, there are a wide range of experimental projects that provide learning (positive and negative) for other orchestras who are looking to adapt their way of working. There are also instances of projects that have developed into regular events, for example:

After observing the Hallé Orchestra’s choral programme at an EO-LAB II partner’s session the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra decided to engage a wider audience by offering un-auditioned singers the opportunity to sing with the full orchestra. The response was overwhelming (over 3,000 people applied) and has become a regular feature of the Orchestra’s activities. Within this programme the Orchestra’s principal bassoon engaged fully with the ‘new’ choir and was a singer with them at the final performance. This direct connection with a musician lowers the barrier to accessing inspirational musicians.

Another strong project in Sinaia, Romania showcased a partnership between the RNSO and the Czech Phil to promote a concert with Čhavorenge. There was to have been a second concert in Bucharest but that was blocked institutionally. The discrimination against the Roma is also acute in Romania so it was heart-warming to see Romanian musicians working alongside Czech musicians to accompany Roma children. There is an article on this performance in Classical Music written by James Naughtie [See link below]

There are examples of continuing relationships like that with Celtronic in Derry who invite the Ulster Orchestra to be part of their festival each year, and the Czech Philharmonic’s significant role in the yearly Roma day celebrations. In the Netherlands the wind band collaboration became a fixed item in the schedule, the village of Rijssen became a regular stage in a (chamber orchestra) tour, and the compose&connect workshops with employees of a cultural heritage institution led to an open air concert with the full orchestra at an estate a year later.

For those musicians and administrators who have been close to EO-LAB II projects there are new relationships based on better understanding with the potential to increase productivity. This understanding has been hard won and with hindsight would have benefited from more training investment aligning expectations. We now recognise that it will be better to see the leadership to come from teams that cross traditional hierarchies rather than that from one individual musician. This would better spread the expertise and make project administration more efficient.

We noted in the interim report that those musicians whose orchestras have more secure funding tended to be less willing to be engaged with the core principles of EO-LAB II. It is a challenge to push change in orchestras that feel secure, and those organisations deserve additional credit for keeping to the spirit of EO-LAB II. For example the recognition by the Tonkünstler Orchestra that their position in Lower Austria needed to be better understood is an important piece of learning about further underpinning their future.

There is ample evidence that those musicians who engaged their leadership potential have increased satisfaction and are a positive influence on colleagues. It was difficult, but indicative, that one musician in an early session noted that this was the first time he had been listened to in 25 years in his orchestra. This is a common message from musicians and often from administrators lower in the structure. It is further affirmation that we have an opportunity to tap into a musician’s creativity and energy to transform our orchestras. As noted in the interim report from the Tonkünstler Orchestra, their musicians feel more engaged with determining the future of their orchestra and that is not only the task of management to attract new audiences. That is an outstanding legacy.

It is with pride that we look at these results after three years of beautiful collaborations locally and across European borders.

Feel free to contact us! All EO-LAB II partners are most happy to share their experience and lessons learned.

Richard Wigley, (Artistic Leader EOLAB II, Managing Director Ulster Orchestra)

  1. Read the article ‘The power within’ on the interim Results (2018) here
  2.  Read the EOLAB features in Classical Music Magazine (November 2018) here
  3.  Find the full Audience Research Report by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam here