This is what Mendelssohn looks like…

…And the importance of corporate funding to the arts

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Have you ever wondered how music looks? How a concerto, symphony or sonata might appear in colour? Possibly not, but last night the Cultural Comms team was lucky enough to find out as we witnessed a truly ground breaking classical music event.

Cadogan Hall in Chelsea hosted a performance by the London Chamber Orchestra (LCO), which saw emerging visual artist Jack Coulter creating a painting live whilst the ensemble played Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor.

Jack has synaesthesia – a neurological condition whereby he ‘sees’ sounds as shapes and colours, meaning the artwork he produced was a literal, real-time representation of the orchestral music. The creation of the painting was streamed live on a screen above the orchestra and worldwide via social media.

Despite working on this project for the past three months, it’s safe to say that none of us really knew what to expect as we took our seats for the performance. However, from the moment the orchestra started playing and Jack picked up a pot of yellow paint, the entire audience was mesmerised.

The synergy between the music and Jack’s painting – at times gentle and thoughtful, at others dark and frenetic – was truly exquisite and the multi-sensory experience it produced, extraordinary. The piece of music was 28 minutes long and in that time, Jack produced a colourful, layered canvas of multiple colours and textures, whilst the audience hardly dared draw breath.

This is the first time an orchestra and artist have attempted anything of this kind and the project spoke to LCO’s desire to push the boundaries of orchestral music as never before. It is also emblematic of the way that institutions across the cultural landscape are innovating and experimenting in order to attract new audiences and safeguard their futures. It can be seen at the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has announced a new exhibition examining the history of computer games, the Royal Opera House which now screens its performances at cinemas nationwide, and at the National Portrait Gallery, which is set to launch Michael Jackson: On the Wall, an entire exhibition of contemporary art inspired by the King of Pop.

Yet a time when our cultural institutions most need to innovate in this way – to be these dynamic, evolving places – they also face ever decreasing public funding, with government investment in the arts having been in constant decline for more than a decade. Indeed, LCO itself receives absolutely no public funding for its work in producing world-class classical music performances.

For this reason, corporate investment has become crucial to the survival of the UK’s museums, galleries, and performing arts bodies and their ability to compete on a global stage. In an article for the Financial Times, the British Museum stated that ‘the levels of funding we look for are only available through the corporate world’ and in a recent speech at the V&A, Director Tristram Hunt called this relationship between corporates and the arts ‘vital’.

Which returns us to the Cadogan Hall last night, where the LCO X Jack Coulter concert was exclusively supported by a local business, Bruton of Sloane Street, the high end residential estate management specialist. Working with and for the local community to deliver its services, Bruton believes passionately in contributing to London’s dynamic public realm and culture.

In his opening remarks, LCO Chairman Mark Redman commented on how this exciting new concept could not have been realised without the support of Bruton of Sloane Street. For those of us able to witness it, we are most grateful that it could and hope that we are the first of many to be able to say ‘This is what Medelssohn looks like…’

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(Pictured above: the final results of a spectacular evening, by Jack Coulter)