An interview with: The Multi-Story Orchestra

We recently discovered The Multi-Story Orchestra, a programme of classical music events run by composer Kate Whitley and conductor Christopher Stark that aims to take concerts out of traditional venues and into more interesting spaces… like a car park in the heart of Peckham!

When we heard that, it reminded us of the concerts we here at the Two Moors Festival have started putting on in Tiverton Parkway railway station, so we got in touch with Kate (who’s also a music fellow at Rambert Dance Company and is currently writing a choral piece to support the campaign against female genital mutilation in the UK) to find out more about this interesting project.


portrait_kate_different2MF: Where did the idea come from?

KW: The idea behind Multi-Story is that classical music might be able to engage new audiences and escape the traditional associations of the art form by escaping the spaces that it normally inhabits. When I was a teenager I wanted to find a way to get my friends to listen to classical music.

2MF: Why Peckham Car Park?

KW: I was actually looking for a car park to do a concert in – they are big, functional public spaces, and seemed to me to be a perfect blank slate. I was living in Cambridge and had tried to use a car park there but Cambridge Council had placed a ban on live music in these spaces, so we gave up. Then someone mentioned to me that a car park in London was being used for art exhibitions and events, so we got in touch with them and ended up doing our first performance there in 2011.

2MF: How successful has the scheme been in encouraging an interest in classical music among schoolchildren?

KW: To raise awareness of the car park concerts and reach children in the area we’ve been packing our orchestra into a tour bus and driving around schools in Peckham to perform to school children for the last few years. It’s amazing that most of them have now seen us play two or three times, and know that we’re the orchestra who play in a car park. Bringing a full symphony orchestra to a school always gets an brilliant response, so I think the project has had a big impact on their ideas about classical music – who does it, what it is and where it can exist.

Multi-Story Orchestra 3

2MF: Where else have you taken classical music?

KW: We’ve done many performances in clubs and warehouses – we work in collaboration with Gabriel Prokofiev’s classical club night Nonclassical frequently. When I was a student I had three operas performed in strange places: in a zoology museum, in a bike-polo warehouse, and in a underground bar.

2MF: How important do you think it is to take classical music into different venues?

KW: Personally I don’t like going to traditional concert halls; I don’t like the performance conventions of classical music and I find traditional venues oppressive. Taking classical performances into new venues is a great way to remember what is so incredible about the art form, and try to share that with as many people as possible.

2MF: What’s your opinion of music education in schools?

KW: I think that generally there is very little importance given to classical music – and particularly live classical music – in education in this country. We’re always really struck by the discrepancy between primary schools – where children’s delight and awe at even just seeing the size of instruments like the double bass and tuba can be overwhelming! – and secondary schools, where students seem afraid of showing enthusiasm for fear of sticking out from their peers. I think trying to change that is one of the most valuable things we could do.

Multi-Story Orchestra 2

2MF: What could/should be done to improve it?

KW: Music education needs more funding! The campaign to save local authority funding for music services – and free instrumental lessons for every child – is hugely important and open until Thursday. You can register your support here.

To find out how we here at the Two Moors Festival supports music education in the south-west, visit our website today.


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