Absolute Classics and Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel – Absolute Classics Concerts
Impacts: Education, Health and wellbeing, International engagement, Older people, Tourism and Young people
Absolute Classics is a new charitable trust established in September 2013 by Alex McQuiston to take forward the International Musicians Platform and the annual series of concerts he had started in 2012 at Greyfriars Church. The new trust was established to deliver classical music concerts and an education programme using exciting and high quality musicians, many of whom are international in origin and young. The aim was to inspire young musicians in Dumfries & Galloway to be ambitious and aspire to play music at the highest level at the same time as providing accessible and affordable high quality concerts for a local audience in Dumfries & Galloway and to attract visitors to the region. The trustees were drawn from local people who had attended concerts, played musical instruments and were passionate about the value of classical music.
The Buccleuch & Queensberry Arms Hotel is a relatively new business which aims to provide high quality accommodation and hospitality for visitors to Thornhill. The hotel was completely rebuilt and refurbished in a contemporary style by the current owners and they wanted to reach new markets including younger, more fashion conscious audiences. The owners were already involved in a music charity in their home area and felt that by sponsoring Absolute Classics and its new concert series and festival they would clearly differentiate the hotel from others in the area. They recognised that Absolute Classics had a young contemporary feel which matched their ambition for the refurbished Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel.
The first event for Absolute Classics was a concert for friends, sponsors, patrons and supporters held at the hotel on the evening of Friday 13 June, 2014 at which the programme for the forthcoming festival was launched. An audience of over 80 people listened to a range of arias from superb singers including soprano, Soraya Mafi, soprano, Katie Lowe, bass, Dominic Barberi and pianist, Jennifer Redmond.
The International Musician Platform started on Friday 1 August with a very successful concert by the London Soloists Trio of Karine Georgian (Cello), John Lenehan (piano) and Lorraine Macaslan (violin) and ran until Sunday 10 August, 2014 across five venues, delivering 12 concerts. 523 tickets purchased and audiences included all 31 students attending the education masterclasses. Twenty percent of audience attendees were under 26 years old and the number of students had risen by 25 percent from 2013. Absolute Classics undertook audience surveys at every concert and 229 surveys were completed including 15 online. The audience analysis showed that 25 percent of the audience came from outwith Dumfries & Galloway of which 12.7 percent were from England, just over six percent from Scotland and five percent from overseas.
Absolute Classics Concert Series ran from September 2014 until March 2015. Each month (seven months in total) there were a minimum of three and mostly four concerts in a range of venues across Dumfries & Galloway. All concerts held at the hotel have been on Sunday afternoons as this is a popular time with an older age group. Audience numbers have risen steadily over the course of the season. Online sales have continued to grow and employing a freelancer for press and PR has definitely helped to boost the profile and publicity for the concerts. Total audience numbers were 1,077 adults over 26 years age and 49 young people under 26 years of age who benefitted from support by the Holywood Trust to enable half price tickets and latterly a decision to give free admission to young people. These numbers do not include those attending educational workshops which have been held in both schools and venues and which have generated very positive feedback and is activity Absolute Classics plan to expand upon.
Arts/cultural organisation story
The sponsorship enabled Absolute Classics to hold regular Sunday afternoon concerts in an attractive venue with first class facilities and build audience numbers in a new location, Thornhill in Dumfriesshire. The support from the sponsor ensured that Absolute Classics secured the long term loan of a high quality grand piano for the concerts at the hotel from Blüthner Pianos and the contemporary ambiance and style of the hotel were a factor in the decision to sponsor the placing of the piano at this location. Partnership marketing especially digitally with the sponsor enabled Absolute Classics to reach new audiences.
Further sponsorship from Weddings by Charlotte Boyd was achieved through the relationship with the Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel as Charlotte had been involved with weddings arranged there. The relationship with the sponsor has been beneficial for Absolute Classics as musicians have enjoyed a first class experience when staying at the hotel. The launch was great success with high attendance of over 80 individuals on a hot June evening. However one learning point was that Friday evenings with open windows allowed street sound to intrude onto the musical performance.
The agreement specified that the Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel would receive credit on the new Absolute Classics website, in the printed programme and in digital marketing, press and PR. In addition, when the New Arts Sponsorship Grant was secured from Arts & Business Scotland, the sponsor received two full page back cover adverts on the festival and concert series programme, free of charge. They also received complimentary tickets for staff and guests and acknowledgement of the sponsorship in all our communications. Absolute Classics have worked together with hotel staff to promote a number of events and opportunities for profile such as the launch of the Absolute Classics season of concerts and the International Musicians Platform in June 2014. Press features and adverts have appeared monthly in D&G Life and in local newspapers such as the D&G Standard in August 2014. Events have been mentioned on local radio and BBC Radio 3.
The importance to Absolute Classics in securing both the sponsorship from the Buccleuch and Queensberry Arms Hotel and then securing a matching New Arts Sponsorship (NAS) Grant was very significant. In the first year of the new trust to secure the support of a prominent local business was very encouraging and also ensured that Absolute Classics could offer high quality comfortable accommodation and hospitality to visiting musicians. This sponsorship in turn ensured visiting musicians left area with a very positive impression due to the high quality accommodation and hospitality.
The sponsorship provided a new venue for concerts in a small town in mid Nithsdale where we felt certain that there was an interested older audience for the concerts. The matching NAS Grant ensured that we could significantly increase the budget for high quality international performers and secure some well-known names as performers both in the International Musicians Platform and the Concert Series. The high quality performers and the resulting audience experience have in turn, contributed to an increase both in profile for the concerts and in audience satisfaction.
In terms of the refurbished Hotel, the concert series has provided a reason for people to visit the hotel for the first time and for other audience members to come back to a hotel they had visited in the past and appreciate the changes due to the refurbishment.