From LACF to ACDA – Jess Hill’s Music Biz Report
Jess Hill, Artist Manager, Ikon Arts Management
Coordinator, London A Cappella Festival & London A Cappella International Summer School
Jess, you have worked for London-based artist management company Ikon Arts for quite a while now and as an Artist Manager, you work for all kinds of musicians. What makes working for a cappella singers special?
For me, it’s the shared passion. In addition to instrumentalists and coordinating the London A Cappella projects, I work with The Swingle Singers (I think you might have heard of them…!) and early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico, both of whom have full-time touring schedules. I love the contrast – it allows me to spend my time talking passionately about Clemens non Papa, Byrd, Bach, Debussy, The Beatles & Mumford & Sons– and that’s all in one breath!
Which brings us to your “a cappella baby”, the London A Cappella Festival. Can you sum up why this project has become so dear to you?
It’s been such a treat to work on the London A Cappella Festival (LACF) over the last 4 years. This January we’re looking forward to the fifth LACF and it’s amazing to look back and see how it has grown. The reason it has become so much more than a job to me is the reaction, support and love it has received from the worldwide a cappella community – it just wouldn’t be the same without it. We’ve been blessed with being able to invite some of world’s top headliners each year – just this January we welcomed (along with our co-hosts The Swingle Singers) groups such as The King’s Singers, Rajaton, The Magnets, Postyr, Retrocity and that’s before we start talking about the workshop leaders. Now the challenge is to top that next year – don’t worry, we plan to!
Actually the LACF will soon have a sibling. The London A Cappella Summer School (LACISS) sounds like a really innovative project in music education. Tell us a more about what the London A Cappella team has in store for singers from all over the world in August 2014!
We’ve teamed up with Kings Place & The Swingle Singers to create what we’re calling ‘an unforgettable vocal experience in the heart of London’. Kings Place is a stunning arts complex right in the centre of London and so the perfect place for a cappella singers and fans to come and learn from the world’s finest a cappella folks whilst having a brilliant summer holiday with like-minded people. All we need now is for the British weather to be on our side…
One of the great things about artist management is the aspect of internationality. Does this mean that you have to travel a lot?
It is certainly an appreciated perk of a predominantly office job in the arts! And an important one too as the more we get ‘out and about’, the more of a finger we have on the pulse of the industry. Very recent highlights have included travelling to Dubai with the lovely Swingle Singers. This is a new territory for the group and ‘classical’ (in the loosest sense) music concerts are a new artistic territory for Dubai so a really exciting time to be out there. Another recent highlight must certainly be heading to the America Cantat VII was held in Bogota, Columbia.
We would love to learn more about your recent trip to what the international choir community calls the summit of choral music. Was the ACDA National Conference in Dallas, Texas worth the trip?
‘Summit’ is a fair description! And very much worth the trip. What an experience to see and meet so many singers, music fans, industry experts, artists, agents and promoters all in once place and on such a large scale. Even as we got on the plane from London to Texas it was evident that the trip was going to be a winner as we were joined by the likes of former King’s Singers Phil Lawson & Bob Chilcott, ex-Swingle Ben Parry and composer Roxana Panufnik and of course my lovely colleague Nicola Semple (who was there representing The Songmen)
There are a lot of showcases and of course many, many interesting people to meet. What were your special ACDA moments?
Wow – I could go on for ever! I won’t, I promise. The conference was a choral melting pot and as such there were endless opportunities to meet up with old friends and get to know new artists and industry experts.
Highlights include an epic service where over a thousand people myself included belted out Vaughan Williams’s ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’ backed by a symphony orchestra; meeting a cappella students and tutors from universities across America; watching the frenzy created by Eric Whitacre arriving in his aviators; double denim efforts and hugely popular flashmob performances of The Songmen; Nicola’s navigation of a seven lane highway in an automatic and tasting beers named wonderful things like ‘Moose Drool’ with The Songmen & Phil Lawson.
Now back in London, what’s on your desk, what are you looking forward in 2013?
Golly what a question – my ‘desk’ is certainly piled high…
In addition to planning the LACISS, working on the artists’ tours and projects for this year and beyond, this year is a particularly exciting one as we’re in the midst of The Swingle Singers’ 50th Anniversary (as I’m sure you might have heard by now!). On my desk today is a touring project with Stile Antico, Carnegie UK Trust & harmonia mundi USA called ‘The Phoenix Rising’ and a project entitled ‘Michelangelo in Song’ performed by Sir John Tomlinson (what a voice!) and pianist David Owen Norris. Variety is certainly the name of the game at Ikon Arts. We’ve just had our annual LACF programming meeting where Costa (Director of Ikon Arts) and I sit down with the Swingles and brainstorm ideas for January’s festival. My job is to now go away and put together a festival so watch this space!
As they say, there’s no rest for the wicked….
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We are looking forward to staying in touch with you, Jess and the Ikon Arts team,
goodluck to you and to all your future projects – thanks for the interview!