Observations: Share in the creative vision

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The Independent Culture

Fancy an interest-free loan with no hidden fee? Or the chance to invest your money with a guaranteed return? It sounds like a pipe dream. But one corner of the art world is managing the impossible – to maintain investor confidence with a win-win funding scheme aimed at everyday arts lovers.

Sound Investment was established in 1991 by the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group. The pioneering supporters' scheme exists to fund the new music central to BCMG's repertoire. Instead of throwing money into a general funding pot, concertgoers invest directly in an individual commission from one of a portfolio of composers, at £150 per share. Past names include Thomas Adès, while Sir Harrison Birtwistle heads the latest crop.

The idea is far from new. "There are stories of Beethoven passing round a hat among his friends to collect the money he needed to publish his pieces," says the artistic director Stephen Newbould. "But for us, it's a joint aim of raising money and breaking down the barrier between audience and performance."

Where audience contact with a piece usually starts and ends in the concert hall, Sound investors join the process from the very first rehearsal, with chances to meet the composer, conductor and musicians. Their names are printed on the final score, and one composer even encoded his investors' initials into the music.

To date, more than £200,000 has been raised towards 51 commissions, with a reinvestment rate of 85 per cent per season. "Sound investors have become a vital part of our extended family," says the founding patron Sir Simon Rattle. "If we love music, there is no greater cause than ensuring its future."

Of the many highlights, says Newbould, the 2000 premiere of Colin Matthews's Continuum, conducted by Rattle, stands out. It went on to tour six major European cities. Judith Weir's 1999 commission, Musicians Wrestle Everywhere, ended up in Toronto, from where Weir sent postcards to all her original investors.