The cellist who wants to shake up London with a classical mystery tour

The South Bank Centre's new artist-in-residence aims to fill every corner of the venue with new music, he tells Jessica Duchen

We need more live music at the Southbank Centre. That may sound odd, since the complex by the river is probably the most buzzy, music-filled site in the whole of London. But it's the view of Oliver Coates, a 20-something cellist who has scooped the post of artist-in-residence at the venue and is preparing to "cut his teeth" (his words) on a new venture called Harmonic Series, designed to bring unexpected sounds to unexpected corners of the Royal Festival Hall. So unexpected will they be, that the audience is being asked to assemble at the box office at 7.45pm, ready for Coates to lead them to a mystery location.

"Since the hall's refurbishment a few years ago, all these spaces have opened up," Coates enthuses. "Little intimate corners that you might not have noticed before, like the Blue Room, the Spirit Level, or the Pavilions on the sixth floor, which overlook London in a beautiful way." He set out to woo those that wield control over these areas, "By coaxing them," he says, "and saying: why don't we have more live music here?"

Serving as "curator" of the series, which is his brainchild, he can stage the concerts as he sees fit: "Despite austere budgeting, I have total autonomy, which is extremely rare in this universe." And as a jobbing cellist working with the London Sinfonietta and the Aurora Orchestra, in chamber groups and as a recitalist, he has been well placed to encounter a variety of music in wildly varying contexts. "Whenever I see something that makes me think 'Wow, that was amazing,' I try to 'bank' it," he says.

His eclectic Harmonic Series programmes are partly drawn from that musical piggy-bank. "It's a bit like a charm bracelet: each element is unique and good in its own right, but by the sheer act of connecting them up into an hour's performance, you're saying something about them through that juxtaposition."

Another aim is to "break down barriers" surrounding the perception of concerts, particularly those of contemporary music. Without wanting to sound cynical, I can't help noticing that over a couple of decades I've watched others set out to "break down barriers" in new music. Shouldn't they have gone by now? Why does Coates think this endeavour can work any better than previous efforts?

"I don't," he says, ever-pragmatic, "but I'm not sure what 'new music' means any more. There is one tradition that deliberately turns away from the audience, stubborn and impenetrable, and that's cool – people should do that, because its function is to tease at the edges all the time, setting a challenge. But we've had quite a long era of this, and it's got over itself a bit. There's some really beautiful new music being written now: the experiential aspect is being thought about.

"People care about music so much; it's so divisive – and it's all to do with who we are, our boundaries and the way we see our own identity," he suggests. "For some people classical music has to be the known, the safe and familiar, and for some it has to be the unfamiliar, the stimulating and the unexpected. So you have to be savvy in the way you put things together. But you should never just programme what you think people want to hear, otherwise you might as well just put on Britney Spears."

It's become relatively easy for large venues to attract full houses for what Coates terms "monolith" composers, like Ligeti, Xenakis and Stockhausen, "though it has taken several decades to learn how", he remarks. But the Harmonic Series concerts are altogether different: edgy, experimental stuff across a musical spectrum that is enhanced by immediacy and surprise.

The first programme, for instance, puts together songs written and performed by Mara Carlyle, whose voice is on the Ikea advert with 100 roving cats; virtuoso violin music by the exciting young Dutch composer Michel van der Aa; a few minutes of performance art involving the combination of light projection and dance with Deng Dori and Meta Drcar; and music by Zemlinsky, a younger contemporary of Mahler.

And the culmination will be Streetwise Opera in The Nightingale and the Rose by Emily Hall, a miniature opera based on the short story by Oscar Wilde. It was originally created for film; Harmonic Series will offer it both in its screen version and in live performance. Streetwise Opera is an award-winning enterprise whose performers are all formerly homeless. Participating in music, song and opera helps them to rediscover a sense of self-worth.

Coates has already proved that he's not afraid to push at boundaries: at his Wigmore Hall debut recital last year, he programmed, alongside Rachmaninov and Britten, a new work with electronics for which he had to hire a PA system: "That was a bit mad for the Wigmore Hall," he jokes. But this was where Jude Kelly, artistic director of Southbank Centre, noticed him and responded, he thinks, "to the plurality of it all". His residency at the centre has followed on from that.

More Harmonic Series concerts are to follow in February, March and April, featuring among other artists is harpist Serafina Steer, the Aldeburgh Young Musicians collective and film director Netia Jones; the final event is part of the annual cross-genre Ether festival and is to star an artist currently as mysterious as the space he'll perform in: "An amazing guy," according to Coates, "who's a singer-songwriter and whose work is very trendy at the moment. But I can't reveal who it is." To say "watch this space" has never seemed more appropriate.

Harmonic Series, Southbank Centre, London SE1 (0844 875 0073; www.southbankcentre.co.uk) 30 January

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried