Inside The Royal Albert Hall’s Associate Artists Program

Anna Lapwood
Anna Lapwood standing amidst the pipes of the Royal Albert Hall organ. (Picture by Andy Paradise)

London’s Royal Albert Hall is one of the world’s most beautiful and iconic buildings to experience and deliver live entertainment in. All year long, the team around artistic director Lucy Noble puts on some of the most diverse content to be seen and heard in the English capital.

And that’s not even mentioning all the programming and events around the main auditorium, which includes a wealth of public benefit work and community engagement. Yet, the Hall is still being perceived as traditional or closed-off by some.

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To change that perception once and for all, the Royal Albert Hall just launched is “associate artists” program, which aims to push innovation and diversity at the iconic London venue as well as increase young people’s engagement with more traditional art forms. Pollstar reached out to Noble to find out more.

Lucy Noble, the Hall’s artistic director

“We wanted to engage with new kinds of artists. And we wanted to allow young artists to speak on behalf of the Hall, and represent it, and play ambassadorial role for the Hall. That’s one part of it: to have different voices representing the Hall,” she said.

“But they are also going to help us to deliver new kinds of performances on different platforms, live still being at the heart of it, but engaging digital communities as well. And that might be through short film, performance films, or it might just be through social media activity. There artists are going to help us engage with new audiences, who might not necessarily feel welcome at the Hall, for whatever reason that is. Some people still think the Royal Albert Hall is quite traditional, the building can sometimes seem physically quite closed. We’re talking about opening it all up, in terms of the way we communicate, but also the physical building.

“Alongside that, it’s all about daytime activation, as well, and turning the Hall into a visitor attraction welcoming everyone the whole time,” Noble explained.

David Iliff. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
The Royal Albert Hall is a lot more accessible and open than its imposing nature might suggest. (Picture by David Iliff)

The first four “associate artists” – choreographer Corey Baker, saxophone player Jess Gillam, organist Anna Lapwood and spoken-word performer LionHeart – should help convince even the last skeptic that the Royal Albert Hall may be an old building, but has a contemporary heart beating inside. These artists will headline shows, present exclusive commissions and run initiatives for young audiences as part of the scheme.

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Anna Lapwood is a great example of how sheer talent coupled with a genuine personality engages fans on social media. Who would have thought that you could amass almost 100,000 TikTok followers with one of the oldest instruments in existence, the classic pipe organ. Part of the appeal of Lapwood’s channel are her explanations of how this fascinating instrument actually works.

She should feel right at home at the Royal Albert Hall, which is home to the second-largest pipe organ in the UK. While Lapwood will be thrilled to be performing on this grand instrument, the Hall will be happy to be seen by her predominantly young and digital audience.

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Lapwood, who will appear as a guest soloist at the venue’s 150th anniversary organ gala next summer, said, “The Royal Albert Hall organ is literally the most iconic instrument in the UK, and it’s been a privilege to play it – but it shouldn’t just be for the privileged few. This instrument, and organ music in general, is for everyone. And with the associate artists programme, I’d like to help reinvent the instrument.”

Choreographer Corey Baker is all about sustainability, which is also one of the big pillars in the Royal Albert Hall’s business plan moving forward. Delivering sustainable performances by Bake will also highlight the Hall’s own work around sustainability. According to Noble, finding artists that can help the Hall communicate differently going forward will ensure that the building always stays relevant.

Baker is planning a series of radical performances and collaborations. He said: “Dance can be a really stuffy world, somewhere that’s for the supposed ‘elite’, and the Royal Albert Hall can be seen in the same way. I respect the Hall, I love it, but I’m excited by the chance to bring in a younger audience – and to make the place a bit dirtier.”

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The artist partnerships are intended to run for three years, and the “associate artists” will be engaged across all of the Hall’s many spaces, including digital, and not just in the main auditorium. Upcoming major auditorium events include a headline performance from Jess Gillam. The saxophonist first came to the Hall on a school trip from Cumbria as a child and believes that an early introduction to the arts is critical if people are to feel welcome in that world. “Young people need to feel that a place like this is for them,” she said.

LionHeart, who’s real name is Rhael Cape, is a spoken word artists who’s also an expert in engaging his audience online. He’ll moderate a poetry symposium in autumn 2023 in the Royal Albert Hall’s main auditorium, which builds on the Hall’s status as the site of the legendary International Poetry Incarnation ‘hippy happening’ in 1965, and host of the national poetry slam finals since 2016. Said LionHeart, “I love the idea of the cultural impact that I can have on the wider community – not just on my own community.”

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