Showing posts with label Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

The Trouble with Sponsorship

More people these days are making their feelings known about where sport and the arts get their necessary lucre. And it's not a moment too soon. But where do we go from here?

Mark Rylance [right], probably today's finest Shakespearean actor, appeared the other day on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show (catch it here for the rest of the week) and didn't mince his words about certain fast-food chains that are sponsoring the Olympics and building their largest-ever outlets on location in East London. It shouldn't be allowed, he insisted.

As the Olympics approach, more and more Londoners are starting to find the surrounding morass cringeworthy: big money, black markets, shuddery transport, the alleged attempt not to remunerate performing musicians, and so on. Junk food is not the jewel in the crown. It's the nail in the coffin. 

After tweeting about Mark Rylance, I found I'd acquired a new Twitter follower called BP Or Not BP. "We are the Reclaim Shakespeare Company," says its mission statement. "We cometh to rescue the RSC from the slings and arrows of outrageous BP." And considerable attention is also being drawn to the involvement of the oil industry with fine art.

I recently went to hear the Simon Bolivár Orchestra and Gustavo Dudamel at the Royal Festival Hall, playing the Beethoven 'Eroica' Symphony. As the Venezuelan musicians took their places, a woman in the audience began shouting. I couldn't see her or hear the details of what she was yelling about; the assumption that it must be a human rights issue about Chavez’s government didn't seem unreasonable. But then, briefly, a banner the size of a tea-towel became visible and made clear that her protest was environmental, directed not at the performers, but against the sponsors of the series in which they appeared, which goes by the title Shell Classic International.

Only a couple of people appeared to be involved; they were quickly booed down and all was peaceful thereafter. A few days later, at an opera, I found myself surrounded by big-money types sporting interesting languages, sharp suits and trophy wives. Their exceedingly powerful company was sponsoring the event. It has a somewhat mixed history regarding both the environment and politics, but here there were no protests. Indeed, the company's personnel seemed to account for most of the audience.

Government subsidy is reducing. The latest dollop of extra money from ACE, 'Catalyst Arts', has been awarded to various entities - the Wigmore Hall and some top orchestras among them - on condition that they raise private funds themselves to match the amount. Arts companies, as well as sporting events, must court private sponsorship more actively than ever before. And sponsors with the inclination and spare dosh to invest in the arts are not as plentiful as they might have been five or six years ago.

I don't need to give you a run-down here about banking and LIBOR, or environmental disasters, or how smoking kills people, or the connections between the arms trade, organised crime and blood diamonds, and so forth. You can find it all with a few judicious Googles. Scratch away at the paintwork of many big events and you might well discover something lurking beneath that could justify unfurling a tea-towel. 

Now, there are wonderful people who practise philanthropy on a daily basis; admirable individuals who, having made money through hard graft, are devoting the fruits of their labours to supporting the arts that they love - for example, by helping young musicians, sponsoring recordings and financing good instruments. This needs real encouragement. No company brand is involved, no subliminal message designed to implant the idea that maybe if you eat this, you'll be able to do that.
 
But beyond that, arts organisations, along with international sporting fixtures, are sometimes having to cosy up to people they might rather not. They do have to be cosied up to. They have to be wined and dined and played to and publicly thanked. Sometimes they become power-hungry. The worst scenarios involve the whitewashing of public images and the cleansing of charred souls. 

Arts audiences - the ordinary ones who'd like to buy tickets to see and hear something inspiring – are people who care about Shakespeare and Mozart and talented kids, and they're likely to care about the environment, human rights and good health as well. With issues as high-profile as the Olympics and that recent Formula One event to prove the problems loud and clear, more are waking up. Will they begin to vote with their tickets? I'm starting to wonder.

If an organisation can please either its natural audience or its sponsors, but not both, chances are they'll plump for the sponsors every time. Are we to end up with a state of affairs in which our arts organisations are mere playthings for the super-rich? 

The arts need big money. The audience wants good ethics. Where do we go from here? Answers on a postcard, please.  

Meanwhile, a good proportion of the shoppers in our local supermarket are now so fat that they can only waddle. It couldn't be more obvious that Mark Rylance is right. 

UPDATE: LondonJazz has forwarded this story from Simon Tait's Arts Industry newsletter, describing the way that Jeremy Hunt is pushing the sponsorship agenda and pulling state support back. Look out for this bit, with JH saying “I hope the state will continue to be able to support the arts” - implying for the first time from him that it might not – and admitting in his next sentence that “the state has become a less reliable partner” in arts funding. The fear of the likes of Nick Serota is that it is about to become even less reliable, bringing forward the Comprehensive Spending Review a year to this autumn and piling still more cuts on the arts. http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=a11ee4dbf1f30d899385efb31&id=6d0bda3e74&e=d8f9c6cad9

Monday, August 08, 2011

Happy Monday



"When 5000 people pay to listen to Bach on a solo violin, there's hope for Western civilisation," says The Times. My colleague Ed Seckerson at the Indy says it was 6000 people, so the news is perhaps even better. Either way, bravo Nigel Kennedy. The markets are in turmoil, people have been looting in Tottenham, Enfield and Brixton, but over at the RAH, or in front of our own radios, we're listening to the Proms and feeling lucky to be alive.

Honest to goodness, guv, I really believe the world would be a better place if we could all spend more time making or listening to great music and less time on greed, envy, accumulation, materialism and...oh well. It's worth saying now and then, even if only one person takes it on board.

How anybody could have failed to take the lessons of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra on board with that Mahler 2 on Friday is beyond me (pictured left: the queue at 1pm). Music for all. Music as the resurrection of hope (to quote Gustavo's words to me). I went to the rehearsal and sat mesmerised by them - these guys give everything. So, too, did the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, so you don't have to be Venezuelan... The churlish have been out in force, predictably, carping on about tempi being too slow, edges being too rough, and so on. There's still an element in British life that loathes anything too successful. Most of us saw past that to the essence of the event, and took it all to our hearts, where it belongs. The point of this Prom was not to offer benchmark Mahler to compete against the recordings of Tennstedt, Bernstein et al. What had to be definitive was the honesty and passionate nature of the music-making, the symbol, the life-affirming pulling-together of it all. Yes, it was the event that came first, and there is nothing wrong with that - not when it's an event you'll remember until your last breath. If every concert could be an event on such a scale, nobody would ever have talked of classical music 'dying', because it couldn't be clearer that that is not true, never was and certainly won't be as long as these guys are around.

Hope resurrected? You bet. Besides, give Gustavo another ten or 15 years and he could potentially grow to be a figure comparable to Bernstein. I can't think of another conductor working today who has quite that type of energy. It's easy to forget that he's only 30 as he is so much a part of the musical landscape at present. Watch that space. (Right: The Dude in rehearsal, flanked by Miah Persson and Anna Larsson, and in discussion with assistant.)

It's been one thing after another at the Proms, and yesterday I caught up not only with the Mahler but also with the National Youth Orchestra with Benjamin Grosvenor and Vlad, plus Nigel's very late-night Bach. Benjamin played the Britten Concerto - a terrific piece and much underrated. It's very much of its 1930s day, a British cousin to Bartok and Prokofiev, and Benjamin's coolly ironic eye and deft, light-sprung touch suited it to a T. Vlad wrought dynamic stuff from the orchestra, too - they're not the Bolivars, but they're the creme-de-la-creme of what young British musicians can be. And full marks to everyone for bringing Gabriel Prokofiev mainstream, putting his Concerto for Orchestra and Turntables centre stage in the Royal Albert Hall. Sergey's grandson may have 'Nonclassical' as his brand-name, but the piece, even with all its 21st-century irony, humour and imagination, still reminded us at times of The Rite of Spring. Character, precision and charm were everywhere; and the Radio 3 announcer's apparent bemusement about the whole spectacle had a type of charm all its own. He even considered DJ Switch's light-blue tee-shirt worth remarking upon.

I missed Saturday evening in London because I went to work with Tomcat. Which means I cried my eyes out over Rusalka. Watch out for the marvellous Dina Kuznetsova (left), a big Russian voice with a great heart to match, her every phrase serving Rusalka's searing emotional journey. Melly Still's production is magical - a timeless fairy-tale taken on its own terms, mildly modernised and exquisitely imagined. We know the Freudian ins and outs of the story's psychological implications well enough these days to add our own interpretation, if desired - it's refreshing that directors need no longer bash us over the head with it, and we can enjoy Dvorak's folksy joys and quasi-Wagnerian ventures with a view to match.

And Nigel? He's still working his own brand of magic; and it's as irresistible as ever because beneath the famous image is a passionate and phenomenally accomplished musician. He has not only magic, but the staying power that comes from true underlying solidity. Others may try, but there's still only one Nigel.

Friday, August 05, 2011

COMETH THE HOUR, COMETH THE DUDE



Here is my exclusive interview with Gustavo Dudamel for today's Independent - the interview that most of the music business said I'd never get in a blue moon.

"I think we have to make everyone understand that it's important to have a future for the people. It's important to give the best level of art, the best level of culture and the best level of music to ALL the people, not only to one part of the community. This is the message of El Sistema..." 

He and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra are at the Proms tonight doing Mahler's Second Symphony. "Resurrection is happening every day," he says. "It's the resurrection of hope."


Remember my Fred & Ginger clip the other day? This is what it was all about... "They laughed at me, wanting The Dude, said I was reaching for the moon...But ah, he came through - now they'll have to change their tune..." 


Here's what happened last time they came to the Proms. You've seen it before. See it again. If you can't get to the show tonight, it's live on BBC Radio 3 as usual and on TV tomorrow.