Friday, November 18, 2005

Bleak house?

Plenty of food for thought in the December edition of BBC Music Magazine, which landed on the mat this morning (you can order the mag here, though the articles aren't online).

One of its most valuable fixtures is Richard Morrison's Comment page, which this time presents the most sensible writing I've yet seen about the crazy crisis now facing our poor UK orchestras, who are usually tackling one crisis or another but had recently been lulled into a false sense of security by the government's 'Stabilisation Programme'. This time, absurd Inland Revenue bureaucracy appears to be to blame - though not solely.

There's plenty of stuff about it in the press, so I won't restate the detail. Briefly, if the Revenue gets its way and stings them all for National Insurance arrears, the results will bankrupt 4 out of 5 British orchestras.

If that included the LPO - and I'm afraid it would - Tom and I would have to sell our house; a budding novelist would find herself back at the subs desk; and Tom says he'd like to be a train driver if he grows up. Worse, where would our souls be without our music?

Richard says:

"What all this adds up to, I believe, is a national crisis. Do we want a viable orchestral profession in Britain or not? The question is as stark as that. Of course musicians cannot be exempt from the tax laws. But it does seem mad for the Culture Department to invest £35m in 'stabilising' our orchestras, only for almost exactly that sum to be snatched away by the Inland Revenue."

Furthermore, he points out that if all those orchestras went to the wall and their musicians were denied a livelihood, the Revenue certainly wouldn't get its desired £33m.

Also in the magazine there's a fascinating article about the music boom in China, which points out that an entire generation of potential music-lovers was lost because of the policies of Mao. Obviously things are less extreme in the UK, but Richard remarks that he's observed hundreds of empty seats at fantastic concerts in Birmingham, Manchester and Scotland: What we are reaping now, I fear, is the withered harvest of a national music curriculum that has left two generations of school-leavers unequipped to understand symphonic music. Expecting the orchestras to remedy that with 'outreach' projects is a bit like asking cancer patients to heal themselves with aspirin." (Crikey, why has it taken 10 years for someone to admit the truth about 'outreach'?!)

Were Thatcher and Major the British cultural equivalent of Mao? The following will seem harsh, but in China, Chinese traditional culture was supposed to replace Western. Here, Western culture was being elbowed out in favour of...nothing but mindless, soulless consumerism.

That's quite enough ranting... I shall stop panicking, take another Kalms tablet and get back to work on the next novel.