Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Apart from the Sarah Lund sweater...

...Aarhus is a rather civilised place where the arts are concerned. I returned with a green Sarah Lund sweater from the Christmas market, having passed a pleasant weekend with someone who is finding life and atmosphere there pretty agreeable.

The town has a state-of-the-art concert hall with Artek acoustics that seats about 1,200 and was opened only a few years ago. This to supplement its older (though not much older) hall, which now houses opera. The new building includes a specially built pop auditorium and a chamber music hall. Have a look at some more designs here. Next door is a museum of modern art on the top of which is a "rainbow" promenade: you walk round in a circle admiring the panorama of the beautiful old seaside city, enwrapped by a succession of different colours.

The orchestra, when I arrived, was in the middle of an unusual Italian concert featuring a lot of Respighi and a piano concerto by Nino Rota (Benedetto Lupo was soloist). This programme was given twice. The orchestra rarely rehearses more than four hours a day and many weekends are free, the principal concert evening being Thursday. Taxes and prices are high in Denmark, but the orchestral salary is higher after tax than comparable jobs in the UK, which would entail many more hours and more antisocial ones, though fewer allocated to each programme. The orchestra is state-funded, so need not be in thrall to a dictatorship of sponsors or the fear/loathing of them (contrast, for example, with India and the 2012 Olympic Games - they have been burning an effigy of Lord Coe over this - or Alice Oswald and the TS Eliot Prize) and the job carries with it conditions that British musicians barely dream of, such as pensions. Backstage, there's a succession of soundproofed practice rooms and a comfy common room with tea and coffee on tap as long as you wash up your own mug, and many of the players stick around for a drink after the show. They seem to get along with one another quite well.

The town's conservatoire is also accommodated in the new concert hall complex. Students attend free of charge. European students, indeed, can all attend free of charge, assuming I have understood this correctly. It's hard to get your head around it when you reflect that our British conservatoires, along with all arts courses in the country, have just been wiped off the face of the state-funded map.

Owning a car in Denmark is exceedingly expensive, so the city is not at all congested. There's a goodish network of buses and people cycle a lot, with a succession of properly planned and well-organised cycle lanes. The city centre, around the gorgeous and very ancient cathedral, is full of little cafes and ancient timber-framed buildings with deep window casements. Generally the interiors are very well heated and properly insulated from the cold climate.

You can walk through the beech woods by the sea and enjoy a cup of fabulous hot chocolate in the old restaurant in the forest. There's a set of exercise equipment by the side of the path which you can use for keeping fit - go for a run, do some weights exercises and move on. The equipment has not been stolen and remains unvandalised.

It's not London. It is cosy, calm and contented. Staggering degrees of contrasted wealth, poverty and greed don't seem to apply. There isn't all that much going on in terms of cultural adventure, but family time is a major priority. Parents might even take their children to the modern art museum on a Sunday, or go for a walk together. They mightn't be obliged to work 24/7 leaving their kids to fend for themselves at the local fast-fat takeaway. People seem happy.

That's not to say there are no problems. I know there are problems, having met people from ethnic minorities who were experiencing them, while other friends have been made redundant and jobs are in short supply. There are cuts, too: the bus timetable, for instance, seems to have been decimated, and one friend tells me there's a lot of knife crime, though matters like "a lot" are relative and I am a Londoner. Nevertheless, the contrast between there and here hammers home quite how far we have travelled down some very silly and self-destructive paths indeed.

Music students, if you don't want to enter your adult life in debt up to your back teeth, you could do worse than start learning Danish. I find the language pretty difficult - it is so "swallowed" that relating what's written to what you hear is kind of awkward, though we could try watching The Killing with Danish subtitles as good way to get started. Someone tells me it's really quite easy. Just like English, only 1000 years out of date.