Absorbing what's just happened to my home country takes some doing. Remember, against the nearly 52 per cent of people who voted to leave the EU - many of them, tragically, on the basis of outright lies and deceptions peddled to them by the Leave camp, supported by the tabloids (and I don't know how this is even legal) - 48 per cent of us voted to stay. The gap was fewer than two million, in a country of some 60 million plus, many of whom didn't vote at all.
Anyway, in the cold light of day, what are the implications for the music industry? Well, where shall we start??
Several artists' management companies and opera houses have put out statements. Here is a hard-hitting one from Jasper Parrott, head of HarrisonParrott and one of the most strong-minded and experienced people in the business:
The classical music and opera world is incredibly international. Indeed, one of the weirdest things for me, watching all this unfold, is that it's barely two months ago that I went to the WIPO conference in Geneva when the contrast between territorially-based copyright laws and non-territorial, galloping technology that crosses all boundaries in a twink became abundantly clear - this is part of what is screwing the livelihoods of creatives, to put it bluntly. In such a globalised world, for the UK (or what's left of it, if Scotland goes independent) to imagine it can isolate itself and flourish by doing so is the silliest, least realistic idea imaginable.
Here are some of the most concerning issues. First:
The pound's value fell sharply and will probably be worth much less long-term.
-- This makes it more expensive for those in the UK to travel. So British artists earning fees on "the continent" will find their pay is worth more, but goes less far.
-- It could make it very difficult for UK promoters to afford to bring in foreign orchestras.
-- It's possible that our UK orchestras will be cheaper for the promoters overseas, so that may be a benefit. But the costs of transport and work permits/visas that currently aren't needed (assuming it turns out they do impose these) will be high and there'll be more admin involved so more costs associated with that.
-- Low pound and higher costs for imports will probably result in significant inflation, while possibly there'll be higher interest rates appearing too. Low pound is better for our exports, but we don't export very much, and of what we do, 40% goes to Europe... Inflation is a nightmare for anyone who's scratching around trying to make a living, which has already become more difficult for musicians and writers for other reasons.
So that means...
-- It may be harder to persuade people to sponsor orchestras, operas and concert series - and if the big City firms move to Frankfurt or Madrid, as they're already starting to consider, there will be fewer moneyed companies and high-earning individuals around to contribute to "Development".
-- Therefore, probably higher costs of tickets on an already squeezed audience.
-- We can manage on our own, the Leave camp assured us - ignoring the fact that the EU gives us hundreds of millions to spend on deprived areas (Cornwall and Yorkshire are already jittery about this, despite having voted to leave - pity they didn't think about that first) and on scientific research (which depends heavily on EU grants to fund crucial medical developments) and indeed on the Arts (try the Creative Europe programme, for a start). All that will simply evaporate, and the idea that our own government can replace it pound for pound is frankly laughable.
-- But also, because EU funds will not be there to help us, there will be more pressure on government funds. These will be hard hit because if the financial whizzes leave the country and so do all the hard-working, tax-paying EU immigrants, tax revenues will be seriously down. I've seen figures quoted today in significant billions.
-- So taxes will have to go up, hitting us all where it hurts. I can't imagine any alternative.
-- Austerity, austerity and more austerity, and more cuts and more cuts and more cuts, and the arts will be high in the firing line - not that they give the arts all that much now, but I won't be remotely surprised if government support for the arts simply vanishes, especially if we get a hard-right populist government led by some of the goons who have got us into this mess. Remember, Boris Johnson supported the skateboarders against the Southbank Centre redevelopment, which was a) nuts and b) fatal. Government funding has depended on the good will and appreciation of the arts among those in power. Say farewell to them, and London may also have to kiss goodbye to that dream of a new concert hall (all a bit quiet now about that, isn't it?).
Mark Pemberton of the Association of British Orchestras has warned of "challenges ahead" and writes:
‘Following the Referendum decision to leave the EU, the ABO is deeply concerned at the potential impact on its members.
‘The prospects for the nation’s public finances are worrying, and may affect the implementation of Orchestra Tax Relief, which has not as yet received Royal Assent, and lead to further reductions in public funding for the arts and local authorities.
‘We will need the new leadership of this country to give us guarantees as to continued freedom of movement across Europe’s borders for our orchestras, artists and orchestral musicians, and whether the many pan-European regulations that currently affect our sector, from VAT Cultural Exemption to harmonisation of radio spectrum, Noise at Work to the Digital Single Market, will still apply.
‘The worst outcome for our members will be additional uncertainty, bureaucracy and expense, allied to a worsening of their financial viability. The ABO’s next step is to work with whichever Ministers take responsibility from here on, to ensure the best possible outcome for our members.’
-- Our musical life is fabulously enriched by its internationalism. Musicians from the EU and beyond help to bring our orchestras, our chamber ensembles, our conservatories where they teach and study, to the level of the world's finest. London has the richest musical life of any city in Europe. All this will be in peril.
-- As part of the EU, UK nationals have the right to live, study and work in any European country. By leaving the EU, because part of the population thinks our problems are down to "foreigners" and want them not to come here any more, we are also shooting ourselves and especially our young people in the foot because we are forfeiting our own right to go to 27 other countries to live and work without being caught up in astronomical costs and a tangle of red tape. Conservatoire fees for Europeans here will be the same as they are for non-EU nationals, about £20k a year, and paying at the rates of non-EU students will most likely apply also to our youngsters wanting to study abroad.
-- It will be harder for European orchestras to justify employing British musicians, and a regulation headache for British ones to employ Europeans. This will affect, frightfully, career opportunities for the UK nationals and possibly the standards for our own orchestras.
-- I don't believe there is any reason to assume that EU musicians currently employed in British musical institutions will be chucked out, because all that will depend on the terms that are finally arranged; nothing is certain yet and currently we are still very much part of the EU, Cameron having not triggered Article 50, which starts the exit process; he has decided to leave it to his successor. We have to keep an eye on how negotiations pan out in due course. Things that happen there will do so several years down the line at the earliest; but the effects may begin sooner because some musicians will begin looking for opportunities elsewhere instead and may well not apply for UK courses and jobs for fear of what will transpire.
-- Did you know? Before the First World War foreign artists started to be banned in the UK. And before the Second World War regulations were brought in against foreign performers too, mainly targeting American dance bands.
-- All this comes from fear. But what frightens me is that the Out voters have fallen for what's probably the biggest con-trick in the history of Britain, pulled upon them by some of the most loathed politicians of today's administration including one who isn't even part of the government (Farage). Brexiting the EU will not solve any of the problems that frighten them. It will only make things more difficult for everybody (see "Money"). And when they realise that they've been had, and dragged the rest of us down with them, they'll be even angrier than they are now. The EU was the scapegoat, but it was the wrong scapegoat. It brought us innumerable advantages and all we have done is to throw them away for the sake of some kind of fictional notion of "sovereignty". When people realise the extent to which they've been duped, where will that anger go? Already there are reports of the British National Party bullying and harrassing Poles and Muslims in the east of England.
I've been writing a novel set in the 1930s and I'm beginning to feel I've stepped into it.
-- Music is a profound artistic force that crosses all boundaries and speaks from a place of universal human experience.
-- Whatever happens, we have to find a way to make the best of it. We mustn't let Britain descend into fascism - the one thing it has never, ever done. We're better than that, we're better than this rubbish that's being foisted on us and, as Hans Sachs suggests in Meistersinger
, we have to hold fast to our arts as the one bastion of positive identity and strength that can hold fast through everything.
Yesterday, my musical encounters saved me in the midst of all the horror. I spent the morning interviewing one of London's greatest musician residents, virtually sitting at his feet while he talked about music and demonstrated on the instrument. Then in the evening I went to hear Benjamin Grosvenor's recital at the Wigmore Hall. The programme included the Chopin Funeral March Sonata, appropriately enough - and his interpretation seemed to articulate for all of us the emotions and anguishes we were going through. The final movement was very fast, a daring evocation of a terrifying madness. Yet at the close of the concert, his Liszt Venezia e Napoli
was huge and dazzling fun. Music can still bring us together and offer us catharsis and spiritual solace - if only for a while. We can rely on music when we can rely on nothing else.