Showing posts with label Brexit. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brexit. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Why we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage

Today, as Theresa May unveils her Brexit deal at cabinet and rumours of a likely no-confidence vote are running rife, Dame Sarah Connolly, the great British mezzo-soprano - the Fricka to end all Frickas in the Royal Opera's Ring cycle this autumn - has sent me her powerful thoughts about Brexit, the UK's pitiful government and the implications for the music business and, in particular, music education in this country. She puts forward persuasive and, to me, indubitable reasons for a new People's Vote to save us from Brexit. I personally consider Brexit the single biggest act of mendacious folly perpetrated by a state against its own people in a European nation since the building of the Berlin Wall, so I am absolutely delighted to run this important piece.

It's strong stuff. Get yourself a stiff brandy and read every wise, furious word.
JD



Why we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage

Guest post by Dame Sarah Connolly


Dame Sarah Connolly
Photo © Christopher Pledger

“Fuck Business” he said. Presumably Boris Johnson meant all business, including the one I’m in? The one that brings in £4.4 billion in music revenues. The one that is being devalued by the government’s education department by dismissing all arts subjects from EBACC. The one where Russell Group universities claim Arts A levels are not facilitating subjects for general application to university. The one that earns the UK many of the greatest acting, singing, dancing, artistic accolades in the world.  

We desperately need a People’s Vote with remaining in the EU an option on the ballot paper and No Deal not an option, as we stand to lose our leading place on the world stage. The next generation here in the UK is in real danger of being excluded from working, living and studying abroad. While many of us train in the UK at our world class conservatoires, many thousands of American and foreign students are no longer coming to study here which will have a severe impact on the institutions. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-45398634 

It doesn’t take a genius therefore to see that with our dwindling arts education and lack of uptake of foreign students, the work opportunities for musicians within the UK will be much lower than it is already. So we need work in Europe and have done happily for decades, until now. 

The business of freelancing is complex and is indeed being shafted by those with little interest in, or knowledge of how this process in Europe actually happens. Our world class orchestras also look to European touring for income stream and profile raising, with the added benefit that they are brilliant ambassadors for Britain. Visa restrictions and complex paperwork will endanger this business stream. The idea of a monetised artists’ visa based on income is hugely discriminatory. We are regressing instead of progressing as I believe working visas put up physical, financial and psychological barriers which would skew the great European collaboration in the arts where our contribution is very significant. 

GF Handel: as international as it gets.
Born in Germany, settled in England,
composer of Italian operas and French overtures.
Picture by Benedikt Kobel
We singers are a slightly different breed as our instruments are inside us (!) but we depend upon consistently good vocal, physical and mental health. We spend a lot of time standing on chilly train station platforms at all hours and in air-conditioned airports so we often fall prey to colds and coughs. Eleventh hour stand-ins are very common in many industries including classical music, especially within Europe. The vast majority of musicians are freelancers, used to packing their instruments and heading off, sometimes at very short notice to all corners of the world. 

A few years ago, I stood in at a moment’s notice for Mahler’s Second Symphony in Leipzig for the opening of the famous Gewandhaus orchestra’s Mahler festival. My agent phoned me to say that the great maestro Riccardo Chailly had asked for me to come immediately to Leipzig and replace the ailing singer. It was a really big honour which had me checking flights within a minute, but if paperwork and visa issues had been a problem then like many American singers, I wouldn’t even have been considered, because visas cover specific jobs that need prior notification. At least they do when we work in America. In hindsight, to have missed out on this opportunity would have been a great loss to my career. I have returned many times and it has helped build my reputation in Germany and everywhere else in Europe since this concert was globally live-streamed and recorded for DVD. 

Boris’s irresponsible callous insult made me very afraid as well as mortified. The business of the arts is already under siege here in the UK with arts education being axed and local authorities unable to ring fence money for Music Hubs. In Europe, my musical colleagues cannot understand the monumental self-harm we are inflicting upon ourselves. British homegrown art and artists are hugely appreciated in Europe, and I notice that knowledge and arts education in general is in a healthier state in Europe by comparison.  

You, dear reader may not care for music or any form of the arts in particular and may struggle to find empathy for us given that one in five people live in poverty in the UK, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Indeed the Musician’s Union says only 13% of full-time musicians can expect to earn more than £16k, yet this government expects artists to earn possibly double that before earning the right to acquire an EU visa. 

The vile experience of queueing at 8am on the pavement in all weathers outside the American Embassy for a work permit every time I get a contract in the US (every application costs me and the arts organisation hiring me hundreds of pounds) is not something anyone would choose to do, in order to work in Europe. I also have to hand over my passport for at least two weeks while it is processed. Can you imagine the logistical nightmare of this happening to a busy orchestra, a theatre or dance troupe, a choir, a film crew, etc? I remember the time before we had rights to work in Europe when often the complications resulted in lost opportunities. What about the EHIC? If you haven’t used one, or don’t even know about it like David Davis, https://jonworth.eu/brexit-european-health-insurance-card-ehic-known-unknowns/ and are pro Brexit, why are you slicing away vital privileges? 

So the whole of the pipeline of all our business in Europe is challenged existentially by Brexit, but the people making decisions/deals will not see the consequences immediately. It will take a generation to fix it if they do not ameliorate the situation by placing appropriate priority on Arts Education in early and middle years...seeing and believing in the holistic impacts and benefits it has on our future generations and business prospects. And by the way, not just practising artists, but also the talent coming up for Arts Administration will be compromised. 


Dame Sarah Connolly as Fricka in Die Walküre
© Royal Opera House, photo by Clive Barda
What about related businesses that will suffer? 
-- Computer Gaming (all the music for that and creativity which is huge at present in the UK)
-- Advertising (jingles and creatives)
-- Marketing
-- Film Music (Huge...we will be outpriced)

As I mentioned earlier, our future British talent is massively at risk by this government’s short-sighted lack of investment in arts education and creating barriers. I’m worried that arts organisations in Europe will not bother hiring young inexperienced singers due to the extra paperwork and cost and vice versa. 


My years as a fledgling singer with Philippe Herreweghe, arguably the greatest conductor of Bach’s music, in Belgium and Holland and with William Christie, the much celebrated Baroque Opera harpsichordist and conductor, in Paris has underpinned all that I now bring to Baroque opera performance. Would their managers have taken a chance with an unknown Brit like me if such obstacles stood in their way? Most orchestras are barely making a profit, so can we all afford to pay for visas each time we have contracts abroad? But what about musicians and artists joining UK based international arts festivals like WOMAD or in Edinburgh or Glyndebourne? Those who bring to our shores “unique ways of looking at things” (Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Berlin State Opera and Berlin Staatskapelle).

Our integration with European language and culture is integral to who we are as musicians and singers, and as British Europeans. The same can be said for anyone whose work is closely allied to European countries. The speech given at the 2017 BBC Proms by  Daniel Barenboim was visionary and extremely important. Here are several quotes. “There is not enough education about whom we are, what is a human being, and how is he to relate to others of the same kind. The musical profession is the only one that is not national. No German musician will tell you he will only play Brahms, Schumann and Beethoven. This isolation and nationalism in its narrowest sense is something very dangerous. Europe is a place for diverse culture, for different cultures, different ways of looking at things and can only be done with education.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmBDKk6YlF0&t=3s   



Shared culture through education: Daniel Barenboim
Photo: Paul Schirnhofer / DG
To counter some of the hideous xenophobia currently being given free rein of expression, my own experience of cultural diversity from visiting musicians is this: they enrich our lives, expand our musical horizons, appeal to the heart and inspire the soul to seek more of the same, and by doing so, we accept and know each other more willingly, almost by stealth. This is what Daniel Barenboim is getting at: understanding through education and enriching shared culture. 

Jacob Rees Mogg was rightly lambasted by Sir Nicholas Hytner for misunderstanding how the German composer Georg Friedrich Händel was permitted to work in England claiming he didn’t need a passport to come here, (they didn’t exist) but he omitted to mention that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1727 allowing Händel to earn a salary as a composer for George I. Was this ignorance or malicious omission? Either is depressing but both are practiced by Brexiter politicians with alarming regularity. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2018/oct/12/brexit-is-black-cloud-for-uk-arts-says-nicholas-hytner-national-theatre Händel was one of the first true Europeans: born in Germany, worked in Italy and London, wrote Italian operas and French overtures. (see illustration. The drawing is by Benedikt Kobel.)  

Remaining a member of the EU means that we will continue to grow as a nation, offering the next generation easier and free exchange of ideas for the next generation of performers, scientists, managers, writers, parents, teachers and all those who benefit our economy and respect in the world.  It’s time to think again. We need a People’s Vote with remaining in the EU an option on the ballot paper and No Deal not an option, in order to stop a gross act of self harm on the cultural and economic pulse of this nation.



Dame Sarah Connolly CBE, Doc.h.c Nottingham Trent University, FRSA, FRCM, is a mezzo-soprano was made a Dame in 2017 for services to music.

© Dame Sarah Connolly

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

This man will take your life



His name is Richard Wagner, and if you let him, that's what he'll do. Of course, you mightn't show him in through the door in the first place, but otherwise, what's likely to happen is set out below. The things to remember are that a) the work is not the man, and vice-versa, and b) the more effort you put into something, the more rewarding it will be. One suspects he knew that – and knew exactly what he was doing in demanding such commitment from his fans. I just went to the whole Ring, in a manner of speaking, mostly by mistake, and the Ring leaves you wrung. But I'd go all over again tomorrow if I could. How, then, does this happen?

First of all, you realise that Wagner was probably the most influential composer of any born in the 19th century, with the biggest, most lasting impact on musical history ever since – a quality he shares only with Bach, Beethoven and Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'. So you start investigating. What on earth is so special about Richard Wagner?

HELP! It's Die Walküre at Covent Garden...John Lundgren as Wotan
 © 2012 Royal Opera House / Clive Barda
Then you go and hear some. And you get it. If it's Die Walküre, in particular, you get it completely. Wagner doesn't just write music. He manipulates your entire consciousness of time, of intensity, of more. He leaves you wandering through your world wondering where the heck you are and what just happened to you. Twenty years later, you still have no idea how he does it.

So you go and hear some more. This stuff costs and it doesn't come around all that often, so when it's there, you raid your savings and go running. But so does everyone else, so you have to be quick and organised and you might spend a long time in an online box-office queue or 'ninja-ing' returns by hitting the 'refresh' button on the right page every hour for a week.

There might be one opera with which you have a bad experience early on. Perhaps you once went to a third-rate performance with indifferent singers and a oboe with a cold in a very uncomfortable theatre with no surtitles and it left you loath to try it again. Then, finally, you do try again and you realise it's actually the greatest thing in the history of the world [btw, it is called Parsifal] and you have to go and hear it every single time it is on, because everything is good after that first one.

By now you're getting the hang of who the top Wagner singers are and you want to hear them, or you find there are directors who are doing particularly interesting work whose productions you want to see, or conductors who have a special way with the scores - so you might start travelling. You find out where they are and what they're doing, then fork out for opera tickets overseas (which may be more reasonably priced than your local), but then you also have to fork out for the plane, somewhere to stay and things to eat. It'll be worth it, you tell yourself. It will be an experience I'll never forget. Possibly it is - so you do it all over again.

And then you start spotting the rising stars: you get to recognise a voice that's going places and you want to hear him/her on the up, having the 'Sternestunde', so you book ahead to catch them in their first really big Wagner role, and then you realise it's going to mean travelling through Heathrow on 30 March 2019, the day after f***ing Brexit. (Seriously. I have just got into this situation.)

Bayreuth Festival Theatre
Speaking of travelling, there's one big problem with Wagner and it's called Bayreuth. The man built his own theatre for his own music, and if you have serious intentions of becoming a Wagnerite, you need to go and experience it. Bayreuth is a hike. Either you get Ryanair to Nuremberg (Ryanair is a demand too far for many of us) or you fly to Munich and take a few trains, and this is assuming you are able to get tickets by hook or crook in the first place. Again, air tickets, hotel, food...it all adds up. There you sit in the theatre and soak up the sound and you realise what it's all about, and then you probably have to keep your eyes closed because of the frightful productions, unless you're seeing Barrie Kosky's Meistersinger which is totally brilliant.

But once you've done that, you have to do it again, because it really is special, and then you realise there's one thing you haven't yet done. You haven't seen The Ring at Bayreuth.

You might think you don't need the whole Ring. It might come to your own town and you don't even bother booking, because it's a massive commitment of time and energy and is it really worth it? But then it comes around and a friend unexpectedly invites you to the dress rehearsal of Das Rheingold and it is bloody wonderful, so you try to get into Walküre and you can't, so you go to the cinema relay and it is so bloody wonderful that you spend the next two days ninja-ing returns for Siegfried and, because you've got into that one, you have to try to get into Götterdämmerung too, and the only seat that comes up that's affordable is in the lower slips, so you spend its six and a half hours craning forward from the hips with your neck on a 45-degree twist and you spend the rest of the week untwisting again, while glorying in the fact that actually you experienced the best sound in the entire opera house, and the question "who would ever design a theatre where such a large number of seats have a lousy view?" fades into irrelevance while you look up books and websites at which you can swot exactly which leitmotif means what, because you've twigged many of them, but there are plenty more...

The theatre at Bayreuth is not like that. There isn't a lousy view in the house. It's basically designed by a composer, not a socialite, so he wants you to look at the opera, not the people in the box opposite. So now you have to have the ultimate Wagner experience: you have to see The Ring at Bayreuth.

That's 4 operas, about €300 per ticket, and there are possibly two of you, and you have to be there for at least a week, and you need somewhere to stay, and they no longer let you take cushions into the auditorium (oy!) and there is no guarantee whatsoever that the production will be bearable, or that the singers you're hoping to hear will show up, but you want to go anyway. You spot a big birthday a few years down the line and you circle it in mental red pen. This shall be the year you do it...

Except goodness knows what the tickets will cost and what our hopeless pound will be worth by then. We might be trapped on Brexit island unable ever to leave. We might be dead, either because they can't get medicine into the country any more, or because we've been killed in the resulting civil war.

And you know something? That only makes the acquisition of tickets for Bayreuth even more urgent! We have to do this while we're alive and while we have the opportunity. Whatever it takes.

And that is how Wagner will take your life. Over and out.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Being joyous, outside parliament?

In these febrile times, I think it takes some courage to march around Westminster singing and playing the Ode to Joy. This is precisely what two brave Simons - baritone Simon Wallfisch and violinist Simon Hewitt Jones - and their friends have been doing on a regular basis for months and months and months. They are spreading togetherness and, well, joy, they say, to help heal this divided nation.

Given the grim future that's at stake for every one of us if the government pushes ahead with "hard Brexit", we should all go and join in!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Brexit and the Arts: no. 1 in the List of Shame

...oh, look.

It's our very own London Philharmonic Orchestra, whose Australian CEO, Tim Walker, is quoted in a Telegraph article extolling the "opportunity for orchestras to escape EU red tape and re-engage with the world". 

What the actual ****?

Here, in the interests of balance, is a report from the ISM corporate members' Brexit round table discussion, exploring some of the concerns at stake, including the potential loss of flexible travel, the potential loss of opportunities for higher education, the increase in bureaucracy for Brits working abroad and the general, bewildered impression overseas that Britain has lost its mind.
https://www.ism.org/blog/ism-corporate-members-brexit-round-table-1
Plus more from its #freemovecreate here: https://www.ism.org/news/parliamentary-committee-backs-flexible-travel-for-the-creative-industries-post-brexit

And here is the ABO report on the implications of Brexit for UK orchestras, which contains a great deal of very important reading. http://abo.org.uk/media/128619/ABO-Brexit-report.pdf


I have some questions for Tim next time I see him - but, things being as they are, it's all in the open, so here goes.

-- There's nothing wrong with being positive and looking for opportunities. I value your optimistic stance. But I would like to know to what extent the Torygraph has taken your words and twisted them to fit its own world view - and to what extent it has not.

-- What is the management doing to support the EU citizens who are long-standing members of the orchestra, given the current bargaining-chip status foisted upon them by our government? You have members from Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Hungary, Latvia, Spain, Ireland, Sweden and Bulgaria. How do you think they'd feel if they thought you, their own CEO, were part of the movement that is making life so traumatic for EU citizens in Britain now?

-- The orchestra has long been going to China almost annually, so how exactly is this part of your brave new Brexit world?

-- How is the orchestra going to manage the costs and bureaucracy of customs when transporting its equipment if we get a hard Brexit that forces us to leave the Customs Union? This will mean more red tape in Europe, not less - as has been roundly proven many times in the past 19 months. And will the LPO lorry not be stuck on the M20 outside Dover for days in each direction, with all the other truckers?

-- In the same field, costs will be higher. Government coffers will be depleted as the City workers who can longer function here depart, taking with them the tax revenues they'd have provided. This will keep public investment at rockbottom for many years to come and in the arts the chances of your public grant increasing are frankly zilch. You'll need to fund all this from elsewhere. I do hope you're on the case?

-- How are you going to replace lost sponsorship from European organisations? We have heard rumours that a planned recording recently fell through because a sponsor decided not to stump up for a British orchestra.

-- How are you going to persuade a world-class conductor to come here and take over from Vladimir Jurowski when he goes, knowing their earnings will be worth so much less outside Brexit Island?

-- How are you going to continue to attract and retain such fine players? You will lose the interest and enthusiasm of the best young European orchestral musicians, who won't have the automatic right to come and work here. While we appreciate that there are many good foreign players in the orchestra from the Far East and America, the chances are that in the long term, standards will fall as fewer players will be applying to join.

-- Conditions for the musicians are already quite poor compared to those in mainland Europe. And most of the younger recruits can't afford to live in London; they spend much time and energy commuting from Lewes, Tonbridge and the like. How can you ever improve their lot if all that revenue disappears?

-- How are you going to replace the bums-on-seats that will fall victim to economic uncertainty and the lack of business confidence? In the end you need your audience. Numbers are already down this season; it appears that people are not buying anything in the way of optional extras, since Brexit has devalued the pound and sparked inflation with which earnings do not keep pace.

-- You have done much for this orchestra in artistic terms over the years. It's currently in better shape than I have ever heard it (with the one exception of Solti's Mahler 5 in 1988). You've facilitated Jurowski's leadership and taken excellent risks with programming. You've made the LPO, with Jurowski, into currently the best orchestra in London. All this achievement risks being squandered in the slag-heap of division that Brexit has sparked. Why? Why throw it all away?!?

-- In this article you do not categorically say you voted for Brexit, but neither do you categorically deny it. Did you, or did you not, vote to strip your UK members of their automatic right to live and work in 27 other European countries? If you did, do you believe they and their families will ever forgive you?



Monday, July 17, 2017

Barenboim for Prime Minister

Barenboim raises a hand with his Berlin Staatskapelle. (Photo: bbc.co.uk)

Three days into the Proms and it's already clear that the world's leading musicians are more clued in to the folly of the flat-earth idiocy in Brexit Island than our own politicians are. Igor Levit played the Ode to Joy as an encore after his performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3 on opening night. Yesterday Daniel Barenboim followed the questing, Schumannesque lament for a vanishing world that Elgar's Second Symphony evokes with a speech about the dangers of isolationism, identifying the overarching problem that causes religious and political fundamentalism as a failure in education. The usual howls that politics and music don't mix have been curiously quiet - perhaps because Levit didn't say a word, but let Beethoven do all the speaking; and perhaps because Barenboim is, quite simply, right. [Update, 3.30pm: they've now stopped being quiet, but it was only a matter of time... and Barenboim is still right.]



(You can also read the transcribed text of his speech at Jon Jacobs' blog, Thoroughly Good, here.)

Watching and listening links for the Barenboim Prom here.

In the interests of our unfortunate country, I think it's time we kicked out the government and replaced them with people who know what they're talking about through music. It can't be any worse, after all. Following the Proms Coup (as opposed to the more usual Queue), here is the new cabinet.

PRESIDENT:
Ludwig van Beethoven. The greatest ideals and the biggest vision. Also, given his hearing disability, a fantastic symbol for inclusion and equality.

PRIME MINISTER:
Daniel Barenboim, one of the world's few true statesmen, working together with Beethoven.

FIRST SECRETARY OF STATE:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for a balancing human touch at the top of the power tree.

CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER:
Giacomo Meyerbeer, who made a great deal of money - and used it magnanimously.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Felix Mendelssohn, who could charm and befriend anyone and everyone, including royalty.

HOME SECRETARY:
Sir Edward Elgar, who works closely with Beethoven and Barenboim. A "home-grown" composer whose influences were chiefly European, including Schumann, Brahms and Strauss.

EDUCATION SECRETARY:
Zoltán Kodály, music's arch-educator with an outlook for both inclusiveness and expertise.

WORK AND PENSIONS SECRETARY:
Johann Sebastian Bach, who knew a thing or two about hard work and should have left Anna Magdalena a proper pension. (She ended her life destitute. Bach should fix this before it happens.)

DEFENCE MINISTER:
Franz Schubert, who had pacifist leanings.

ENVIRONMENT SECRETARY:
Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, whose Scottish island landscape and terrifically powerful personality would be a valuable asset.

EQUALITIES MINISTER:
Dame Ethel Smyth. Cross her at your peril.

HEALTH SECRETARY:
Frédéric Chopin, who would evince a profound interest in making sure antibiotics remain effective and available to all.

TRANSPORT SECRETARY:
Antonin Dvorák, who'd enjoy sorting out our trains and would also ensure that everything ran smoothly on the transatlantic front.

SPORTS MINISTER:
Frederick Septimus Kelly, who was not only a fine composer, but also an Olympic gold medallist in 1908, for rowing.

BREXIT SECRETARY:
This department is abolished, because we ain't leaving.



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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brexit: Creative Industries Federation offers 7 red lines

Main Title Here


The Creative Industries Federation published an important Brexit Report last autumn, looking at critical issues for the creative industries, arts and cultural education as the UK sets its course for the cliffs. Now that "negotiations" are underway, the CIF has distilled its recommendation into seven red-lines principles.

These include:

• Guarantee the rights of EU nationals currently working in the UK;
• Retain freedom of movement for EU workers, those in education and touring exhibitions, shows, musicians and support teams
• Remain part of the EU single market and the customs union - or at least find a free trade deal that replicates its frictionless travel arrangements as far as possible
• Continue to influence the shape of the EU's Digital Single Market (DSM)
• Maintain a robust and properly enforced International Property regime. [Do you have any idea how important this is? Please read about it, fast, right now.]
• Maintain reciprocal single market access for the distribution of UK and EU member state film and TV productions and audio-visual services
• Continue to participate in EU programmes such as Creative Europe, Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+.


A HUB FOR GLOBAL TALENT: The success of the UK’s creative industries is down to the people who work within it. Britain has a longstanding reputation as an open nation that attracts diverse global talent, and it is because of this that our creative sector is world-beating. If the UK loses easy access to people, it loses its competitive edge. If it loses its creative talent, it also loses its reputation as an attractive destination for work and play. 

Read them here.

Meanwhile there would be one very simple solution, which you can guess as well as I can, but we don't seem to have the right person at the top to do that job.




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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top artists' manager speaks out against Brexit

It seems that the person who could have done best at running the STAY IN THE EU campaign is actually running the leading artists' management company Harrison Parrott. I've seen few words so eloquent and hard-hitting on the topic as those posted in this essay by the executive chairman Jasper Parrott himself, currently released on the company's website. We should all rally together with him.

UK Arts and Culture are a European legacy worth fighting for, he declares.
...We should remember that the wealth and power of the Great Britain that Brexiteers would so delusionally like to bring back was based substantially on wealth accumulated through slavery and the slave trade, exploitative colonialism, the cruel oppression of the poor and of children in the satanic mills of the Industrial Revolution, countless broken promises and a history of appalling leadership at many critical points of history including the lead into the two world wars and many other conflicts before and since in which we have been involved. 
To me however, our UK has been at its greatest as a major partner in the European project which has brought previously unimagined levels of freedom and prosperity to hundreds of millions of people since the Second World War, as the successful creator of a citizenship and homeland of rich cultural diversity and mutual tolerance, a haven of peace and opportunity, and a society where the arts, sciences, education and every aspect of culture can thrive as it has so successfully done, over the last 40 years. 
And how much greater our UK could have been if our leaders had wholeheartedly engaged with the challenges of leadership and reform from within the EU rather than using our power to carp, diminish, undermine and opt out...
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

SHOCK: Top London orchestra will relocate to Germany

New home: the Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg
[PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS THE JDCMB APRIL FOOL'S DAY POST 2017]


The London Philharmonic Orchestra has allegedly accepted a remarkable offer from the City of Hamburg to move to Germany after Brexit, adopting a new home base at the magnificent Elbphilharmonie. The UK orchestra is thought to be planning its migration for the year 2021, allowing time for Brexit negotiations to end and the 120-odd families involved to make relocation plans.

The deal is thought to include a substantial pay rise as well as improved working conditions that are standard amongst orchestras in Germany. The musicians can also expect to enjoy the facilities of the splendid new hall, which opened in January this year.

A Hamburg city representative declared: "Just as centres such as Frankfurt and Paris can't wait to get their hands on the business of British banks wishing to escape the effects of a hard Brexit, so we also are eager to welcome the finest arts organisations whose business operations will be made much easier if they can continue within the single market of the EU."

Asked about the expense to the city of supporting a British orchestra in addition to its own, the representative gave a shrug and a smile, saying: "This is a prosperous place with its feet on the ground and an enlightened approach to long-term thinking. We invest in the arts as a vital contributor to a proud and prosperous future for all people in our country. We value music as a symbol of humanity, unity and cultural enrichment. Musicians here are artists, and top-level, highly respected professionals besides. We like to treat them accordingly and show them how much they are valued."

The orchestra will continue to perform the concerts of its residency at Southbank Centre, but expects to find the exchange rate with the plunging pound favourable when paid in Euros.

While some members of the ensemble are said to be worried about the language, a spokesperson for the orchestra said: "Music is a universal language and will continue to unite us as it always has."

Asked what they would miss about London, some musicians remarked sarcastically: "The ruinously expensive hour-and-a-half commute to work on unreliable trains. And the cost of living was already ridiculous here even without the inflation Brexit is bringing." Others, however, praised the diversity, open-mindedness and enthusiasm of British audiences.

Although the deal reportedly divided opinion among the players at first, the clinching factor is thought to be a practice already known in Cologne, where every member of the orchestra is handed a glass of lager as they step off stage at the end of the concert. The Londoners on the Elbe are to receive a mug each of the excellent local Bergdorferbier after every performance.

The orchestra's name will be changed to reflect its new binational status. It will henceforth be known as the London Hamburger Orchestra.


Note: Please bear in mind that this post was published on 1 April!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Prime Minister engages with the musical community as never before

Apart from being remembered as the man who drove the UK over the cliff, Prime Minister David Cameron may also go down in history as the one who inspired the most music. All because he left his mic on after he made his speech on Monday saying he'd be leaving on Wednesday, and hummed a little tune as he walked inside - presumably singing a song as he waved us goodbye.

Since then the musical community has been very busy trying to identify the tune: The West Wing? Tannhäuser? It's difficult to tell, so instead, some exciting and creative musicians have been trying to turn it into something new, spurred on by a challenge from Classic FM.

Here's the pianist Gabriela Montero's splendid Bachian improvisation.



Composer Thomas Hewitt Jones has created an atmospheric cello lament, written and recorded between midnight and 2am on 12 July. He's had more than 140,000 hits already.



And last but by no means least, here's a clever piece of counterpoint, since Dave Cam is most definitely gone with the wind.




Our new Prime Minister, Theresa May
Is taking over later today,
Whatever happens, let her hum on her way... 

Ironically, the First Night of the Proms on Friday features one of the works she chose when she was on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs a couple of years ago: the Elgar Cello Concerto. Did they know something we didn't?

[A little update: the headline on this piece is in fact a joke. J. O. K. E. Irony and all that. One shouldn't have to point this out, but I guess we live in interesting times. One of the best ways to navigate through daily life in 'interesting times' is to try having a dark-hued belly-laugh at them. If it helps, good. If it doesn't, well, there it is.]

Friday, July 01, 2016

The Somme, 1 July 1916

Poppies. Photo: John Beniston via Wikipedia

Below, the Elegy for Strings, "In Memoriam Rupert Brooke", by Frederick Septimus Kelly, the young Australian composer who was killed at the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916. Jelly d'Arányi, who had hoped to marry him, kept his picture on her piano for the rest of her life.

Please take a moment to remember that the organisation that unites European countries under one big umbrella was formed after World War II in order to stop wars from happening again between its member states. Today it's called the European Union. People in the UK last week voted by a narrow margin to leave this organisation.

It's chiefly a protest vote that lashes out against the holders of power and against that catch-all scapegoat, people who look different, speak a different language or come from somewhere else. Unfortunately the deprivation and alienation in many English and Welsh communities is the result of successive British government policies - e.g., the closure of our manufacturing bases and the mines, "austerity", etc - over the last 30-odd years (see this damning report about the UN's confirmation that the austerity regime breaches the UK's international human rights obligations). The EU actually put money into regenerating these places.

The nation that sent its finest young men to fight for our freedom a hundred years ago has now been sold down the river by a bunch of liars and jokers who were high on their own power and are living to regret it. Ironically, Theresa May, current front-runner for the vacant Tory leadership, has more or less declared that if she becomes PM the fiscal plan - the excuse for these past years of "austerity" - is dead in the water [update, 12.50pm: Chancellor George Osborne has just confirmed that the aim of a budget surplus by 2020 is being ditched]. Just in time for our Brexit-induced recession in 2017.

With any luck, this referendum can be turned to positive effect. It's exposed the depth of our societal fault-lines and the extent of the inequality that recent ideologies have worsened. It would take something as seismic as this to force a policy rethink. Now that rethink must happen, not a moment too soon.

It's not impossible that the structures of constitutional law may yet reveal Brexit as unworkable or illegal - it looks suspiciously as if it may be both. But if it does go ahead, we have to find a way to fight for the guarantees and conditions our businesses need in order to keep functioning on a global stage, and if those sunny uplands vaunted by the Leave camp turn out to exist, we have to seize the supposed opportunities they offer, whatever they may be (look, there goes another unicorn!). But the Article 50 button would have to be pushed first, and it'll be a bloody-minded PM indeed who is able to do that to his/her own country, especially when it could result in the break-up of the UK.

As we all remember the Battle of the Somme and the horrors of World War I today, let's reflect for a moment on the irony - and the hypocrisy - of the current situation.

Over to "Sep" Kelly.



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Keep calm and...listen to Barenboim

This is probably the most astonishing performance of Beethoven's 'Appassionata' Sonata that I've ever heard.



Barenboim writes about Brexit on the Journal page of his website:

"The vote in favor of Brexit is, in my view, a very sad decision for Great Britain and Europe. It is, however, senseless to bathe in pessimism and desperation as Brexit is now an unchangeable historical fact.
The best thing to do now is to analyze both the extremist and populist motivations behind the vote to leave, and the serious issues requiring improvement.
The construction of the EU is far from ideal. Europe consists of so many different peoples, cultures, and languages that the EU requires a much more substantial unifying idea than simply joint trade and a single currency.There are now two possible reactions:
To lament Brexit and watch extremist movements in other countries such as France and the Netherlands seeking to follow the example of Great Britain.
Or, to think about necessary improvements for the EU and to work together towards a true spirit of unity and collaboration, especially in finding a global solution for the refugee crisis and not an exclusively European one.
Nationalism is the opposite of true patriotism, and the further fostering of nationalist sentiment would be the worst case-scenario for us all. Instead, we need a unifying, European patriotism. In the spirit of Kennedy’s words, we need to ask not what Europe can do for us, but we can do to fortify, solidify and unify Europe."
Those words will probably be cold comfort for UK readers. It shows just how relevant we are to the big picture as seen the rest of the continent, i.e., not at all, except as a lesson to others.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cold light

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 result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union makes this a sombre and disheartening day for all of us.
‘Forged out of the bloodiest war in history after centuries of conflict and division, the European Union – however flawed it may be – has been at the heart of an international movement to share an enriching diversity of languages, cultures and aspirations, and celebrate the good of humanity.
‘The United Kingdom, one of the most active and successful laboratories for artistic and cultural pluralism, should remain true to this – one of history’s greatest projects.
‘We at HarrisonParrott are deeply committed to the idea that our business and our lives benefit immensely from the fact that our artists and our staff share such a diverse range of nationalities, languages and cultures, and we take great pride in the success of our open and internationally inclusive recruitment policy.
‘The referendum, in the considered opinion of many leading figures and commentators, was never really necessary – it was promised largely for party political purposes.
‘I believe government, in its it reckless decision to hold it, has failed us all in its primary duties of keeping us safe, protecting our welfare, and honouring our alliances and commitments. I fear this will go down in history as one of the great follies of vanity and opportunism.
‘The power of music and the arts is universal. It brings us all closer together in a creative and non-discriminatory way, which can only benefit society as a whole.
‘All of us involved in the Arts and Creative Industries must now do whatever is possible to heal these self-inflicted wounds.’

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:

• Money. 

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.’

• Xenophobia

-- 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.

But:

-- 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.

And finally:

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.


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

I'm IN, and here's why you should be too

Today 300 historians have added their voices to the Remain campaign, pointing out that were we to leave the EU, the UK would simply become an irrelevance. They declare:

"As historians of Britain and of Europe, we believe that Britain has had in the past, and will have in the future, an irreplaceable role to play in Europe. On 23 June, we face a choice: to cast ourselves adrift, condemning ourselves to irrelevance and Europe to division and weakness; or to reaffirm our commitment to the EU and stiffen the cohesion of our continent in a dangerous world."

Now, maybe you like the idea of the UK drifting away alone into mid-Atlantic, leaving us isolated and Europe weakened while Putin runs Russia and Trump may soon run America? I sure as hell don't. Neither do I much like the idea of our resulting isolation being run by the particular bunch of deluded ideological fantasist politicians, of many political hues, who are supporting "Brexit". To say nothing of the leader of the French National Front being in favour of it. 

It seems a no-brainer that for the music industry in particular "Brexit" would be a complete disaster. Here are some vital reasons to vote to stay in if you are part of this exceptionally international sphere.

• At the moment, UK musicians have the right to work anywhere in Europe and can therefore with ease take up posts at orchestras ranging from Berlin to Gothenburg to La Scala Milan with freedom should they be fortunate enough to be appointed. Likewise, European musicians can come to Britain and many do indeed bring their expertise to our finest orchestras. Standards have gone up enormously as a result and the performers' own horizons have a chance to expand unimpeded. If we lose this, quality levels will most likely drop and career prospects for UK musicians will be unnecessarily hobbled.

• UK orchestras and chamber groups travelling around Europe don't need working visas at the moment. If suddenly a working visa is required for the Schengen area, logistics will be vastly more complicated and the cost of it all will rise considerably.

• Workers' rights. Matters like maternity leave, holiday pay and more are protected by EU directives. Take those away and the pro-Brexiters left in charge will get rid of your rights faster than you can say Emmeline Pankhurst. If you want to be in the hands of those who will skew the already dangerous imbalance ever more towards the employers, cutting the pay, the rights and the dignity of everyone else, then vote Brexit...

• Music students, want to avoid crippling debt from college fees? Go and study in Germany. It's FREE. If we leave the EU, this will no longer be possible. (And remember, just because our schools don't bother to encourage it, that doesn't mean you can't learn another language. You can. Anyone can. Speaking different languages is a major advantage and you won't regret the time and effort you put into it.)

• Calling all Kaufmaniacs - and any music enthusiast who loves to travel to hear favourite musicians, rare operas et al: your air fares will rise, you may need a visa and if the pound falls as much as the Chancellor says (18 per cent) it will cost you a very great deal more.


In the interests of "balance" I've been trying to think of one advantage for the music industry of leaving.

I've come up with....

um...??

Nothing. Null. Nix. Nada. Nul points. (Oh, right - perhaps if we exit Europe we would have to leave the Eurovision Song Contest. That would be an advantage because the British entries are usually so embarrassing.)

So instead, here are more reasons to stay. The ticket agency Ticketbis (an organisation which helps fans resell and buy tickets for events all over the world) has been in touch with some further points. Most of them are couched in terms which apply to pop music, but the principles are exactly the same:

Tax: The cost of buying records and merchandise online could also increase for both people in the UK buying from Europe, and people in Europe buying from the UK. At the moment, you don't have to pay VAT or customs duty on imports and exports within the EU, but Brexit may change this.

Digital downloads could be affected too. Artists currently selling downloads don't have to register for VAT in every EU country, which could change should Britain leave the EU.

Smaller acts: The people who would be affected the most by Brexit are smaller acts who rely on touring Europe or heading to European festivals to gain exposure.

Bands will only be able to tour if a promoter makes them an offer to perform, and with the additional paperwork, European promoters may be less inclined to bother with smaller acts.

For artists who are not in the EU, a Schengen visa costs €60 per person (£45 to £50 depending on the current exchange rate). Four band members, a driver and tour manager puts an extra £300 on the cost of a tour.

Travel costs: The Association of British Travel Agents (Abta) has already warned that Brexit could be a disaster for the travel industry, both for tourists and business travel. The knock-on effects for the music industry – where fans travel as tourists and bands travel as businesses – could be significant.

Thanks to Britain’s current membership in the EU, it enjoys the EU-US open skies regulations, which mean flights between EU countries and the US are cheaper, more regular, and can be done to and from far more destinations. However, this could change if Britain leaves the EU.

Fans travelling abroad for concerts: In 2015, 75% of ticket sales through Ticketbis were for events outside of the UK and in 2014 80% of sales were for events outside of the UK. These sales figures show how popular travelling abroad to see your favourite artists is with music fans in the UK.

The rising travel costs will no doubt  affect the fans, whether they're following their favourite musicians on tour or heading out to European festivals. But it’s not just the extra cost which could affect fans’ ability to travel - free healthcare access, financial protection, freer movement of goods, caps on mobile phone charges and compensation for delayed flights are all benefits that come with EU membership, and could ultimately be lost should brexit take place.

Jaime de Miguel from Ticketbis said: “Over half (54%) of ticket sales through Ticketbis for events in the UK in 2016 have been from international fans that travel to the UK to attend music events. If the UK was to leave the EU these figures could be seriously affected and opportunities for fans to see their favourite artists live could be slashed.”