Showing posts with label Dame Sarah Connolly. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dame Sarah Connolly. 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. 
 
sarah-connolly.co.uk 
© Dame Sarah Connolly