Friday, October 15, 2010

An inside view of the Dutch arts cuts

It was with much interest that I read your blog on the cuts in Holland. Mostly also because I live in The Netherlands and am as a free-lancer often employed by one of the ensembles of the Radio (btw: you forgot to mention Dutch Radio Choir one of the best professional big/symphonic choirs). But your post reminds me a lot about the joke when an economist is sent to a classical concert and later writes a report saying most of the instrumetalists should be sacked since they do exactly the same job as their neighbours or should be doing more stuff at the same time, like the harpist could also play another instrument since she only played a few times in the whole symphony but is paid for the whole period...

What I dislike about the cuts is not their existence but the fact that they are entirely non-transparent. Nothing was said why the whole MCO (ie Radio) was to be abolished. Not one word, not one justification. They only said we need 200 million €, and this is how we will save them. Well, I suggest they sell a Rembrandt or two from the Dutch museum and they will earn more then 200m €. And as much as I realize how ludicrous this suggestion is, so is theirs.

On the other hand it is being invested in animal police and more police in general. While they will put more than 1000 people on the street without work, they want to protect the animals. How odd does that sound!? They also would like 3000 more policemen, pretending Holland is a dangerous place to live in. Well it's not! And it's a complete fascist policy: scare the people and they will follow you wherever - look at the USA.

I don't mind patronage but the problem is, Europe does not have the amount of rich people the States have, that would donate 100.000 € a year for a cultural event. I'm the first one to say: let's save. But then we must ALL save and not just some at the expense of the others. And the new government does not get that message. It's not as if they will lower the wages: they will abolish them. With a single stroke of pen. And as we know we build the sound and quality of classical ensembles through decades not weeks and once they are gone, they are gone. For ever.

Comment posted by Ambala.
I am not going to disagree with Ambala, but some clarification may be helpful. I wrote my post about the Dutch arts cuts for two reasons. First, because the coverage of the cuts outside Holland was both sparse and superficial, and secondly because I thought the classical music community was not helping its case by the way it communicated its reaction. My own position was made clear - "the cuts inflicted on the arts in Holland are truly terrible ... the ripple effects... threaten music, dance, and theatre throughout the country... all of which has been imposed without notice and selectively by a right-wing government with racist links".

Readership figures for my post, sympathetic articles elsewhere and tweets by respected commentators confirm that it helped raise awareness of the cuts. It has also sparked valuable comments, such as Ambala's. But, love it or hate it, public expenditure cuts are inevitable and they will be made by politicians who are masters of spin. So I still hold the view that classical music needs to be much more convincing in its response.

For instance Simon Rattle spoke out in the Dutch press yesterday against the cuts. Rattle is a fine and high profile musician. But his estimated salary of £700,000 at the Berlin Philharmonic (before guest conducting fees and recording royalties) comes largely from public funds (including 50% from the Berlin Senate) topped up by sponsorship from Deutsche Bank. So he may not be the most convincing independent expert on this subject.

Of course rank and file musicians are not so fortunate as the celebrities. But classical music must be seen to be changing as well as shouting. It needs to be less exclusive and must learn from world music, which combines increasing popularity with exemplary inclusiveness and low levels of public funding. Classical music must better explain why, as an increasingly celebrity, media and entertainment oriented artform, it still needs substantial levels of public funding.

Classical music also needs to be more transparent in its use of public money. Should top artists fees be disclosed when paid from public funds? Can the remuneration of senior arts administrators be justified and do they exert too much power? Should the role and fees of artsist's agents be more transparent? Do flagship events receive disproportionately high levels of funding? These questions should be debated within classical music before they are asked by the Daily Mail and its equivalents elsewhere.

I totally agree with Ambala - we build the sound and quality of classical ensembles through decades not weeks and once they are gone, they are gone for ever. But classical music also needs to put its house in order.

Notes:

1. A number of the links in the last paragraph point to articles about the BBC, which is license fee rather than State funded. The reason is that these articles provide much needed statistics and other support data which is lacking from other sources. In a 2009 Guardian interview BBC Radio 3 controller and Proms director justified his salary and expenses by saying "But I have been in and out of the BBC and know of other benchmarks". So my data on the BBC should be a pretty good benchmark as to what goes on elsewhere.

2. Estimated salary for Simon Rattle is arrived at by taking his reported BPO starting salary of £500k in 2002 and inflating by 5% pa.

3. I have made some slight changes to Ambala's post for the sake of clarity. The unchanged original can be read here.

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1 comment:

Pliable said...

Opera houses and order - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-11546200