Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Forget Dudamel - this man is classical music's future
Musicians at the sharp end of classical music report to executive staff who are in turn accountable to management bodies variously termed boards, councils etc. These management boards control the future of classical music, yet they come under very little scrutiny. My research for yesterday's post about Aldeburgh Music uncovered just how incestuous classical music's controlling bodies are. The chairman of Aldeburgh Music council Simon Robey, who is seen above, is also chairman of the Royal Opera House and a member of many of its committees including finance and audit, while Aldeburgh Music president Lord Dennis Stevenson of Coddenham is also a director of Glyndebourne productions and Laura Wade-Gery sits on the Aldeburgh Music council and the Royal Opera House board of trustees. Of course co-productions between geographically distant companies are a fact of life in opera. But the Royal Opera House is just 109 miles from Aldeburgh and 62 miles from Glyndebourne, and there is a considerable overlap in their audiences.
Co-operation is a fact of life in the arts, but so is creative tension. Are there really so few people qualified to sit on arts management boards in London and the Home Counties that the same names have to keep appearing? Which then raises the questions of what are the qualifications of these board members? I am sure they know a lot about classical music, but so do many other very talented people who are not on management boards. The council members I have highlighted all have high profile business careers. (I was going to write 'successful careers' but then I read the view of the Banking Standards Commission on Lord Dennis Stevenson's chairmanship of HBOS.) But is there any evidence that achieving high rank in investment banking - Simon Robey - or Tescos and Marks and Spencer - Laura Wade-Gery - or high street banking - Lord Dennis Stevenson - qualifies you to sit on the board of an arts organisation? Simon Robey has been described as "the Square Mile’s own trillion-dollar man" and I cannot dispute that these people are well connected and move in circles where money flows very freely indeed. But that is a two-edged sword, and how much of the damaging fee inflation among celebrity musicians is fuelled by these masters of the financial universe?
The picture is repeated globally, with, for example, the board of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra chaired by a vice president of the Wells Fargo Bank . Classical music is very clever at allocating selective blame, with funding cuts - both public and private sector - and audiences - particularly those over 40 - taking the lion's share of the blame for the current problems. But it is now time to start questioning whether these management boards - whose members are, incidentally, almost exclusively wealthy and over 40 - are the best people to be controlling the future of classical music.
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