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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3 comments:

Elaine Fine said...

Rich people who love music have ALWAYS been the reason that "classical music" institutions survive. When I was young I used to distrust them, but now that I see things in a much broader historical way, I understand that the only reason that music and art continue to be made available to people who don't have large amounts of money is through the generosity (or obsessive love) of those who do.

One problem that some of us who believe in social justice have is that some of the people who love music as much as we musicians want to play it are of a very different kind of political mind. Sometimes that different kind of political mind is one that acts exploitatively and manipulates politicians.

The only solace we have is that this kind of thing has gone on since the Renaissance. The music and art survives, though. And it still will, as long as there are people who have both money and taste.

One big problem that we face is that often times people who have extreme wealth lack taste. This happens among people who don't have wealth as well. Money can't buy taste. Unfortunately.

So the future of classical music is like a volleyball passed between people who love music deeply, and those that have personal preferences that may not have much to do with anything that lies below the surface of the combination of good looks, a flashy (and reliable) technique, and stage presence (in composers as well as in performing musicians).

I know that as a working musician (performing and writing), who is not of the flashy ilk, it is not likely that I will see vast sums of cash and support come my way (miracles can happen, but I'm not holding my breath), But I do know that if a "culture maker" were to ask me for something and reward me with exposure, press, accolades, and money, I would do my best to deliver whatever it is they ask of me.

That is the tradition of "classical music." It always has been, and I believe it always will be.

Pliable said...

Elaine, we need to differentiate between rich people who give generous amounts of money to help classical music survive, and people from the business world who hold multiple positions of power in classical music and who are also, coincidentally wealthy.

There is no evidence that the people I mention in my post are in positions of power because of their philanthropy, although they may well be generous donors. They are there because of their business background and connections, and I question if that qualifies them to hold the positions they do. (Note that the UK Banking Standards Commission found one of the subjects of this post, Lord Dennis Stevenson, guilty of a "colossal failure" of management - the many people, including me, who lost large amounts of money when the bank he was chairman of failed will agree with that judgement.) And even if they are qualified to sit on the boards of classical music institutions, I question whether they should hold multiple positions of power.

These people are not funding classical music, they are running it. In fact as the linked newspaper article reports, Simon Robey - who reportedly earned an annual bonus of between £5m and £10m - is pleading for more money on behalf of classical music.

http://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/lend-us-a-tenor-says-royal-opera-house-chairman-8623667.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22027664

Pliable said...

News from across the Atlantic suggests I am pushing at the right door - http://www.therestisnoise.com/2013/12/words-fail.html