Monday, February 23, 2015

London and Dublin - a tale of two cities


John Luther Adams' Become Ocean receives its European premiere on March 6th. The Pulitzer Prize and Grammy winning work is being performed in Dublin by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jamie Phillips in a programme that includes music by Anna Clyne, Irene Buckley and David Lang. In London on the same night both the the Royal Festival Hall and Barbican are dark. If you want to hear classical music in London around March 6th the two principal venues offer Hobson's choice. Two days before in the Royal Festival Hall, the Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment offers the distinctly unenlightened programme of Dvorák's New World Symphony and Brahms' Violin Concerto with Iván Fischer and Viktoria Mullova - ironically that header image is being used by the OAE to promote their concert. At the Barbican on the 5th March there is the London Symphony Orchestra in a programme that includes a John Williams movie soundtrack and a second half with a " a unique and dazzling mix of classical, jazz and folk music", while seven days later the LSO and their principal guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas - his salary as music director of the San Francisco Symphony is $2.41 million - offer a little Colin Matthews and a lot of Gershwin and Shostakovich - the latter the war horse Fifth Symphony.

In Dublin a hungry and visionary conductor and orchestra premieres Become Ocean, which is one of the most important and comprehensible pieces of classical music composed in recent years. In London two quite serviceable but not ideal venues are dark on the same Friday night. Yet the London Symphony Orchestra and the classical music establishment is lobbying to bring to London another highly paid celebrity conductor - Simon Rattle's Berlin salary is conservatively estimated at £750,000 - to play over-exposed music in a new £300 million concert hall. This while funding for grass roots music making is being slashed, and when provision of arts facilities is already heavily skewed towards London and other metropolitan centres.

The role of classical music's power brokers, the management agents, in the lobbying for a new London concert hall should not be overlooked. Simon Rattle's agent is Askonas Holt, who also represent the London Symphony Orchestra and its principal guest conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. At the risk of stating the glaringly obvious, as an agent's commission is a percentage of their client's earnings, Askonas Holt stands to benefit financially if Rattle is appointed to the LSO and a new hall is built. Incidentally, to keep it in the family, Askonas Holt also represent Mrs Rattle, the mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená who sung with her husband and the Berlin Philharmonic in their recent performance of Mahler's Second Symphony in London. At the risk of repeating myself, it is also worth pointing out that the other soloist in the Mahler, Kate Royal, is also managed by Askonas Holt, while, yes you guessed it, Askonas Holt represents the Berlin Philharmonic and masterminded their recent London concerts and residency.

Before leaving the subject of a new London concert hall it should be noted that the non-executive chairman of Askonas Holt Michael Cassidy CBE helped prepare the City of London Cultural Strategy 2012-17 in his role as chairman of the board of governors of the Museum of London. Michael Cassidy has been in legal practice for over 40 years, focussing on UK and international investment, mostly for major pension funds. He currently holds the position of chairman of the City of London Property Investment Board, having previously been chairman - policy & resources and chairman planning for the City of London and president of the London Chamber of Commerce, and chairman of the Barbican Centre.

Mr Cassidy is also non-executive director responsible for championing the funded arts programme for Crossrail Ltd, the company that is building an east-west rail link across London. The business interests of Askonas Holt's non-executive chairman extend beyond London, and following Chancellor George Osborne's announcement in the 2014 budget that Ebbsfleet in Kent was to become a new garden city, Michael Cassidy was appointed by the government as chairman designate of the new Ebbsfleet Development Corporation. Outside the UK Mr Cassidy is a non-executive director of the Swiss UBS investment bank; the sponsorship by that bank of the London Symphony Orchestra has featured on An Overgrown Path previously. But I am starting to repeat myself, so let's cut to the chase. In my humble opinion classical music does not need a new concert hall in London. Classical music just needs to wake up to the blindingly obvious.

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