Classical music must put its house in order
Classical music is one of the most sublime forms of communication. So it is a paradox that the classical music community is so poor at communicating, as is being shown by the current furor over cuts in arts funding around the world.
There is no doubt that the cuts inflicted on the arts in Holland are truly terrible. The ripple effects of the cuts, which include the total closure of four radio orchestras and a magnificent music library, threatens music, dance, and theatre throughout the country. A little reported increase in the tax on tickets in performance venues from 6% to 19% will force halls to close and will discourage adventurous programmes and new commissions. All of which has been imposed without notice and selectively by a right-wing government with racist links. Holland is currently the worst victim, but on the other side of the Atlantic orchestral players in Detroit are now striking against pay reductions.
So it may seem to be the wrong time to be writing a post that does not scream 'cultural genocide' very loudly. At which point a few reminders may be in order. This blog has always passionately defended the importance of classical music. It joined the campaign against the closure of the Dutch classical station Concertzender two years before Dutch arts cuts were making headline news elsewhere and it has uniquely documented how the strike by BBC musicians in 1980 saved a great orchestra.
As I have said, the cuts inflicted on the arts in Holland are truly terrible. But what is notably lacking from coverage by the classical music community is any recognition of the underlying cause of the budget reductions already imposed in Holland and Detroit and those that will inevitably follow elsewhere. The underlying cause is that in almost every Western economy an ageing population means expenditure is outstripping income. And the only solution is to cut expenditure, whatever the colour of the government.
Everyone is going to have to share the pain. At the risk of repeating myself it is clear that the cuts in Holland are selective, disproportionate and linked to other agendas. But much of the current protest activity simply illustrates the shortcomings of a Twitter driven sound byte culture and runs the risk of confirming the widely held view that classical music is a niche indulgence that is out of touch with reality.
Of course we need to vigorously protest against the cuts. But we also need to publicly acknowledge the economic crisis that is their underlying cause. And we need to recognise that classical music has made itself a soft target by being too elitist and too dependent on public subsidies, by failing to connect with a young audience, by being ageist and by having a poor track record in race, gender and sexual preference equality. To gain public support we need to show how classical music can contribute towards expenditure savings. Most importantly we need to show how classical music is going to put its own house in order and make itself less of a soft target in the future.
Or as Tancredi says in The Leopard:
'If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.'An online petition against the Dutch cuts can be signed here.
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