Music matters, but so does transparency
BBC and Guardian journalist Tom Service is a very persuasive champion of classical music in Lucerne. Last week he was waxing lyrically on BBC Radio 3 about the Lucerne Festival Orchestra, in September he enthused about the Lucerne Summer Festival in a Guardian feature, in 2008 he sang the praises of the Lucerne Festival Academy on BBC Radio 3's Music Matters programme after a visit to Switzerland, while in 2007 he snagged an interview for the Guardian with Lucerne Festival Orchestra founder Claudio Abbado on board the maestro's private jet.
With all that proselytising it is hardly surprising that Tom has not found time to mention the sponsors of the Lucerne Summer Festival, so I will fill in the blanks. The Festival has three resident sponsors. One is Credit Suisse, a multi-national providing private banking and corporate financial services which is currently the subject of a tax evasion enquiry in the US. Another sponsor is Zurich Insurance Company Ltd, which was fined £2.27m by the UK Financial Services Authority last year for losing personal details of 46,000 customers, while the third resident sponsor is Nestlé S.A, another corporation with a chequered history.
On the rung below the resident sponsors of the Lucerne Summer Festival are the main sponsors. These include investment bank UBS AG, which was bailed out by the Swiss government in 2008, is currently in the news because of a fraud scandal, and has been described by none other than the Guardian as "the big bank that cannot stay out of trouble". Another major sponsor is Swiss private bank Clariden Leu AG which was formed by a merger with a Credit Suisse subsidiary after its predecessor Bank Leu was involved in two major insider trading scandals. None of which is a secret and, it may be argued, someone has to pay the piper.
Now cut to the Guardian website and the campaigning piece from February 2009 seen in my header image. Under the bold headline Banks should not be sponsoring classical music it names and shames the Edinburgh and Aldeburgh Festivals for having banking connections, but somehow the financially well-connected Lucerne Summer Festival slips through the Guardian's net. However the concluding paragraph leaves one in no doubt as to where the author stands on the question of whether financial institutions should be sponsoring classical music:
'How can the art made at festivals sponsored by these bankrupt individuals and companies do the job that classical music should do, and have a necessary, critical voice in contemporary culture, if it continues to be supported by the dead hand of big banking? There may be many things wrong with the network of arts councils in this country, but the arm's-length principle at least ensures some form of independence from government and vested interests. Right now, I would happily advocate the replacement of large-scale private – or at least City-based - sponsorship with a model of bigger public, government support...'Do I need to spell out the punchline? The author of the hellfire and brimstone sermon on the evils of banks sponsoring classical music festivals was, of course, Tom Service.
* It would be interesting to learn how Lucerne Festival Orchestra founder Claudio Abbado reconciles his left-leaning political views (machine translation here) with the track record of some of the Festival sponsors. Did someone mention the commercial-intermediary complex? More on money and music in Switzerland here.
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It's a form of culture-washing. Oil companies on the Public Broadcasting System in the U.S. pioneered the whole idea of "we're sponsoring high culture for free for you, we can't be bad." Well, yes, they can.