In February 2013, the Cardiff City Council cut funding to the arts by 100%. Councils all over Britain are cutting arts funding and music tuition and youth orchestra provision was to be severely damaged. The financial difficulties in American intensified. The orchestra in Minnesota had been “locked out” for more than three months
I get news every day via the Internet of cuts to arts funding. The great benefits of Facebook, such as news of events and renewed contact with old friends bring bad news too and in these difficult times it seems as if there is no end to it. The American orchestras are falling into serious financial problems with great frequency now. Detroit, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minnesota, the list lengthens. I wonder if we are witnessing the end of the profession, as we know it. Can we recommend it to our children?
I feel a greater discomfort within, that I am partly responsible for this impending catastrophe or at least guilty in some way. Maybe this is why I find it difficult to answer a child that asks my advice or approval for a career as an instrumentalist, and while common decency compels me to be frank about the fragile condition of it all.
God! This is depressing!
I don’t want to be a politician or a “disgruntled correspondent. Apathy is what ails me if I’m not careful: along with a lot of other people it seems.
But it wasn’t always like this. We did fight like hell for the RPO all those years ago, and it was worth all the press vitriol and all those “end of the month” financial meetings and negative balance sheets.
That’s it of course – It’s always been the same.
The establishment and the press criticized us for performing with “Deep Purple” and Frank Zappa. One paper called our concerts “humiliating” at one stage.
Playing music, or doing anything for small amounts of money is often considered demeaning nowadays, while the receipt of enormous fees for concerts is some sort of qualification of excellence for the conductors that have kept us close to bankruptcy for decades.
We did far more humiliating things in fact which were done as “media” damage limitation, such as an invitation that was made to the critic of the “Gramophone” magazine to accompany us on an American tour, which was to be for him, an all expenses paid holiday, touring California and the west coast of America and staying at the best hotels.
In return of course, we did expect favorable reviews to be sent home that would perhaps influence public opinion and help in some way to stabilize our perilous domestic position with the Arts council. The man in question had no real experience or understanding of music, beyond the academic. He was much more interested in his own self-aggrandisement, and reserved his professional obsequiousness for the maestro and the great and good of California. He hardly ever spoke to the players nor took any interest in their lives or their perpetual problems and it soon became obvious to us that we could gain nothing whatever from his presence on the tour beyond an increase in our financial deficit.
At the halfway point of the tour, or thereabouts, he became very obviously bored with the concerts, which were by and large repeat performances in different towns and cities, which is of course the normal and necessary practice of touring orchestras.
Anyway the result was that he stopped attending performances altogether outside the major cities, and one night he was standing in the wings of a theatre in Sacramento as we came off the stage, and I heard him make a derisory remark, to those within earshot, about the evening’s performance, which he could only have heard in part and from the wings of the stage at which point, my friend Pat O’Brian lifted him off his feet by the lapels of his jacket and informed him, through clenched, teeth that “like it or not,” our shoddy performances were paying for his California holiday and after a derisory reference to the “Gramophone” magazine and its unsuitability for certain lavatory usage, he let him go.
The act summed up the communal contempt that had grown for this unwelcome guest among the players since our departure from London, and Pat’s reprimand from the board of directors was delivered later in the bar of the hotel, accompanied by gentle cocktail piano music and stifled laughter, with a mutual realization that we had all (even the unfortunate critic, who was still trembling and drinking by himself in a dark corner of the room) made a serious mistake with this experiment. It was suggested that Pat apologized to him as a vain attempt to salvage something from it all. A grudging apology was given, and after receiving an equally reticent acceptance, we paid up resolutely for all his bills and expenses, increasing our deficit accordingly!
Yes! It has always been the same.
Young people entering the profession have no idea that they are at the beginning of a lifelong battle. I certainly didn’t. It’s as well for me that I didn’t mind a good fight, I always maintained a good sense of humour, and deep down, I felt that the joy of it all was worth much more than the problems it presented, but I was fortunate to have grown up in better times!
I can’t come to the protest day in Cardiff, but I have written to the relevant councillors etc. I’m certain that public opinion will prevail in all this. Wales has always shown the way in musical education.
Shortly before British forces invaded Iraq, I saw a man interviewed in the street by the BBC in Baghdad. The man was going to the mosque with his two sons.
Asked why he didn’t want the Americans in his country, he said,
“I don’t want my children to grow up with hamburgers and drugs!”
I don’t want my grandchildren to grow up in a country where musical education is only for the privileged and better off.
Our children are everything. They are the future. There is no future without them and they are our responsibility!
We have burdened them with the debt of disgraceful and illegal wars. We poison their food and then we blame them for the disorder in society. We refuse to pay for their education and berate them for their ignorance and naivety. We complain when they take no interest in politics while the politicians entrusted with their future and security are prosecuted for dishonesty and duplicity.
Maybe this acrimony and unrest is all for the best in some mysterious way, but we can’t accept this. Something must be done.
I’ll write to you soon about more pleasant matters