MPs to slash Mahler?

MPs to slash Mahler?


norman lebrecht

November 24, 2010

Amazing what can be done by means of selective quotation. Charlotte Higgins in today’s Guardian has culled a few squibs from the proceedings of the House of Commons committee on culture, media and sport to suggest, without factual foundation, that their report will recommend a cull of orchestral funding.

She begins by inflating into committee policy a casual witticism by chairman John Wittingdale to the effect that Gustav Mahler ‘shouldn’t have written works that require so many musicians’. Other MPs and witnesses are caricatured for holding unfashionable views and Charlotte concludes that we cannot expect a serious report from so frivolous a forum.
As one of those called in evidence by the committee, I found the MPs’ questioning intense, sincere and open-minded. One did not have to agree with many of the views expressed to respect the need for critical analysis of Arts Council England and its recent activities. 
There seemed to be general contempt for the ACE’s performance during the present cuts and a genuine dismay at the feeble, fact-poor testimony of its chief executive, Alan Davey. These sentiments are a matter of public record and can be viewed on the committee’s website. They must cause great discomfort to ACE chair Liz Forgan and her chief exec.
Journalists are often put up by to defend public bodies on which they rely for leaks. I doubt this was the case with Charlotte Higgins, an honest and intelligent arts columnist. But I do wonder why she defends an ACE regime that has so wantonly betrayed the arts. The thrust of ACE policy since the cuts were announced has been to defend its own jobs. Arts managers up and down the country have lost confidence in the ACE leadership. Forgan and Davey are walking a wobbly plank.
Rather than cutting symphonic music, I got the impression that the HoC committee was greatly concerned about regional orchestras who will suffer a double hit of ACE and local authority cuts. Expect a tough report on the ACE, and no disparagement of Mahler.