Are Danes sacking an orchestra to pay for Eurovision overspend?

Are Danes sacking an orchestra to pay for Eurovision overspend?


norman lebrecht

October 07, 2014

Danish media have just cracked the cost of hosting the last Eurovision contest. It ran four times over budget at 334 million kroner (£35 million).

Is this the reason DR is having to kill an orchestra?

The direct cost to the broadcaster was an unspeakable £21 million. For four hours of trash TV. Heads should roll.



  • Malena Rønnow says:

    Dear Norman Lebrecht,
    Please allow me to clarify one tiny thing: the danes, as a people, are not sacking the DNCO, that is the handiwork of the board of directors of the DBC (Danish Broadcasting Corporation, og DR in danish). The board of directors are also the people ultimately responsible for the budgetary disaster of the ESC.
    I am a dane and a proud classical musician, who spent the last three weeks on the barricades, trying to help save the DNCO. I want no part in their sacking. On behalf of my people, I do truly and utterly apologise for leaving the bored directors of the DBC in charge. A bunch of toddlers with crayons could have done a better job of caring for our cultural heritage… and I am sorry. We are sorry. But at least some of us out there are trying to mop up the mess… Does that count for something?

  • Martin says:

    Now, please put those millions into perspective.

    The trash is watched by millions around the globe, the orchestra by few thousand. The trash is talked about in global media for months, the orchestra fills a few lines in local or specialist news.

    • Anonymus says:

      So what? Shit tastes good because a million flies can’t be wrong?

      The board and General manager of the Danish broadcaster should resign, if that budget overrun of the ESC happened under their watch. The only problem in a small country like Denmark is: You don’t find easily enough good people there to run these institutions better. Apparently…

      • John Borstlap says:

        “Shit tastes good because a million flies can’t be wrong”- that’s a very good one…. I’ll keep that in mind.

        The problem with small countries is indeed the difficulty of finding the right people for cultural institutions. In Holland the same problem has now seriously undermined many institutions that formerly functioned well and represented something of Europe’s cultural scene, now it is quickly becoming a wasteland. In bigger countries, there is much more competition and thus, better chances that professional people will fill the posts. A more integrated EU could solve this problem.

        Belgium seems to do better though, in spite of its size. So, it is ALSO a matter of mentality. It is always amazing to see new opera productions announced on TV prime time news bulletins between government blunders and war scenes. Also it is quite normal there to have a full-scale opera production televised during an evening, instead of films or discussion programmes, and not only at night when normal people try to sleep.

    • Martin Stanzeleit says:

      If it’s good trash, it’ll be able to financially support itself. It doesn’t need taxpayer’s money. If it’s bad trash, well – it doesn’t need taxpayer’s money either.

  • Tom says:

    The 333 Dkr total cost was truly astounding, especially when one considers that last year’s Swedish grand prix cost a third of that, and that DR budgeted a tenth of that amount. No wonder DR didn’t want to release the numbers! Considering this scandal, they might as well fire the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra as well, which would still make them 100 million Dkr short of the cost overrun.

    I find it amusing – in a way – that DR is able to do this again after the monumental scandal surrounding the construction of the new DR central building with its concert halls, which ran I forget how many billions of Dkr over budget. That little boo-boo resulted in hundreds of people getting fired to make up for the deficit and seriously hampered DR’s quality of programming, a consequence that lasts to this day. Funny how DR be compared to the Big Dig and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in terms of financial mismanagement.

    Surely Danish politicans now have to step in and fire the management and board instead of the employees. The blame for the debacle lies at the highest level, so all decisions by the current management and board should be voided until a thorough investigation into the matter has been conducted and appropriately debated in parliament. DR needs to start over again with a tabula rasa (not Part’s). Clearly it is a deeply troubled institution.

  • Novagerio says:

    Great aphorism the one with the shit and a million flies that can’t be wrong! 🙂 Unfortunately, the arts, as well as the enlightening humanistic subjects are either being cut or banned from society and the high schools in Northern Europe; People want only easy accessible “shit”, so that’s what they’ll get. And with that, a bunch of money- itchy politicians and all sorts of materialists will take the opportunity to engender and conceive a future generation of idiots….

  • Yana says:

    Maybe Eurovision is watched by millions, but it is also forgotten by all of them. Immediately! How many Eurovision songs do you remember from last year? This orchestra has created art that is of historical value and will carry the classical music tradition over the next hundred (if not more) years. It would have created more of it, if they were allowed. Plus “a few thousand listen to them…” is simply uninformed. This orchestra plays for a huge classical audience, also with pop and rock bands, does educational work and what not. It is in Danish TV with a very big audience. Not to mention that an orchestra does not only play in their working hours. These musicians have taught students, have recorded, composed, shared their art and inspired others to create. It is a disaster for a country like Denmark to miss on 42 highly qualified musicians. And let me tell you, eurovision would have been just as good with a budget of 250 000 000DKK. This difference could have saved the orchestra!

  • SVM says:

    The cutting of funding to enlightening humanistic subjects is not down to what people want. Rather, it is an intentional set-up by powerful vested interests, in order to shoot down dissent against their hegemony. If you look at funding for academic research, it has been aggressively refocussed in disciplines, typically the sciences, that ostensibly help ‘economic growth’ (= making the very rich richer, at the expense of the majority), and systematically removed from disciplines, typically in arts and humanities, that question whether ‘economic growth’ on the present terms is a sensible or sustainable objective, to the extent that almost every facet of the arts is now doing its utmost to try and promote itself as being ‘good for the economy’ (= good for being siphoned off for profits in the private sector, whilst placing the burden of budget overruns on the taxpayer/public-service broadcaster).

    • Michael Endres says:

      Years ago I would have considered this a conspiracy theory but I ran exactly into that attitude at a New Zealand University ( University of Canterbury ) where I was teaching for 4 years in a Professorial position and this very strategy was publicly announced repeatedly by its senior managers and subsequently put into place.
      The result is not only that their Arts College is now , lacking any serious standards, but all study programs are also monitored against employabilty and funded accordingly.
      Of course this leaves the Arts in a hopeless situation as the statistics don’t look too straightforward earning wise and that is all they are now looking into.
      It seemed to me these people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

      It is indeed capitalism trying to hijack every aspect of one’s life, accountants being in charge of everything and politicians themsleves becoming obedient servants of corporate structures ( who then evade paying appropriate taxes through sophisticated schemes, all ”legal” of course .)
      Interestingly enough in the case of the banks the celebrated ”free market ” approach was dropped like a hot potato ,the taxpayer had to cough up for their failures , whilst they rewarded themselves with big bonuses even in the middle of meltdowns .

      It is no coincidence that New York ,where the heart of US capitalism –Wall Street — sits and huge money is made by a lot of people , can no longer ”afford” 2 opera houses ,and that in a city of 8 million people.The funding follows the holy grail of that ideology: it’s a business and nothing else.
      Compare that with eg Munich ( which gets a bad rap here regularly for this and that ) where 1.3 million people maintain 2 opera houses and 3 orchestras–2 of them absolutely first rate ) and you can see the difference of a more or less free market approach and a state financed, politically supported version.

      • SVM says:

        Indeed; it seems that, to do well in a management position (whether in commerce, academia, or the arts), one has to get in the habit of relying on simplistic models and quantitative data (future salaries, percentage in employment, &c.), without stopping to consider the intricate web of factors, trends, and motivations. Deliberation and criticism have come to be lambasted as signs of weakness (the corporate reputation must be upheld at all costs, and lively debate or dissent are frowned upon by the hacks in the marketing department), and brutal and decisive action has come to be praised as a sign of strength and initiative (even if such action were to prove rash and misguided, and uncannily accurate predictions to that effect went deliberately unheeded).

    • Anonymus says:

      Absolutely right. It’s the capitalist endgame. It’s a neoliberal agenda, one major goal is the abolishment of any state subsidized entities, the total privatization of any asset still in public control. They have their agents and patsies everywhere. Money rules the world… Actually culture and education is not their primary enemy, their enemy is public ownership and public control. The culture of our civilization is a collateral damage in that Total War, due to their proponents by default being subsidized and controlled by the public.

      What they will keep is a few ivory towers for the upper 1%’s entertainment. (Look at the deserted, trivialized and commercialized US cultural scene and you will see what’s to come).
      Only after they have privatized and destroyed our last cultural achievements, they will probably realize, that you can’t enlighten yourself with paper money.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Although I would agree with the observation in terms of a general tendency, I object to the black-and-white implication. The Chicago Symphony, Dallas Symphony, NY Phil, SFS have, as far as I can see, interesting programming, excellent conductors and performers, and good audiecne attendance. The Dallas Symphony is supported by private money (capitalism?) and fully rooted in the community, with a master conductor at its helm (Van Zweden) who has greatly contributed to the popularity of the orchestra and its concerts in the city and recently set-up an educational programme for young players (including from Europe), a huhge and expensive enterprise, also funded by private money. Which shows that not ALL rich elites are philistines. And in Germany and Austria, classical music is still an important part of national cultural identity… giving that up would mean the end of Germany as we have come to know it and that won’t happen.

        In Vienna if you never go to a classical concert, you are blacklisted by the city council and forbidden to visit the Kaffeehäuser, so everybody makes sure to be seen at the Konzerthaus, Musikverein or Staatsoper, or at any of the numerous smaller events. (Attending mass is not counted.)

        • Anonymus says:

          John, Philistines or not, if you let the arts and culture be financed by the financial oligarchy exclusively, you end up with an ivory tower type of art for the few and pretty much nothing at the base. Art and education should be like a pyramid, growing out of a population with a wide base and a solid high tip. Not like rare thin ivory towers shooting up in the sky, unreachable for those at the bottom.
          I have no intention to start another US vs Europe diatribe, but public financing of less than 4 $ per capita for the arts in the US vs 183 $ per capita for the arts in Germany speaks for itself…
          Capitalism without checks and balances, every asset, even culture and education, in private hands run for profit, that’s the end of the civilization as we know it. It’s a world I would not want to live in.

          • John Borstlap says:

            I agree. The pyramid is just a very apt metaphor and the only way to solve the cultural problem – and educational problem, of course.

            But….. “…if you let the arts and culture be financed by the financial oligarchy exclusively, you end up with an ivory tower type of art for the few and pretty much nothing at the base.” That is thus not always so, as I wanted to demonstrate in my comment, because – to take Dallas as an example – that concert hall is accessible to anybody interested in classical music and that’s why it is almost always full, according to my information…. (Iam a thorough European and live in Amsterdam…) There is a video on YouTube where you see the conductor making fun with a famous local baseball player:


            …. from which can be concluded that there, classical music is not an ivory tower. And the DSO programming includes some heavvy stuff: Mahler, Shos, etc. etc. and some contemporary music as well (Stucky). It all depends upon what kind of people are running the place and how they tap into the community.

            It seems to me that the best way is that the government ensures the existence of a cultural institution to keep it independent from market forces, but that special projects and expensive soloists, and the like, are funded by private sponsoring to form a counterweight to politics. If sponsoring is fully tax deductable, rich people and businesses can be encouraged to contribute. But also THAT requires education of people…

        • SVM says:

          Whilst it is true that classical music remains culturally very significant in Germany and Austria, I fear the funding situation may also be deteriorating there. It is worth remembering that the current tradition of public funding for the arts in Germany is a legacy of the Cold War and Stunde Null, when the CIA poured millions into cultural activities in W. Germany, in the hope of inhibiting tendencies towards either socialism or towards fascism.

          Peter Donohoe has, in various posts on his excellent weblog, observed that, since the end of the Cold War, governments in the West appear to have lost the appetite to try and compete globally in the arena of high culture. I suspect the reason is that the capitalist propaganda-machine has found more efficient ways of brainwashing the populace, such that the continuing prominence of Russia and increasing prominence of China in the cultural sphere are no longer perceived as threats to the capitalist hegemony.

          • Anonymus says:

            What John said. Do you have any idea about the dense landscape of choirs, theaters, opera houses, symphony orchestras etc. in pre-cold war Germany/Austria? While American financial help has to be thanked for helping in *re*-building Germany from the ruins of WW2, the cultural traditions there have been built up over centuries.
            Tongue in cheek side remark: actually it was the Americans who in August 1945 shot the acting chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic – Leo Borchard. (because his chauffeur didn’t stop at a road block in the American sector of Berlin.)

          • Tom says:

            “Peter Donohoe has, in various posts on his excellent weblog, observed that, since the end of the Cold War, governments in the West appear to have lost the appetite to try and compete globally in the arena of high culture.”

            This is simply not true. Recording companies like Chandos, cpo, Naxos, Hanssler and Hyperion have been at the forefront of discovering forgotten repertoire in all genres of classical music from the renaissance to romantic and 20th century symphonic music.

            Likewise, a number of excellent smaller labels like alpha productions, Stradivarius, Glossa, Ambronnay, ATMA, and Harmonia Mundi have been at the forefront of exploring early music by contracting exceptional early music consorts like L’Arpeggiata, Herve Niquet’s Le Concert spirituel, Les Voix humaines to name just a few.

            The recording labels may not be supported by government money, but the festivals and concerts are definitely sponsored by governments and foundation money. Often, these recordings aren’t dry studio exercises, but recordings of live concerts or recordings after there have been numerous public appearances by the ensembles being recorded.

            These recordings and many of the festivals have no parallel anywhere in the world. Likewise, the ability of English and German orchestras to spend time – and thus government money – on projects which uncover forgotten repertoire from the romantic period to the 20th century has no parallel elsewhere in the world. Certainly not in the US.

            As far as I am concerned, Europe is a huge exporter of high culture (I include Naxos in this category, since they most often work with European artists and orchestras even though their postal address is in Hong Kong). Name a country or recording label that has brought as many of their domestic and foreign composers like Svendsen, Atterberg, D’Indy, Bax, Thieriot and Bantock – among others – into public consciousness like these orchestras and recording labels have done. You won’t find them in North America or Asia.

            Without these labels and recording artists, we’d be listening to our 589th releases of Beethoven’s, Mozart’s, Mahler’s, Brucker’s complete symphonic works, string quartets, sonatas and whatever. We’d be in musical living hell.

  • John Borstlap says:

    While the second half of this comment seems to me more in the realm of some mild paranoia – I think the nonchalance in the West about high culture has longer roots than the end of the cold war – the following remark needs correction:

    “It is worth remembering that the current tradition of public funding for the arts in Germany is a legacy of the Cold War and Stunde Null, when the CIA poured millions into cultural activities in W. Germany, in the hope of inhibiting tendencies towards either socialism or towards fascism.”

    While it is true that the US funded culture in the first years after WW II, trying to get German cultural life on the rails again, it is an exaggeration to suggest that this was meant to stop socialist or fascist interests. The moral, mental and economic devastation simply was too big for that and being able to go to concerts again was a great stimulus to return to some form of normality: classical music provided a signal, a symbol of the better part of German cultural identity. In fact, Germany’s recovery is the rebirth – or eventual birth – of the classical Germany as it had emerged in intellectual circles at the end of the 18th century with people like Goethe and Schiller, and as it flowered later-on in the Bildungsbürgertum in the 19th century. German art funding is NOT a legacy of the cold war but much older, it is a European tradition from time immemorial: first church, then monarchic courts and nobility saw in the arts means to make their life more interesting (taking an honorable part in artistic developments) and to enhance prestige and political legitimization. However one would criticize all those pompous characters, most of the Western cultural heritage in terms of music, painting and architecture was an intitiative of those people. When (for music and painting) in the 19C that kind of patronage gradually made place for an ‘open market’, offering freedom and thus, insecurity to artists, cultural production became increasingly haphazard, with the result that governments (representing bourgeois classes who wanted to emulate art patronage from older periods) began to take responsibility. Cultural institutions were and still are, in Europe, supposed to provide cultural experience to the entire population and are thus subsidized by the state. Germany and Austria consider themselves ‘Kulturnationen’, cultural nations, and as long as their cultural institutions continue to function as such, it is very unlikely that they will disappear. In Vienna and Berlin, institutions are funded by both the state and sponsors. Where subsidy cuts and diminishing sponsoring lead to shrinking budgets, it should not be forgotten that budgets of cultural institutions (orchestras, opera houses, museums etc.) have gradually grown over the last decades, especially in Germany, Austria and France. In France, much government money has been pumped into provincial institutions with the result that all these ‘national orchestras’ have blossomed and still function well, in general. Due to the recent financial crisis, budget cuts are an inevitable and, alas, forced adaptation rather than a sign of catastrophe.