Simon Rattle on arts cuts: ‘The fact that I think they are idiots doesn’t mean it surprises me’

Simon Rattle on arts cuts: ‘The fact that I think they are idiots doesn’t mean it surprises me’


norman lebrecht

July 24, 2015

He’s in Australia, talking to Andrew Ford on the ABC:

On politicians who question public funding for the arts: ‘The fact that I think they are idiots doesn’t mean it surprises me. I grew up with a generation of politicians who had a hinterland, who’d been through wartime and realised the value of anything that helps the human spirit. Those were different times…We lose arts and culture at our peril.’

On relative values:  ‘In Germany there has always been the feeling that the arts are absolutely central to everything. England isn’t a particularly rich country but London is one of the wealth centres of the known universe….We all have to fight our corner. With 85 billionaires there, don’t there have to be two or three who have an interest in the arts?’

Listen here.


simon rattle vesa siren



  • Peter says:

    All very fine, but if he really cared, he wouldn’t be wasting time and money on a new concert hall in London. Fine bricks and mortar is sod-all use if there is nothing to go in it. I thought that lesson was learned in the first years of the National Lottery. As Rattle was billed as the only person who could possibly get the money for the new hall, why doesn’t he become the only person who could get {insert vast sum of money} to endow the arts of a future generation and beyond instead.

    • Andrew R. Barnard says:

      But Rattle has done more than campaign for concert halls, with many successful education programs for kids in Berlin. Championing the idea of a new concert hall in London is perfectly sensible. It will help promote the future of classical music anyway.

    • Alexander Hall says:

      This is a very uncharitable comment. Rattle is one of very few musicians to speak out openly on matters of cultural priorities – Barenboim is another. What we need are more people like him who can put the case for spiritual nourishment so eloquently. Man does not live by bread and water alone.

    • PDQ.BACH says:

      All very fine, Peter, but if Britain really cared, the people would be out in the street occupying Whitehall and demanding public funding for the arts.
      Instead, they vote for those who vote for further cuts.

      I find it demeaning that the arts have to beg for breadcrumbs from a couple of billionaires while the state squanders public money on crony subsidies and tax cuts that just help rich sponsors get richer.

      And when someone like Rattle commendably gets off his derrière and moves things and gets things done and the money to get things done, you presume to lecture him on how to spend that obol. Perceive a trifling problem with such an attitude?

      • Peter says:

        My difficulty with the blessed Sir Simon is he is asking for money for the wrong thing. Software is more important than hardware. Kids, teenagers, young adults and indeed anyone that would benefit from easier and wider access to classical music (arts really, but I say classical because that’s Rattle) don’t give a stuff the Barbican is not a perfect concert hall. They care there are not enough music teachers in schools, free concerts, workshops and cheap tickets. That’s my point. Campaign for that, not another building.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Spot on.

        • pooroperaman says:

          There’s far too much of that already. You can’t bloody move in concert halls, museums and art galleries for rampaging children, not to mention teachers who don’t know what they’re doing and couldn’t care less.

  • V.Lind says:

    I really like this: “politicians who had a hinterland, who’d been through wartime and realised the value of anything that helps the human spirit.”

    States the essential message simply and eloquently, and needs to be repeated, in their own words, by everyone campaigning for public funding for the arts.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Indeed… it should be written with large letters on a blackboard in front of a row of practicing politicians tied to their seats with heavvy ropes, with an exam after 6 hours of staring to check if they have read it. (If not, they should be punished by having to endure a recording of the Eroica – with turned-up volume.)

  • Robert Roy says:

    I’m sure that the suggestion of cutting the Arts was mooted to Churchill during the Second World War. “Then what are we fighting for…?”, he replied.

  • El Grillo says:

    He says that it’s his bias that one needs music, but I don’t think that’s a bias, in fact I think it’s scientific that music is a need.

    We live in a constantly changing world, a constant challenge, it’s impossible to gain perspective on that without the kind of emotional support music offers. To find an equilibrium where answers are found, you need music, you need art, it’s not a luxury or an accessory. And when I say found, I mean found. The answers are already there, they’re inherent to thought itself.

    And in this supposedly objective consumer oriented world, where thought is seen to be something that is pushed to the side when it expresses itself as thought rather than a means used to gain more control over whatever is believed to be tangible to controls, music has become not just a need it’s critical. In trying to be objective, there’s no objectivity, because you can’t just dismiss the substance of thought itself and be relating to anything.

    I don’t know how many things I’d have to mention where everyone is “thinking” they are “thinking” something because thought itself has been put to the side, and isn’t allowed to exist for itself. Yet music does that, it reinstates thought. There are of course the instruments, and people would say music wouldn’t exist without them, but what’s the difference? Why did anyone decide it had value to use something just because it makes sounds? Just because it evokes some sort of reflective or visceral response, but doesn’t materialize anything that would be considered a life’s necessity? And I think Stradivari and Del Gesu went some place with their thoughts where they felt it makes a difference, and their work reflects the thought that went into seeing how to create such a response. And where did the thoughts come from that created the process of how you use the instruments, what you do with them, and the melodies, rhythms, harmonies, timbres, dynamics and phrases that come out of them?

    Now, I’m not saying that music should reach the stage where it has to be FDA approved because it’s a “necessity.” It’s beyond that.

  • Holger H. says:

    The USA and it’s smaller brother the UK are going the neoliberal way of dumbing down the public into homo economics creatures. Homo sapiens, the “knowing” man, is not easy to govern and to exploit, is not a gullible consumer who buys any shit he is supposed to.
    Art and good humanistic education does go directly against the interests of the plutocracy.
    So here we go in the UK and the US, a private art funding system that primarily is meant as entertainment for the upper class, and “bread and circus” for the masses, who are supposed to learn only the basic skills to be a usable workforce.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It seems to be questionable whether the governing elites consciously try to turn the population into creatures to be exploited. Don’t they merely bubble-up in a society with defective education where the arts are gradually disappearing? It’s a circle and self-fulfilling profecy: they find at school that the arts apparently don’t matter, they carry that feeling with them into more or less adult life, and reflect it back behind their offices, struggling with the various demands of society. Maybe a political party has to be set-up entirely and exclusively dedicated to the arts. But then: which arts? Which consciousness has to be stimulated? About cut corpses in formaldihyde? About crucifixes in urine, or tinned excrements (no joke)? Also the arts themselves are in need of the shock of reality.

    • pooroperaman says:

      So you would rather they were unable to work?

    • Alexander Hall says:

      Before you imply that the Germanic model is preferable to the Anglo-American one, don’t forget that the Germans since 1945 have turned in their millions to things American: popular music, films, and TV series. A lot of so-called culture in the united Germany reflects a degree of dumbing-down: take a look at what all the commercial TV channels now offer and the programming on ARD and ZDF, and then compare the latter with what was shown a generation ago. You don’t have to be a Christian Thielemann to deplore the way German cultural values are being neglected or watered down. Apropos, it’s the French we have to thank for their ceaseless campaign against the baleful influence of Americanisation on European culture; the Germans have been far less vociferous.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Alas, this is true. Much of German public space is Americanized, and younger generations embrace it wholeheartedly. But there is still a battle going-on to preserve the ‘Kulturnation’. Germans fear they may be ‘chauvinistic’ if they would pursue their culture more intensily, and that triggers the national guilt complex.

      • Holger H. says:

        They haven’t exactly “turned in”, they have been flooded, like the whole globe. Hollywood, Coca Cola… war ridden Europe was rising again from the ashes, American culture and consumer products took over the world. Nobody could produce mass products and mass “culture” as efficiently as the US could do, due to several factors in their favor at that point in time, cultural “supremacy” not among them. Don’t get me wrong, supremacy is not what Germanic or any other culture should strive for, but a healthy resistance against the corporate sell out of culture is indicated.

    • Derek Castle says:

      This is a highbrow blog. Could we all please check ‘its’ before we post?

  • Neven P. says:

    Every country has the government it deserves. – Joseph de Maistre

  • Peter Watt says:

    This would be the same Simon Rattle who’s ludicrous fees are largely paid for by politicians who are idiots, and who is in Australia at vast expense to perform with the Australian World Orchestra, which is heavily subsidised by politicians who are idiots.