Yannick’s orchestra suffers subsidy cut

The Dutch love tall poppies and always know how to reward success.

They’ve just taken 10 percent off state funding for the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the country’s most exciting orchestra.

Subsidy over the next four years is down from 4.4 million Euros to 3.9m.

The advice from the Cultural Council still requires ministerial approval.


yannick rotterdam phil

Photo Marco Borggreve

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  • “The country’s most exciting orchestra”? Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest is a fantastic band, but Mr Lebrecht has obviously not heard the Concertgebouworkest in a long time. Both Rotterdam and Amsterdam are lucky to have such wonderful, world-class orchestras and conductors. To say one is “the country’s most exciting orchestra” is just pointless and, well, plain silly.

  • Maybe this cut will stimulate a more adventurous and original programming. The forthcoming Gergiev Festival is a kind of repetition of the kind he did years ago with the Prokofiev symphonies. What’s the use of a Prokofiev piano marathon btw? In a festival i would like to hear music that’s unfamiliar to the public, and that isn’t standard fare we hear during the regular season.

  • Another misleading headline since Yannick’s main orchestra is undoubtedly the Philadelphia Orchestra. He leaves Rotterdam next year while concentrating on Philadelphia through 2022. And yes, while Rotterdam is certainly a fine orchestra, the RCO is one of the world’s very best.

  • The Dutch are unable to deal with their fortune, it seems. As usual. Historian Simon Schama’s brilliant 1987 The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in de Golden Age (the 17th century) is still valid, I suspect.

    After all, the Netherlands have two most excellent, internationally acclaimed bands: the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and the Rotterdam Philharmonic, two ensembles of very different nature, moreover.

    Then there’s the really fine Radio Filharmonic as well, though this orchestra gets support through the state’s investments into national broadcast association – according to a systematic to be compared with the BBC’s orchs and ensembles. Whether this is a stable ground is questionable, taking into account the ongoing cuts in this area as well.

    Mind you, in a tiny nation state called the Netherlands such a richness. In an area somewhat lager then London today – in the densely populated region along the country’s west coast.

    Next to the three mentioned above, there are three more orchestras in the country’s western part: the Netherlands Philharmonic and the Ballet Orchestra both closely linked to the Dutch National Opera & Ballet, and the Residentie Orchestra/The Hague Philharmonic which has a history as astounding as the RCO’s but totally undervalued and therefore ailing more and more since the 1970s.

    Now, what happened five years ago clarifies what the Dutch Arts Council – an advisory body to the government only – has submitted yesterday. This is clearly connected to the severe 2011 announced cuts in the arts by the then ultra right-wing supported government, openly promoting of its know-nothing views and policies.

    A hierarchy was implemented consequently, putting the RCO on top the pyramid, explaining that there sound be only one orchestra representing the country internationally really, equalizing all the others. Orwell’s Animal Farm revisited. Consequently, since the Rotterdam Phil share the same waterway as the others now (including the ones in Groningen, Enschede, Arnhem and Eindhoven) – simply levelled to average –, also denying and actually opposing this orchestra’s excellence and undeniably international acclaim.

    The cut of half a million euro the Rotterdam Phil will be suffering, will bepassed on to the (since long) ailing The Hague Philharmonic. What’s more, casually putting aside the very different nature of these orchestra as well, both have been ordered that they should cooperate much more closely. The ratio behind this is, that since the mid 1980s Dutch governments have called for a merger, unsuccessfully so far. In short, the Rotterdam Phil has been punished for its obvious successes once more.

    As it seems, there is a hidden communicator/warning/(indirect) punishment behind the cuts the Rotterdam Phil will be facing: its current chief conductor’s yearly fee is considered thoroughly excessive by Dutch (government) politics. After all, Nézet-Séguin gets 500.000e per season covering 6-8 weeks – until mid next year when he will resign as its chief-conductor chief-conductor.

    However, Nézet-Séguin’s fee isn’t covered by the state’s investments in this orchestra (do stop calling this subsidies!), but for the most part financed by the City of Rotterdam and funds supported by its confident captains of industry and other financially powerful people us usual. However, from the nation’s/parliaments’s point of view this is a stone of stumbling anyhow. All the more so, since the current Dutch government is now quite effectively opposing the excessive salaries of companies of all kinds. There’s a cap now, to be implemented without reservation, as Nézet-Séguin’s is far above that cap. In other words, “if you able to get that half a million from elsewhere? Fine! Continue to do so, but that sum will be passed on to another orchestra now.”

    It shouldn’t be denied, that the Rotterdam Phil has been suffering from declining audiences, too. Sure, magnets as Nézet-Séguin and also Gergiev do attract capacity crowd. But back in the 1970 into the 1990s, the Rotterdam Phil. was the orchestra attracting the world’s renowned artists time and again. Also profiting from the international record business’s marketing & communication, of course. it was the placeto be here The repertoire was diverse then too. Times have changed considerably, however, as everywhere else.

    Anyhow, the decline of audience has certainly encouraged the resignation of this orchestra’s former managing director, headstrong he obviously was and unable to communicate as the Dutch are used to. Perhaps not fair in this particular respect, his successor since mid last year, once a prominent member of Rotterdam Phil., has proven to be able to connect his orchestra much more closely to his native Rotterdam. Down to earth, in contrast to most of his colleagues he also effectively uses the social media – as he did when he was the Arnhem Phil’s MD.

    However, the composition of the City of Rotterdam’s population has change dramatically meanwhile. It is thoroughly multi-cultural nowadays, as are Amsterdam and The Hague. A hell of a job to get a regularly crowded hall in Rotterdam again.

    Anyhow, as one of the commentators above kind of turned down the artistic policies regarding the Gergiev Festival in September this year – all Prokofiev –, the Rachmaninov binge last year attracted a filled hall time and again. I was there, an it was truly amazing. Furthermore, to connoisseurs Prokofiev may be a house hold name, to the general audiences one of the really greatest composer of the 20th century (incomparably greater than his contemporary Shostakovitch), only a handful of works is well-known.

  • While we see comparable threat of erosion in the funding of orchestras elsewhere in Europe, the joyful enthusiasm with which the Netherlands’ authorities destroy their own cultural assets, can only be fully understood if taking into consideration the absence of a cultural elite who have an influence and represent something of civilizational standards in public space. There are culturally-aware people in the country, true enough, but they don’t form a network, play no role in society, and consist merely of 2000 middle- and upperclass individuals, silently suffering in wealthy quarters in the big cities in the west and in quiet homes in the countryside. Once a year the 2000 get together in the Concertgebouw or in the big lecture hall of Tilburg University – which can precisely hold this number – to attend the annual Nexus Conference with international speakers of the highest calibre, with lectures about how to save civilization. Armed with this useless information, the elite return home with the books they bought under the arm, to read on the coach as a reassurance that it is not them who are crazy.

    In short: where in France, Germany and other countries of the European continent there still is a core of an intellectual and cultural elite, resisting the inroads of populism and modernism, Holland has none. Hence the unlimited and increasing influence of these two eroding forces. The UK has a rather different composition in this respect, belonging to the anglo-saxon world – which makes them an outsider in the European context (who would ever doubt it?), and Holland is the only European country that in a cultural sense, does not belong to Europe, because of this elite question. It has been the first populist country in Europe (17C), and the hip sixties have throroughly finished-off any remnants of cultural elite still present.

    As an aside: Knoedler’s comment above which, alas, holds a lot of truth, mentions the following:

    “…… and the Residentie Orchestra/The Hague Philharmonic which has a history as astounding as the RCO’s but totally undervalued and therefore ailing more and more since the 1970s.”

    From the seventies onwards, the incredibly silly and musically-challenged Piet Veenstra, who by some nitwits was installed as a programmer at the orchestra in The Hague, the orchestra neglected the core repertoire on which orchestras build their performance culture, and filled the seasons with as many ‘moderns’ as possible – that is, the worst of them, i.e. avantgarde stuff, and VERY much Dutch ‘avantgarde music’ of which we never hear again and which must have been thoroughly demoralizing to play, as it was also to hear. Shostakovich which got rediscovered abroad, was completely missed in The Hague, where Veenstra thought it was mere dumm oldfashioned Soviet music. All this eventually sank the performance level, the audiences were fleeing, internal trouble, and the orchestra sank to an utter provincial level. Indeed: modernism killed the orchestra which was one of the great ensembles of the country. Before WW II, all the great performers and composers who came to Amsterdam also came to The Hague: Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Toscanini, Walter, Bartok, etc. etc. It was, also internationally, considered almost on a par with the Concertgebouw Orchestra.

    The Dutch consider culture and art as the enemies of the people and at most, a luxury hobby of the rich.

  • Interesting discussion. I do agree with expression “most exciting.” Rotterdam is more exciting than the RCO, even if it is not better. It is less formal, more fun, and more energetic with a more youthful Chief Cond and it often surprises listeners with its quality, which engenders excitement. Indeed the hall is often not full and the Doelen, although there are elements I like, is a large concrete structure that lacks intimacy.
    The Hague will get new concert hall, maybe this will help galvanize public interest?

    • The Doelen was built (in the sixties I believe) in a period when the expectation was that new audiences would be flocking to the hall, since Rotterdam never had a decent concert venue, and that classical music fans would continue to increase their numbers. Now it appears to be too big and too pretentious. Also, the sound of the orchestra does not travel so far as to fill the corners at the back, the building seems to have been designed with Mahler and Strauss in mind and not the other repertoire. It is a shame that the city, with its wide agglomeration and thriving business scene, treats its one big orchestra in so cavalier a fashion.

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