Grim warning on post-Brexit arts from Germany’s culture council

Grim warning on post-Brexit arts from Germany’s culture council


norman lebrecht

February 20, 2017

The head of the German Cultural Council, Olaf Zimmermann, has said that artists’ freedom of movement will be impaired by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

He specified three key areas of damage. If EU artists will need a visa to live in London, that will inhibit cultural exchanges. Collaborations between museums, arts centres and theatres will suffer.

And once the UK is no longer part of the European Union, the withdrawal of EU funding programs will kill off many joint projects in the future.


If these predictions are fulfilled, London will return to pre-War provincialism.


  • David Osborne says:

    Now hold on just a second there. I’m a passionate remainer whose future is looking more than a little shaky as I’m a UK passport holder living in Germany. But if “pre-war provincialism” means a return to the England of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth, Lambert, Beecham, Henry Wood and the Queens Hall Orchestra, Boult, Albert Sammons to name just a few that popped into my head… A time when music meant something to whole communities, and larger than life characters who were not afraid to speak their minds ruled the discourse. Well, that would all be terrible wouldn’t it?

    • Gary Carpenter says:

      You’ll never get those people back; they are dead and the whole zeitgeist of the times along with them. And who says Elgar, RVW, Boult, Wood or Beecham were ever provincial? For example, Wood gave the premiere of Schoenberg’s 5 Pieces, Beecham had a distinguished international career and Boult gave the British premiere of Wozzeck. Boult also invited Webern to conduct the BBCSO giving the second ever performance of Berg’s Violin Concerto. Meanwhile, Butterworth was all but unknown and enjoyed only a relatively recent revival. And come to mention it, Elgar’s standing was low post war because of the perceived association with British imperialism. My opinion is that the status of both new and older British music is high at the moment (listen in to any European classical radio station at night or the German, Belgian and Swedish releases of Elgar Symphonies) because of the openness and access that the EU has engendered. My fear would be that this will go or at least diminish – and that we will once again be das Land ohne Musik; or at least it’s how we’ll be seen.

      • John Borstlap says:

        My PA Sally will have great difficulty to travel to Torino once every 3 months to polish her mandoline playing with Maria Aonzo. Her intonation is sagging, over the last weeks. Also, I fear my Riessling will become more expensive. It’s not for me, but for the staff, and I don’t see why I should have to pay more for a wine I don’t drink because Farage is a buffoon and a scoundrel.

  • Robin Bloxsidge says:

    For those of who live outside London in cities where we value musicians and artists from other European countries living and working with us, it’s a bit depressing to find this new so biased towards possible effects on London only! But then the potential effects of our leaving Europe go so deep I’m only glad I’m getting older and may not see them all…

    • Furzwängler says:

      We are not leaving Europe, of which we are a part, but the European Union and it’s anti-democratic, unelected and technocratic so-called “elites”.

      • Richard Condon says:

        Nonetheless, Furzwängler, many Europe-wide projects that obtained EU funding and which enabled, for example, several small opera companies to share a production or provincial orchestras to tour in other countries will no longer be viable for their British participants without entitlement to such financial support, and if you believe that this funding will be coughed up by the UK’s arts and culture bodies (perhaps receiving a small percentage of the famous £350,000,000 per day that leaving the EU will provide for the NHS, then you are exceedingly naïve and gullible. But actually I alredy know that you are extremely naïve and gullible, because you have plainly swallowed all that UKIP etc. crap about “anti-democratic, unelected and technocratic so-called “elites” running the EU, which is a total misrepresentation of the reality. You might learn something useful from
        By the way, “it’s” means “it is”. You meant “its”.

        • David Osborne says:

          Richard, you are mostly right in what you say, but if you do want to engage a Brexiter, please be nice about it, that would certainly help you to get your message across (yes I know, I can talk). Further to that can I just mention that if you are going to correct the typos of others, it’s perhaps a good idea to proof-read your own work. Or did you “alredy” do that?

        • Furzwängler says:

          I have to say, Condom, that your post is one of the most vituperative and generally unpleasant ad hominem rants I have read on this blog for a long time. If you want to call someone “exceedingly naive and gullible”, you have the right to express your opinion, but before doing so I suggest you look closer to home first.

          And then, as pointed out by another contributor here, it’s best to check your own spelling before you criticize someone else’s.

      • Jaybuyer says:

        And what exactly is a ‘technocratic elite’, please?

      • John Borstlap says:

        Don’t forget that the EU is not something fallen from a cloud, but was created by the European nations themselves, by governments which were democratically elected, and the idea was generally approved of by the populations (it still is, to a great extent).

        The ideal solution to the ongoing European problems, of which brexit is merely a symptom, has been found by political scientist Ulrike Guérot: cut the nation states into their various smaller regions with their own parlements and direct democracy, and lay a federal, republican layer of policy over these regions for the subjects which are equally important for everybody.

        The UK could then be divided in its smaller parts with their own interests, but sharing general interests.

        The idea of turning London into an independent small state, something like Vatican City, seems an attractive one…..bizarre, true, but not more bizarre than brexit. Only, the Queen would then have to choose between the London City State and England.

  • Halldor says:

    “Pre-war provincialism?”…erm, Britain only joined the EEC in 1973. Prior to that we had Barbirolli at the Halle, Solti at the Royal Opera House, the rise of Glyndebourne, Goodall at ENO, the golden years of Aldeburgh, Sutherland and Pavarotti at Covent Garden, Walton writing film scores, Britten writing operas, Tippett writing for youth orchestras, Kathelle Ferrier singing Mahler at the Edinburgh Festival; Peter Hall, John Osborne, Harold Pinter, Kenneth Tynan, the founding of the National Theatre and the RSC, Maxwell Davies selling out at the Albert Hall and John Tavener signing to the same label as the Beatles…and oh yeah, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd…

    I reckon we could live with that.

    (And got to love the use of “London” as an interchangeable term for “the UK”. Some people really still haven’t learned anything from what happened, have they?)

  • Steve p says:

    Sky falling, end is nigh, etc.

    • Holly Golightly says:

      So much fear and hysteria! And very reactionary. Also laughable, since the Left accused the conservatives of this for decades; turns out it was yet another of their own projections!!

      Come on now; don’t be afraid of change.

  • Dennis says:

    More alarmism from people who identify “Europe” with a bunch of bureaucrats and technocrats in Brussels, who really represent nothing but entrenched political and economic elites, and who are at their core inimical to true European culture. “Europe” is not synonymous with the odious political entity known as the “European Union.”

    Contra Mr. Zimmerman, I doubt having to get a visa for a stay in London will be a particularly troublesome problem preventing artist from traveling to the UK.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    When the UK leaves the EU the provincialism that Mr Lebrecht envisages will perhaps put London in the same position vis a vis Europe as many of us in the regions are in relation to London. Except of course whilst London ensures it’s role as the pre eminent recipient of Arts support in the UK, the EU is more enlightened in it’s view. After the fall London will remain as delusionally provincial as it has always been. It will be the regions that will pay a disproportionate price.

    • Robin Bloxsidge says:

      You may be a cynical bystander, but I suspect what you say is true. London’s share of arts funding in the UK is a disgrace!

  • Zelda Macnamara says:

    The fact is that we don’t know what will happen when/if we leave the EU. We don’t know if we UK citizens will need special visas to travel to the Schengen Area. And knowing our government, they are nasty enough to make it awkward for musicians to come here, just out of spite. Back in the summer a German-based Belorussian violinist couldn’t play at the Proms because she didn’t get her visa in time. And in December, the Orthodox Archbishops from Iraq and Syria (not of course EU citizens) didn’t get visas to attend the consecration of a new Orthodox cathedral at the invitation of Prince Charles. There is no end to the lengths this government will go to to create the “hostile environment” which our current Prime Minister stated as her goal when she was Home Secretary back in 2012.

  • Michael Haas says:

    RVW writing to Ferdinand Rauter noted that all of the superior musicians coming from Central Europe were in danger of “trampling the gentle flower of English music that was only just coming into bloom”. He later changed his opinion and decided that the superior musicianship of the continentals was a good thing and became a founding member of the Anglo-Austrian Music Society. The letters, interviews and remanences of these “flower-tramplers” from the 1930s definitely confirm a provincial British (not just London) state of music. Rebuilding the ROH was handed over to Karl Rankl; Hans Gál and Rudolf Bing helped launch the Edinburgh Festival; and Glyndebourne was the very parody of “Provincial Music” until Carl Ebert, Fritz Busch and the rest of the Berlin émigrés took it over. Yes, Berthold Goldschmidt came to Britain because Boult conducted “Wozzeck” but then he reported his bitter disappointment at discovering that this was minor deviation from a stifling diet of G&S. Britten wasn’t allowed to study with Berg, but was grateful to Erwin Stein becoming his publisher – another Schönberg pupil. Hans Keller excited a generation about music and Egon Wellesz was possibly the great-grandfather of Britain’s interest in early music. I was recently shown a letter to Wellesz in which it’s explained that the music department of Oxford is for training organists, not for teaching music history. If that isn’t “provincial”, I’m not sure what is. Even a close examination of the cast-listing of English country house opera, something Brexiteers are keen to trumpet when discussing how wonderful life is, cut off from the continent, reveals many, sometimes the majority of singers coming from the EU. 20 to 30% of all orchestras throughout the EU – including the UK – are not native born, but come from outside. Talent is no respecter of borders and in the UK, music is being removed from the curriculum and its conservatories are the most expensive in Europe. Brexit will certainly not broaden the UK’s musical horizons

    • John Borstlapj says:

      A very apt contribution, which invites thorough reflection.

      But later fertilizations from the continent were not always beneficient: Sandy Goehr’s introduction of Schoenbergianism, however stimulating in an intellectual sense, introduced a kind of musicianship in compositional terms which could cover-up lack of musical talent with a surface of modernity, and his being the son of émigré conductor Walter Goehr – friend of Schoenberg – gave authority to his lecturing at Cambridge University, raising standards on one hand and lowering them on the other. Not to speak of William Glock who advocated continental musical incontinence at the BBC.

      Berthold Goldschmidt, a most distinguished German émigré composer, was only ‘rediscovered’ at the very end of a long life of neglect, isolation and poverty because he did not write the ‘right’ modern music.

      • David Ward says:

        I was one of Sandy Goehr’s earliest pupils, and he certainly did NOT attempt to persuade me to adopt Schoenbergian techniques, but rather encouraged and very greatly helped me to find my own voice and to write in whatever way would suit me best at the time and for the occasion.

        If you want, you can hear an example of extreme simplicity, approved by Sandy, in the first verse of the final song from my A Full Moon in March, which is unambiguously in two chord (not even three chord!) A minor. Other layers of sound are eventually added in the second and third verses, but… This was written when I was in my twenties (some of the piece in 1962, the rest in 1968).

        With luck this will link to the clip. Go to 14 mins in to hear the final song with its A minor. Schoenbergian it is not.

        • David Osborne says:

          Thanks for sharing that David, Good piece I enjoyed it very much. I’m a sucker for deep woodwind, bass clarinet and cor anglais. Not sure quite how it backs your argument though, if you listen for instance to some of Schönberg’s later work, for instance his wonderful Kol Nidre, he was heading in a somewhat similar direction.

          • David Ward says:

            Just in case of any misunderstanding, I’m a strong supporter, lover and proselytizer of Schoenberg’s ‘tough’ middle period pieces. However, it would not have worked for me to try to write music that was directly derived from them.

    • David Osborne says:

      “Britten wasn’t allowed to study with Berg,”…

      Read that line last night, sort of does my head in and I honestly wonder what you’re suggesting there. That Berg could have corrected Britten’s faults? That Britten could have as a consequence been inducted into the Darmstadt groupthink and Luigi Nono would have had no reason to refuse to shake his hand at Dartington in 1962? That we could have been spared the horrors of Peter Grimes, the War Requiem and The Turn of the Screw, to name just a few? The fact is, I don’t mind the odd bit of Berg myself but quite frankly I know who is by far the greater composer of the two, and the verdict that counts- that of audiences and record buyers, clearly backs that up.

      • Furzwängler says:

        Thank you for your interesting contribution. I agree with you about Berg and Britten – although I personally love Wozzek and Lulu, among other Berg works — but I’m intrigued by your statement that Luigi Nono refused to shake his (I assume Britten’s hand) in Dartington in 1962. I hadn’t heard about this before. Could you perhaps elucidate the background to this?

        • David Osborne says:

          There are a number of references to this, mine comes from Alex Ross ‘The Rest is Noise’, a great book. My copy is 16,000 kms away so I can’t tell you the exact background, but it was to do with Britten committing the unspeakable crime of writing tonal music. Oh, and I may have got the year wrong. Try 1959.

  • Margaret Steinitz says:

    May I interject in between these reactions and remind everyone of some of the practical realities for the music profession, the Arts as a whole, and across the whole of the UK, not just London, of our leaving the EU. We have been in the EU for the best part of half a century, so our pattern of work and daily expectations have been long set now. Yes, I remember pre-EU days in 1960s and it was a golden age that stood to be enhanced further by our being part of the European Community, widening our artistic horizons further. There is no room for the island mentality anymore. Cultural exchange and collaboration is enriching in every sense, as music history bears out for over 1000 years. So it has been still since 1973, with regular appearances on British platforms by artists and musicians from EU states and year-on-year performances by British artists and orchestras, especially period instrument bands, on EU platforms. It won’t be until we finally leave the EU that we shall fully appreciate and indeed be fully aware of the benefits of being one of the Member States (that applies universally, not just in music), we have been so bogged down with the perceived disadvantages.
    The biggest problem looming for the music profession is the potential loss of free movement and the plight of EU nationals living and working here (orchestras, opera companies, artists), many from Germany. This in turn will cause us to engage in a raft of bureaucracy that goes with the acquisition of work permits for incoming artists (some often at very short notice and which could also be turned down!) and visas for our own working in EU states. Conversely, promoters in EU countries will probably hesitate to invite British artists and orchestras as readily as they do now. That will provide an accumulated loss of revenue to our musicians and to the economy over time. The European Union Baroque Orchestra, up to now based in Oxford, has recently announced a relocation to Belgium. That is just the tip of the iceberg no doubt. What I am trying to convey is the complete upheaval in our working lives looming on the horizon…again….and I write as one who has been involved in prospering Anglo-German cultural relations all my working life.