The international mezzo-soprano has joined the campaign to reject Brexit. Here’s her personal manifesto for musicians, exclusive to Slipped Disc:
24th June 2016 , the day the UK Brexit referendum result was announced, many eyes and ears were trained upon me. I am used to that, but this was different…
Everything had changed.
I was standing in the centre of an orchestra in Amsterdam at a recording session of songs by Gustav Mahler. The mood was one of shock and solemnity. (Anger came later.) Typical of any modern European orchestra the musicians surrounding me came from a diverse range of countries and cultures, including some from my own in the UK.
I looked back at the orchestra, a thing of ideological beauty and truth, a musical instrument made up of 100 or more human beings each willingly giving up their own identity and ego for a greater endeavour, to allow someone else’s creativity breath and life through sound. Such a group of musicians typify humanity’s finest values and aspirations : trust, respect and common purpose irrespective of birthplace or nationality, a concentrated act of unity against mistrust and division. It is communication that actively ignores borders on land or barriers in language. As we began to make music together, I felt both profoundly sad, and ashamed.
I should have felt pride. A British musician chosen by a European recording company and orchestra, to sing the music and words of a German poet and an Austrian composer. I was there because since since beginning my full time international career in 1994 I have been able to study, travel and work freely as a citizen of the European Union.
The EU is not just a 28 state political and economic club, it is a vast cultural exchange. The UK is at the forefront of this exchange. It seems that living on an island has has made us reach out more determinedly, especially through music, to bring us closer to others . Perhaps as a result we are are welcomed and respected on multiple levels. It’s a vast part of our contribution overseas as a nation, its also a huge revenue asset, but crucially it is the true measure of who we are and will hopefully always strive to be.
Very soon all that may change. Many in the arts have already spoken and written in eloquent detail about the practical implications of losing the current right to travel, study and participate professionally without any restriction in the union. Any changes in the the right to be treated equally with fellow European musicians will be catastrophic for all our present and future music making for generations to come.
I am writing this on a plane, travelling on a mission point to point -like music does between hearts- from Chicago to London . I hope to sing some Beethoven myself tomorrow, but before that I have an appointment at the US embassy there to renew a lost work visa. They made an exception and let me into America visa-free 2 weeks ago to sing in an opera because I have been classed a person of “extraordinary ability” ( some readers may debate that ) and possibly because they ran out of printer paper in the immigration office when making my professional file “You come here too often Ma’am.. ” was uttered with a grin. My first US visa with such status was granted in 2001 precisely because in the 7 years prior I had freely roamed as a member of Europe, expanding my horizons and skills and becoming culturally rich.Music is the ultimate communication. It is the place humans truly share what it is to be alive, taking no heed of currency or consulate. It MUST remain a free exchange. At it’s core, and any musician will tell you, music itself isn’t made or shared for money. It’s where ideas and feelings are exchanged irrespective of which order your native tongue places consonants or vowels. This is true freedom. What did previous generations living through war and genocide in Europe risk all and die for, if not for that concept.
Music is the ultimate communication. It is the place humans truly share what it is to be alive, taking no heed of currency or consulate. It MUST remain a free exchange. At it’s core, and any musician will tell you, music itself isn’t made or shared for money. It’s where ideas and feelings are exchanged irrespective of which order your native tongue places consonants or vowels. This is true freedom. What did previous generations living through war and genocide in Europe risk all and die for, if not for that concept.
If British musicians can not be truly free to contribute outside their own shores we are shooting our collective soul in the foot.
BREXIT or NO BREXIT there is NO DEAL to strike ON MUSIC .
Instead, wherever you happen to be, let’s keep making noise, together.