An orchestra gets its priorities right for the 21st century

Arts Council England let it be known this week that relevance, not excellence, will be its main reason for giving grants.

The London Symphony Orchestra has promptly retuned:

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  • What an appalling word ‘ relevance’. What is “relevant” today is totally irrelevant tomorrow. If we base our values to relevance than the outcome will be barbarism. Who judges what is relevant in the first place? Excellence is the only thing that really matters if one cares about maintaining a sophisticated civilisation.

  • “relevance, not excellence, with be its main reason”

    That is no doubt a dig at Chicago, or at least I will take it to be, and I applaud how the Arts Council of England is framing the issues.

    How much more public support the CSO would be garnering right now if it had claimed (though it’d be false) that the orchestra is indispensable to the latino, Mexican, black and Asian communities of Chicago, that its musicians donate free time and free lessons to neglected schools and neighborhoods, that its musicians fill in where the city public education system is failing, and that is why the musicians need to be paid equitably and have an equitable pension plan for all the free services they provide the disadvantaged children of Chicago…

    But no, Chicago is saying, pay me more because my buddies in LA and SF are paid more, and I play the bassoon better than anyone else in America.

    CSO, learn from the LSO.

      • Do we really want to compel highly skilled professionals to “donate free time”? Too much of that, and the profession gets undervalued and taken for granted. As matters stand, the music profession as a whole tends to be precarious and tends not to be very lucrative. Many musicians simply cannot afford to volunteer their services; those who can should ensure that, in their well intentioned endeavours to help the “community” at large, they are not eroding the sustainability of the professional community of musicians (including the many musicians residing in/near Chicago but who are not in the CSO).

  • The LSO does not receive funding from ACE. It is supported bY the City of London, companies and individuals.

    • Actually the LSO is an NPO (a National Portfolio Organisation) and receives substantial funding from ACE like the other main orchestras.

  • “Relevance” has become of late a useful buzzword bandied about by clueless (and yet often powerful) administrators who truly care about one single thing: the bottom line. In fact, “care” is even too strong a word, as said administrators are often mere mouthpieces for purely economically motivated agendas that they themselves do not even decide upon and are merely hired to execute. There’s really nothing noble nor remotely altruistic about “relevance” — it serves communities only on the condition that those will provide a loyal consumer base and that the money will keep on flowing. Should that fail to happen, you might then see “relevance” promptly thrown out the window. Because culture as a whole is declining all over the world, it is becoming increasingly challenging to find audiences — hence the strange idea that the mission of an artistic institution would actually be not to promote a given art form, but rather to “serve a community” — closer to a utility company, really, than to a true artistic body. This strange idea is often promoted by people who for the most part should have nothing to do with the arts in general — very articulate, skillful administrators often devoid of any real artistic vision but absolute virtuosos of sheer sophistry and empty talk. Thankfully, this is a relatively recent trend in the greater scheme of things — I shudder to think what the canon would look like today if composers, painters, writers, architects and the institutions that support them had strictly directed their efforts to pandering to the lowest common denominator. Yet, this doesn’t bode very well for the future, as the failure of our institutions to fulfill what should be their true mission may end up making these very institutions, ironically, utterly irrelevant themselves — their short-sighted quest for expedient solutions eventually eradicating the very (and only) audiences that could have sustained them in the first place.

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