Gone to See the Queen

Gone to See the Queen

When this post goes online, I’ll be on a plane to London. I’m moving there for about a year to study at Brunel University, during which time I’ll be on leave from the University of Minnesota. Although I’m leaving AMC jurisdiction, you’ll still be hearing from me every week, same bat time, same bat channel. And I think I’m going to have a lot to talk about.

Older, wiser composers have been telling me for years that life is easier for us in Europe. It’s a tantalizing prospect, but is the grass really greener? We’ll see. I do know that many of my favorite new music specialists are closer at hand in the UK than they are out here, so at the very least I hope to catch a few more performances over there than I have in the States. Not to mention, of course, the new educational opportunities, which I expect will be many and varied. Plus I’ve never been to the UK before, and I’m really looking forward to it on a tourist-type level as well. I promise I’ll try not to rubberneck around Piccadilly Circus with a disposable camera and a fanny pack, though.

There are a couple of events I’m especially excited for, events that I’ll be sure to report on in greater detail as they go down. First and foremost is the Klang Festival, which takes place in early November at the Southbank Centre. This Karlheinztravagana includes many UK premieres alongside older pieces brought to you by such pros as the Asko Ensemble and the London Sinfonietta.

Later in November is the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Brunel professor Christopher Fox is a featured artist at this year’s festival; although I’ve read many of Fox’s writings on music, I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t heard more than one or two of his pieces, so this should be a great chance to catch up.

First, though, I have to pack. So if you’ll excuse me…

P.S. First the gymnasts, now this. Can an embargo be far off?

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

11 thoughts on “Gone to See the Queen

  1. Daniel Wolf

    I believe that studying with Christopher Fox is a very good thing. Christopher is a remarkable composer and teacher, occupying a unique position in English music between the experimentalists and “complexity” folk.

    But, when you write:

    “Older, wiser composers have been telling me for years that life is easier for us in Europe.”

    I’m older, but probably not wiser, but still will have to disagree. There is no automatic path to an easy life for a composer anywhere, and after 19 unplanned years in Europe, the fact that I, as am composer am physically distant from the topos and polis with which I indentify myself, is a growing personal problem. My musical community and concerns are not local concerns, here. Moreover, the traditional institutional support for new music — through the radio stations, traditional publishing houses, national music information agencies, and rights organizations — has, in every European country, decline significantly. And most of Europe does not have a tradition of a large number of University positions to fall back upon.

    That said, the health care is pretty good, if far from ideal, and I’ve become a really good parallel-parker.

  2. William Osborne

    I agree with Daniel. You probably won’t find things a lot easier for composers in Britain, or in Europe as a whole. But there is much more support for the arts, and this does filter down to better support for composers. In London, for example, there are five fulltime, year-round orchestras : London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The latter has a special mandate to perform new music. I think London also has two fulltime, year-round opera houses.

    New York, by comparison, has only one fulltime orchestra. And the United States does not have a single year-round opera house, while Germany has 80.

    In addition, there is much more support for regional culture in Britain. Simon Rattle’s success in Birmingham is a well-known example. The rich cultural life in Edinburgh would be another example, as would the fantastic school of music in Manchester.

    As you observe the situation, you might want to distinguish between how composers with British nationality are treated, as opposed to foreigners. Europe is a small continent divided into about 30 countries. Their cultural sensibilities can sometimes be rather nationalistic. Note how in this month’s NMBx feature, Gloria Coats explains that she is still treated like an outsider after having lived in Munich for 40 years. Europe is not a melting post like America. It is not terribly friendly toward foreigners.

    We might also remember that Britain has one of the lowest per capita public arts funding programs in Europe. (I could provide a lot of stats, but I should keep this short.)

    I am not sure Daniel is completely correct that arts programs are being reduced as a general trend. Britain, for example, doubled arts funding from £198m when the Labour Party came to power in 1997 to £411m in 2004. (Though now there is talk of reducing arts funding in order to pay for the next Olympics, which will be hosted by London.) In 2004 the French government spending for the arts rose 5.9%, which was three times inflation.

    I also agree with Daniel that it can be very detrimental to leave your American roots behind. After having living in Europe for 30 years, I wouldn’t advise it.

    I look forward to your reports.

    William Osborne

  3. tedthetrumpet

    You should come up to Glasgow next May for the Plug festival; we like to think we have a kind of interesting and unique scene going on. You can read about the May 07 event here.

    From my side of the pond, I see a great deal of musical energy, enthusiasm and creativity coming from the US. There is a new music establishment in the UK you can link into, but it’s just that; an Establishment, can be a bit stultifying and samey. Now, Holland, that looks a cool place to be!

  4. Daniel Wolf

    May I add one other consideration? Living abroad may be detrimental to your work at home. For example, on my blog, when I have commented about the organization of festivals or competitions in the US, I inevitably get emails discounting my viewpoint because, to paraphrase, I’ve “had it so easy in Europe”. There can be other complications as well: since I’m not a German or EU citizen, just a resident, I’m ineligible for many grants and concert subsidies while, on the other hand, my chances of getting many forms of support from US institutions is slim, as some organizations view a domicile in the States as essential, even when the applicant is a US citizen.

  5. mp

    I came to the US from Sweden, after having spent time in England, France and Germany, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time comparing life as a composer on the two continents and the differences.

    I agree with Daniel that support for new music is shrinking all over Europe, in some countries faster than others. Some, like Norway, only recently got proper funding, so I’m not so sure they see a decline at all.

    William is generalizing, and taking Europe as a whole, which you can’t really do. He is talking about Britain increasing funding, but you also need to remember that European politicians are now masters in dressing funding up as money for the arts, when it in reality goes somewhere else.

    There are also equal examples of regional success in the US, Rattle is almost an exception I would say.

    Munich is very different from most places in Europe; I can easily see how you would feel isolated there. I think a person from Berlin would feel isolated there. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Europe is more nationalistic. That may be the case in some places, like Munich and Helsinki, but certainly not in Stockholm, Berlin, Amsterdam ad many other places, where people would feel that your presence freshen things up, and would be very interested in what you’re doing.

    Furthermore, I’ve had people in America very impressed with my performances in Europe, even ones that I consider insignificant, so I don’t think Daniel is right there, again, I think it’s wrong to generalize.

    William says that support for composers is better in Europe, but don’t forget that (as someone said) it is very difficult to get a teaching job in Europe, especially in England, Germany or France. There are so many more opportunities for teaching here in the US.

  6. William Osborne

    I’m sorry for the delayed response, I just saw the post above from mjp.

    I can provide numbers to show that arts funding has remained relatively even in Europe. (I won’t repeat them since I’ve already posted them here many times.) If “support for new music is shrinking all over Europe” I would like to see some numbers to prove it. That’s a big claim to make without some sort of documentation.

    The current report in the chatter section about the Gaudeamus Festival is just one case in point to show that most of the programs have held steady. The feature article by Rhys Chatham also confirms that funding for new music is better in Europe. (See the last paragraph of the article.) The funding for the new music programs of the State Radio Orchestras are another case in point, as is continued support for the Donaueschinger Festival and numerous others.

    We might remember that Germany did go through a rough patch due to the enormous costs of reunification. I noticed cuts here and there in the arts, but that was a special circumstance that did not affect all of Europe. And now that the rebuilding of East Germany is reaching completion, money is beginning to flow back into the arts coffers.

    I also think it might be misleading to say that America’s support for regional culture is the same, or similar to Britain’s. In fact, the assertion is dead wrong. Britain comes close to having four different nationalities, and many residents would argue that it actually does: English, Welch, Scottish, and Northern Irish. There are even strong efforts in Wales, Ireland, and Scottland to reestablish native languages, (basically Gaelic) as second official languages after English. Tell someone for Wales or Scotland that their regional culture is insignificant and you will get a reaction that would never be found by a similar assertion in the States! And let’s not even talk about all those IRA bombs…… Separatist movements by Corsicans, Southern Tirolians, and Basques, as well as the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union provide striking proof of Europe’s regional cultural sensibilities. In fact, Russia and Georgia currently have a war going on based exactly on this kind of cultural nationalism.

    Also, the doubling of Britain’s arts funding did indeed go to the arts. The funding was a significant part of the Labour Party’s platform. You can’t double funding over a four or five year period by fake accounting practices. Get real. And the increases I mentioned in France were also concrete.

    I agree with both Daniel and mjp on one point: there are far fewer professorships for composition in most European countries. On the other hand, new music is a part of the countries’ regular cultural life and not ghettoized in universities, as it is in the States.

    And I agree with mjp that the levels of cultural nationalism and xenophobia can vary greatly between European countries, and even between cities within countries. It also varies between genres. American jazz musicians, for example, are often more accepted than classical composers because jazz is considered something authentically American. I would still voice a word of caution: if you think you can go to most places in Europe and cash-in as a foreigner, I think you will be disappointed. It can happened, but don’t count on it.

    William Osborne

  7. mp

    I wasn’t saying that arts funding is going down, I said that the state support for new music is going down. If you think that politicians can’t tinker with words and numbers to make it look like the support is as strong as before when it is in fact not, you are more than a little naive. I’ve seen this done many times in my own native european country. Money that were earmarked for new music is relocated under some pretext to a more hip form of art, such as design or even fashion. It’s still arts funding, but money has disappeared from th new music sector.

    I also never said that this goes on in every european country, if you read my post a little more carefully you’ll see that I said there are exceptions. Holland is one brilliant exception. Just like before, you are trying to talk about europe as a whole, and I’m trying to tell you that that is not possible.

    As for evidence, I’m not going to waste my life trying to google up numbers. For me, the countless conversations I’ve had with finnish, italian, swedish, danish, english and german composers and organisers regarding these matters is enough.

    Actually, Gaudeamus is run by a foundation. They receive state funding, but also a fair share of private money. The reason for their success are the persons running the foundation. There’s nothing quite like Gaudeamus anywhere else in europe.

    You could also have saved some words, if you actually read my post more carefully, on the question of regional support. I never said that “America’s support for regional culture is the same, or similar to Britain’s”, I simply said that there are comparable examples of Simon Rattles rise from nowhere to one of the worlds leading conductors in America as well.

    “On the other hand, new music is a part of the countries’ regular cultural life…”: and you’re telling me to get real…?

  8. William Osborne

    Mp, anecdotal evidence from talking to composers won’t do it for me. They often complain about funding, because it is never enough. I need to see at least some proof that funding for new music has been decreased, even though arts funding as a whole has remained stable. And you might also offer an explanation for why this peculiar situation would have happened. Providing documented evidence for striking assertions is not a waste of life. The best advocacy work is accomplished with concrete facts. If you can provide proof, it would be very valuable work.

    And yes, new music concerts in Europe are offered outside of universities, often in concerts of radio orchestras, in numerous festivals, and in their municipal and state concert halls and opera houses. And the funding usually comes mostly from the governments. This what I mean by the statement that it is a regular part of their cultural lives. In America, it is very rare to see new music concerts outside of university settings, except in a few major metropolitan areas – and even then, they are rare.

    I agree, though, that there are few solid generalizations one can make for about 30 countries with a population of about 500 million. One is that they are almost all social democracies with much, much higher rates of public funding for the arts. The state radio orchestras and state opera houses in Sweden (and all other European countries) are a good example. Germany has 80 fulltime, year-round opera houses, while America does not have any. Germany has a fulltime, year-round orchestra for about every 550,000 people, but America has one for only every 14 million. In classical music, this funding is mostly directed toward the traditional repertoire, but it also affects the new music scene.

    William Osborne

  9. Daniel Wolf

    William –

    While the total spent on arts funding in Germany is relatively stable, the amount available for New Music, as a marginal item within that total, has demonstrably shrunk. Let’s consider three major sources of funding for the arts:

    At the radio stations, total income has remained stable, but cost pressures, chiefly from soccer broadcast rights, have resulted in across-the-board cuts. Positions for New Music editors have been eliminated, and commissioning and recording budgets have been slashed. New music concert programming has dramatically been reduced. (Typical: the Forum Neue Musik in Frankfurt has been reduced from 6 to 2 concerts per years). Radio participation in even the most important traditional festivals is now on a year-to-year, or even event-to-even basis.

    At GEMA, the traditional parity between E- and U- composers on the board has been eliminated. There are currently no E- (“serious”) music composers are the board, with Wolfgang Rihm only an alternate board member. The fee structure, albeit slowly, has begun to reflect this change in parity.

    At the German Music Council, following an effective bankruptcy a few years ago, has been reorganized, with the emphasis shifted considerably and now includes — without any net increase in funding — support for popular music, jazz, musicals, etc., resulting in a further squeeze on new music.

    There are some relatively bright points — opera house, for example, but even there while many contemporary works are in repertoire, the number of commissioned new works appears to have been reduced in favor of second productions of existing works, and while an opera house remains a political prestige object (for example in Hamburg) it is far from a sacred cow, as, for example, the closure of the Neustrelitz opera (which had been the oldest house in continuous operation in Germany). There have been small moves to corporate funding, but these tend to be limited in time, so cannot always be considered adequate substitutes for state support.

  10. William Osborne

    Thank you for the very helpful information, Daniel. These are the sort of concrete examples that help us better understand what is happening in Germany. The German Federal Government increased its arts funding by 1.5% this year. (For documentation see: Ed Meza, “Germany to Spend More on Culture” Variety, July 2, 2008.) We should also remember that most of Germany’s arts funding comes from the state and municipal levels which for the most part have also stayed even or risen.

    As for the arts funding woes in Germany you describe, one might also add that they reduced their number of orchestras over the last 15 years from 144 to 136 (though most of those reductions were probably due to redundancies created when the wall came down.) And as for new music, perhaps the most striking example was the complete elimination of Radio Bremen’s new music concert series a few years ago.

    On the other hand, the funding for many new music series and festivals have remained constant, e.g. Donaueschingen, Wittener Tage fuer Neue Musik, Muncih Biennale, Stuttgarter Tage fuer Neue Musik, etc. And perhaps most importantly, there has been a huge push to establish a highly creative and active culture in the newly unified Berlin. The problems faced in cities like Frankfurt might in fact be related to a shift in funding and talent to Berlin. Now that Berlin is unified and once again the capital of all of Germany, the Germans want to give it a cultural status equal to London, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. And they are providing the money to make sure it happens.

    And as far as your local is concerned, we should also remember that Hessen has always been very erratic in terms of its arts funding, especially for more experimental genres.

    So some things have lost money, some have held even, and some have increased. Without some sort of comprehensive statistical data it is difficult to say for sure what the examples concerning new music you and I mention actually represent.

    To be honest, I noticed a definite shift after the wall came down. Money became short due to the costs of unification, but I felt there was much more at work. When Germany was divided, the West German government did all it could to constantly appease the country’s notoriously left-leaning artists and intellectuals. This meant that their projects were elaborately funded. This generous funding for progressive culture also served to show the presumed superiority of capitalism over communism.

    As soon as the cold war was clearly over, these programs were eliminated. The examples ranged from reduced funding for experimental art forms, to the virtual elimination of the C-4 professorships which were very highly paid and which offered astounding job security with extremely light work loads. At the same time, American neo-cons were trying to force Europe to accept their neo-liberal economic policies (massive reductions of government spending combined with privitization.) And even more, the neo-cons presented a lot of propaganda about the presumed weaknesses of Europe’s social democracies. They tried to create the impression that Europe was giving up its system of public arts funding as unworkable, when in reality the Europeans were doing no such thing.

    Since then, the neo-cons have been discredited, as has been neo-liberalism. And the weak dollar against the Euro further demonstrates that there is nothing really wrong with Europe’s social democracies. I think the debate between Europe and America concerning arts funding (and neo-liberalism as a whole) will be won by the Europeans. At least I hope so.

    The country whose cultural life was probably most strongly affected by neo-liberalism was Italy under the Berlusconi government. They eliminated in one swoop all of their radio orchestras. Italy now has only two symphony orchestras, one in Rome and one in Turin. I think these systemic changes have had a clear effect on Italy’s presence in the international music community. For the first time since WWII the country does not have a major orchestral composer present in the international scene along the lines of Maderna, Berio, Nono, or Donatoni.

    All things considered, however, I don’t see enough hard data to firmly suggest an over-all pattern with new music funding. The patterns go every which way, and public funding for the arts has remained relatively constant. It might be premature to make conclusions, especially since the economic stresses Germany has faced are not typical of Europe as a whole, and since neo-liberalism has been largely discredited.

    All the same, I am all eyes and ears for any observations you make. Your thoughts are mature, reasoned, and insightful. I enjoy your blog immensely.

    William Osborne

  11. William Osborne

    Today’s Times contains an article very relevant to our discussion. Berlusconi was reelected four months ago and is cutting another 1.3 billion from Italy’s cultural budget. See:


    To put the differences in public funding in perspective, that cut of 1.3 billion alone is ten times the size of the entire NEA budget here in America.

    American neo-liberalism at work, though events in Italy do not seem to be the pattern for Europe as a whole.

    William Osborne


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