Classical music leaders say many well-trained orchestral musicians are giving up music as they experience homelessness and starvation this fall. To speak to observer This weekend, the internationally renowned conductor Sir Simon Rattle warned that an “exodus is taking place” while the best English soloists, violinist Tasmin Little and pianist Stephen Hough, spoke of desperation and despair even among successful artists.
“Next month we will all expect to hear the traditional sound of music as we remember Armistice Day,” said Little, a celebrated virtuoso musician who trained as a child at the Yehudi Menuhin School. “But think about who is playing all this beautiful music for us and where it will come from in the future?”
When the final post comes on, Little suggests, it will usher in the end of acclaimed British musical culture if there is no salvation for thousands of jobless professional freelance musicians. She urged the government to support more aloof concerts in order to make them commercially viable for venues.
Earlier this month, leading orchestras and music festivals received an initial government rescue grant, including Rattle’s London Symphony Orchestra. However, there is renewed concern that the majority of freelance musicians have no safety net while few socially distant concerts are performed.
“While some of us who work in established institutions have been fortunate to receive grants to help us persevere, the vast majority of freelancers are in a desperate situation,” said Rattle.
Institutions such as LSO, BBC Radio 3, London’s Wigmore Hall or the Snape Maltings Concert Hall in Suffolk, home of the Aldeburgh Festival, have done as much paid work as possible since the relaxation, performing in front of a reduced audience and for live broadcast. But it’s a tiny part of the music that was once made.
“I worry that so many musicians will be forced to quit that we won’t be able to return to the cultural life we enjoyed before. And that this exodus is taking place and that it won’t be noticed until it’s too late, ”said Rattle.
Radio 3 controller Alan Davey said he hears worry and sometimes desperation from musicians on a daily basis. “Everything that was certain for the next year has become completely insecure.
“Music has gotten me through so far, but musicians are especially exhausted now as they strive to find new ways to reach audiences.”
Radio 3 now hosts live broadcast concerts every week that air around the world, including a current residence at the Southbank Center and upcoming events at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. “What we do is a small thing, but if we find ways to do it safely, of course we will move on because it matters.”
Davey’s words were echoed by Cheshire-born concert pianist Stephen Hough: “It’s strange, then excruciating to suddenly cut yourself off from the joy of making music for an audience,” he said over the weekend. “Musicians almost always chose this life not because of financial rewards, but because of the inner need to share the beauty with others. And then … the concerts stop and the money stops too – the voice falls silent and the pockets emptied. “
But Hough said he found hope by playing at Wigmore Hall and the Liverpool Philharmonic, where he is performing in front of a small audience and an audience with online tickets this week. “It feels like healing the soul.”
Petroc Trelawny, the breakfast presenter on Radio 3, fears the new generation of young musicians will miss their moment to start a career while older viewers lose the habit of going to concerts. “You only have a few years to sell yourself as a young artist,” he said. “You start out at the age of seven or eight with the same commitment a doctor makes, but with no end-of-the-best guarantee,” he said.
“Of course, wonderful things still happen, but there is a risk of comfort. The vast majority of the concerts do not take place. For most of the musicians it’s pretty dark and they are very tired. “
Trelawny added that he knows a “really very famous name who has had massive financial problems”. The difficulty for freelance musicians is that even those with viable careers rarely earn enough to save. “Many were just betting to be able to carry on.” For some artists, the sudden drop in income has already driven them out of their homes or made the weekly shop unaffordable.
He paid tribute to organizations like the Oxford Lieder Festival that “still hold heroically aloof events and online concerts and pay musicians a normal wage”. He also praised local music groups, like one in Kendal that moved into the local church to allow smaller concert audiences to socialize. “In the beginning, musicians tried to lift our spirits, and now they need our help because there is no national organization that protects them all,” he said.
Little, who is playing her final season as a violinist through the pandemic after deciding to quit at the top of her career last year, urged music fans to support the cast. “A large percentage of us are out of work now and yet we all expect music to be all around us, on the radio, on television and in films. And musicians create great value for this country in terms of culture and economy, ”she said.
• This article was changed on October 25, 2020 to correct the spelling of Tasmin Little’s first name.
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