Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Music and Money

I just read a post on On An Overgrown Path concerning the fact that wealthy people who sit on boards of major music festivals are the people calling the shots about the future of "classical" music.

I can only quote Captain Renault:

Rich people who love music have ALWAYS been the reason that "classical music" institutions survive. When I was young I used to distrust them, but now that I see things in a much broader historical way, I understand that the only reason that music and art continue to be made available to people who don't have large amounts of money is through the generosity (or obsessive love) of those who do.

Some of us who believe in social justice observe that some of the people who love music as much as we musicians want to play it (and write it) are of a very different kind of political mind. Sometimes that different kind of political mind is one that acts exploitatively and manipulates politicians.

The only solace we have is that this kind of thing has gone on since the Renaissance. The music and art survives, though. And it still will, as long as there are people who have both money and taste.

One big problem that we face is that often times people who have extreme wealth lack taste. This happens among people who don't have wealth as well. Money can't buy taste. Unfortunately. It can buy instruments, excellent instruction, and even influential friends, but it can't buy talent.

So the future of classical music is like a volleyball passed between people of serious financial means who love music deeply, and those that have personal preferences that may not have much to do with anything that lies below the surface of the combination of good looks, a flashy (and reliable) technique, and stage presence (in composers as well as in performing musicians).

I know that as a working musician (performing and writing), who is not of the flashy ilk, it is not likely that I will see vast sums of cash and support come my way (miracles can happen, but I'm not holding my breath). But I do know that if a "culture maker" were to ask me for something and reward me with exposure, press, accolades, and money, I would probably do my best to deliver whatever it is they ask of me.

That is the tradition of "classical music." It always has been, and I believe it always will be.


Pliable said...

Elaine, we need to differentiate between rich people who give generous amounts of money to help classical music survive, and people from the business world who hold multiple positions of power in classical music and who are also, coincidentally wealthy.

There is no evidence that the people I mention in my post are in positions of power because of their philanthropy, although they may well be generous donors. They are there because of their business background and connections, and I question if that qualifies them to hold the positions they do. (Note that the UK Banking Standards Commission found one of the subjects of this post, Lord Dennis Stevenson, guilty of a "colossal failure" of management - the many people, including me, who lost large amounts of money when the bank he was chairman of failed will agree with that judgement.) And even if they are qualified to sit on the boards of classical music institutions, I question whether they should hold multiple positions of power.

These people are not funding classical music, they are running it. In fact as the linked newspaper article reports, another subject of my post Simon Robey - who reportedly earned an annual bonus of between £5m and £10m - is pleading for more money on behalf of classical music.

Elaine Fine said...

I suppose we see things from totally different perspectives. From different sides of the pond, perhaps? Perhaps the problems we each face are different local problems.

Perhaps we are talking about different things we we speak about "classical music." I see the business and the art as mostly separate entities that connect to one another in various and ever-changing ways. You are talking about specific business people in the UK whom you don't necessarily trust managing the affairs of institutions you feel they aren't qualified to manage.

Anonymous said...

The fact is that some board directors bankrupted the NYCO, as with other orchestras with enormously bad decisions. But when one looks at the historical perspective of centuries, there would have been no Purcell without the church, no Bach to be sure excepting his forbearers who played for civic functions, and the notion that government can sponsor classical music is laughable when one looks at the overall output of Soviet Socialist Realism, as one example among many. The facts are that "philanthropy" is a misnomer, because today there are too many social justice arguments in competition for money. Why be philanthropic with classical music entities when there are so many other "needy" constituencies. Well I have an answer which comes from individualism and flies in the face of one collectivist argument or another. Some wealthy sponsors of classical music entities chose freely to do this. Hurray for them. As to those "running" classical music, not all are idiots or frauds. Some are well meaning and effective, and from what I see classical music is surviving. Even in some places, it thrives though the naysayers would have us believe otherwise. Sometimes it thrives in individuals and small groups working in small venues, sometimes in religious contexts and so forth. What is clear is that classical music is a measure of culture and civilization in a way which the "pop" culture of today focused only on earnings and "cred" is not. I refuse the notion that classical music is being run only by the greedy, as I totally agree with the historical truth that high culture has been supported by the wealthy and powerful, as by the creative and motivated. A politics of envy will not change the historical fact that rent seekers across centuries have done some awful things, but growing in the wreckage is culture and that is not a weed to be plucked. Student demonstrations against Western civilization as one has seen over the last decades is idiotic, for Western civilization is Bach and Mozart, Michelangelo and Van Gogh, Dickens and Steinbeck, Rodin and so many more. May we see many more contribute to high culture, because low culture is always there anyway, is it not? Ms. Fine, you have spoken rightly and historically. Spot on.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Yes, yes, and yes to what Elaine yes, in the blog posting and in her comment. Rich people fund music to a great extent, now and throughout history. The churches, the Rasumovskys, the Ludwig IIs, the Carnegies, etc.

In the US, it is very hard to get on the board of a major musical organization unless you are either a big donor or a big rainmaker (you have the connections to drum up donations).

And more yeses to what Anonymous says.

David Wolfson said...

Speaking as a fellow composer, if Prince Esterhazy offered me Haydn's old job, I'd take it in a heartbeat.