Tocata and flight of the orchestra conductors after Brexit

  • The prestigious English musical director Simon Rattle leaves the London Symphony Orchestra and goes to work in Germany and asks for a German passport

  • He becomes the third conductor of the three main British orchestras to announce his resignation after being critical of leaving the EU

  • British musicians reproach Johnson for not closing an agreement with Brussels that would allow them to freely tour the continent

The British classical music sector has been badly affected by Brexit. Since the departure from the European Union (EU) was announced, the directors of the three main orchestras in the country have announced their departure. All of them had been very critical of Brexit since the referendum in 2016. The last to announce his departure was the renowned English composer and musical director Simon Rattle, who has proclaimed that he is leaving the London Symphony Orchestra and going to Germany to take over the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra from 2023, when his current contract ends.

The 66-year-old Rattle’s departure sums up the mood for classical music in the UK after Brexit. Rattle is perhaps the most important British conductor. He forged his prestige in the 16 years that he was musical director of the Birmingham City Symphony Orchestra (1980-1998) becoming awarded the title of Knight of the Order of the British Empire. He then spent 17 years in Germany with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra before in 2018 they convinced him to return to the country. He returned in the middle of a Brexit storm. When his colleagues announced his departure from the country, he would return.

They convinced him with the promise of the new horizon that was opening up outside the EU. They promised him more freedom, more funding and the construction of a new concert hall for the orchestra, which is located in London’s Barbican. But none of this has been accomplished. Rattle has said that he returns to Germany because there he has his wife and two of his children. “The fact that musicians and artists in general suddenly have to apply for visas to go to Europe is in no way the extra bonus that we had been told about”, He commented at the announcement press conference. And he said that he had started the procedures to request a German passport.

Mass exodus

Before Rattle, the directors of the other two most important orchestras in the country had announced their departure, Vladimir Jurowski, of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and Esa-Pekka Salonen, Philharmonia Orchestra. The two announced it in 2018 and are leaving at the end of this season. The 48-year-old Russian Jurowski is also going to Germany after twelve years at the helm of the Philharmonic and will join as musical director of the Radio Berlin Symphony Orchestra. Esa-Pekka Salonen, meanwhile, will go to the United States to take over the baton of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

“I started working in the UK in the 1980s and immediately felt that this country, and especially London, was a beacon of freedom of expression, of ideas, a home for creativity Salonen explained in a recent opinion piece in ‘The Guardian’ after the consummation of Brexit. What alarms me is that leaving the EU will not quell the anger in the UK. The feeling I have is not that it is already done and that everything will be fine from now on, but that It is something much deeper and more complex that we still cannot see in its entirety and that nobody is happy, neither the Brexiters nor the pro-Europeans”.

In 2017, a year after the referendum, they announced their departure from the country Baroque Orchestra of the European Union, which moved me to Antwerp, to Belgium, and the Young Orchestra of the European Union, who moved to the Italian city of Ferrara. “You can’t ask for EU funding and then not be in the EU,” argued Marshall Marcus, executive director of the Young Orchestra, which was created in 1978 and has 120 musicians each year, aged between 17 and 24. Among the musicians, there were British, who have now been left out. This is another drawback. For a matter of paperwork, young British talents will have to stay in the country.

Hit the music sector

It is noted that the next to announce his departure could be the British pianist of Italian descent Antonio Pappano, musical director of the Royal Opera House, 61. Pappano was already very critical of Brexit a few years ago and warned that it would be disastrous for European students who come to study in the UK and described it as “shameful”. “It is not about sitting at home and practicing with the instrument, it’s about filling your ears with the best, listening to concerts, finding the best teachers and the best colleagues. Sometimes they can be in England and sometimes not, ”warned Pappano.

Brexit does not affect only classical music but the music sector in general. Two weeks ago, a hundred strong British musicians wrote a letter to the prime minister to show his disagreement with Brexit and ask him to agree with the EU on the free movement of musicians. Among the signers were, among others, Elton John, Liam Gallagher, Sting, Iron Maiden, Thom Yorke (singer of Radiohead), Louis Tomlinson (ex One Direction) and Lilly Allen. There was also Roger Daltrey, the singer of the Who, prominent Brexiter who now stands on the other side realizing the damage Brexit is doing to musicians.

The EU and the UK negotiated without reaching any agreement and, as with everything related to Brexit, the British government blamed the EU. British Culture Minister Oliver Dowden said it was the European negotiators who knocked down his offer, but later European diplomats who participated in the negotiations explained to the British press that it was the United Kingdom that had broken the negotiations. by refusing to accept that European artists could also freely enter the UK without paperwork and without a visa for a period of three months. This provoked the ire of many musicians that they reproached Johnson for the damage he was doing to the sector.

The window that opens

Despite everything, there are still people who believe that Brexit will be positive for classical music. One of them is Timothy Walker, Executive Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, who stated that Brexit would open up new horizons outside Europe in former British colonies, of the Commonwealth, and new countries like China and India. Also the musical commentator Norman Lebrecht, highlighted in an article in the magazine ‘The Spectator’ that Jurowski, Rattle and Salonen have been replaced by young and talented British directors. “This could mean the return of the English symphonies, a complete cycle, at last, of Vaughan Williams and Malcolm Arnold., followed by Peter Maxwell Davies and David Matthews. London orchestras will come out more across the country, ”he wrote. The criticism they make is that it is necessary to have renowned directors to attract large investors, which are vital for the sector.


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