In an article titled “Not the orchestras, please!”, which was published in a number of Spanish newspapers, Paloma O’Shea, Director of the Reina Sofia School of Music, stresses how important it is in times of crisis to “protect protect at all costs the vital signs of the country.” The text reads:
“This crisis has forced us to make difficult decisions. There is not much money to attend to all necessities, so it is inevitable that we have to decide which expenses are essential and which are not. The sickles are raised and it’s time to aim justly because cutting where it should not, can produce serious consequences. The act itself is very delicate and it requires a calm analysis and vision of future. However our politicians see themselves as fit to take such decisions and act in the middle of a never-ending political campaign and during a general commotion in which each social sector tries to look after its own interest.
The most important thing to do is protect at all costs the vital signs of the country, those functions that keep it alive and will keep it in good condition until a more positive era comes, which will come, sooner or later. In my opinion one of those key functions is to protect culture, and more concretely Music. Without these, society will dilute its collective consciousness and will loosen the ties that keep us together. After all it is in music and other cultural aspects where the spirit of the nation resides and where it is represented with more clarity by our willingness to live together. Thus sharing rights and duties as exist in an organized society. I believe we should not touch the culture, unless it is absolutely necessary.
I am not saying that cuts do not have to be made and that expenses should not be rationalized. When the situation is bad, everybody has to contribute, including musicians and the main celebrities of culture in general. However it would be a serious error to demolish cultural events like performances of orchestras, theatres or festivals, because the time and the money that would be required for their later re-construction will be enormous in comparison to the savings that you would gain by their closure today.
Former alumni of the School of Reina Sofia, who are working in the best orchestras in Spain and Europe, have alerted me of the unfortunate future of the Orchestra of Extremadura. With only ten years of existence, this Orchestra is one of the youngest we have in Spain. However it is already consolidated and its work has showed a great progress affecting even Extremadura’s culture in general. The survival of this Orchestra is extremely important not only for Extremadura but for all Spain. For the last couple of decades the Extremadura Orchestra has deposited in its musical progress a great part of the country’s hope, including its dignity of a modern nation, free of historical complexes.
In a few areas like in music, one can visualize clearly our collective, material and, above all, spiritual progress. In thirty years we have evolved from having only three or four symphonic orchestras to nearly thirty. From doing concerts wherever we could, now we are playing in a variety of Auditoriums. From having a piano as an ornament for young ladies to play on (and I know something about this!) now the piano is a key part of everyone’s education. During this time tens of thousands of Spanish parents have induced their children to take violin, flute or violoncello lessons and it is that social pressure that has forced a renovation of conservatories and music schools, which are now giving results. We have witnessed how so many talented Spanish musicians have been auditioned for the School of Reina Sofia.
Spanish citizens have come to auditoriums and theaters with great interest to subscribe to the orchestra season, because a concert is not just for privileged people anymore, it’s an act of popular culture in which everybody has access to the universe of Beethoven, Mahler, Falla or a young national compositor.
The latest census of orchestras is one of the gems of our collective heritage. Leaving the youth orchestras aside, which are maturing and getting better and better, there are 27 symphonic professional orchestras in Spain: four in Andalucia, Catalonia and Madrid; two in Asturias, Canary Islands, Galicia, Pais Vasco and Valencia; and one in Balearic Island, Castile and León, Extremadura, Murcia and Navarra. Each of them is the result of the collective effort and impulse of our society. They have titles of all kinds: from private orchestras – like the Symphonic of Madrid, entitled to the Royal Theater of Madrid, which is owned by the teachers that gives lessons there, up to the state-owned ones, like the National Orchestra. Others are autonomic, provincial, from town halls and entities that are half public, like RTVE. Regarding their sound there are many first class orchestras (I am not exaggerating!) like the Valencia Orchestra, and there are ones with lesser prestige, but at least six or seven are internationally respected and their CD’s are in stores all around the world. In the beginning in the 80’s, the new orchestras were filled with foreign musicians.
It was natural since our conservatories were in a very bad state. Little by little, the number of Spanish musicians has been increasing.
For a country like ours, in which music has been something so peripheral since Tomás Luis de Victoria –exactly 4 centuries!– the vitality of our symphonic lives is an extraordinary success. It is one of the keys for this modern Spain. Each Spanish orchestra is not only a center of culture and entertainment. It is an authentic flag of modernism, an important reference for the citizens to have as a role model in their daily fight to progress and offer their children a more open, modern and European country.
Carlos Gómez Amat –who was tired watching world known international orchestras perform in our theaters–, used to say that ‘’the only culture that matters most is the one produced at home’’. Well, now thank God the musical culture is finally being created at home. Our elemental conservatories –which have multiplied– are being developed where you end up maturing professionally in higher schools .These have progressed, as well as the specialized into centers like Musikene in San Sebastian, the ESMUC in Barcelona, la Escuela de Altos Estudios Musicales of Santiago or our own School of Reina Sofia. It is awkward for me to say it but this school did open a lot of these paths. And once it is has matured, the musical culture created at home is one that matters for us. This can be seen in the number of symphonic orchestras as well as our theaters, festivals, chamber -music groups and soloists.
I am not trying to do corporatism, I am not saying “do not touch the musicians because they are mine”. All I am saying is: do not cut our music because that would mean erasing half the effort towards modernism and Europeanism that we the Spaniards have been working for, during the last thirty years. Furthermore closing an orchestra is not only firing eighty musicians and half a dozen workers, it is cutting the access to the beauty of music for thousands of citizens of all classes. It is also depriving the professional part of the best of our young people. They have devoted themselves to the art of music and they believe in the hard effort of cultivating their talent and especially in surpassing themselves.
Closing down a cultural centre like the Orchestra of Extremadura is throwing away the work, the hope and the money of past generations and it would mean giving up and admitting social failure. Tighten the orchestras if necessary, but do not start cutting from there. Not from the orchestras, for God’s sake!