ENO are accusing the Arts Council of making a “howling mistake” in its three-year investment announcement, the one that reduced the opera company’s subsidy to nought unless they agree to go to Manchester – which may not want them even if they did, no-one has asked Manchester. Elsewhere the act has been described as “shocking”, “devastating” and “cultural vandalism”.
The real howling mistake, though, was not so much how ACE dealt with ENO as the fact that the howler completely overshadowed whatever else there was for music in the national portfolio plans for 2023-26, some of which was interesting if, almost by the ACE chairman’s own admission, driven by the government’s spurious levelling up dogma.
The ENO row also deflects from a much more important effect of the series of catastrophes that have befallen our musicians and their support in the last three years, highlighted in a new report this week from the charity Help Musicians.
Successfully making music is probably the finest achievement one can aspire to, and it happens that in the global reckoning that our politicians love to measure the UK against (as long as we’ve got a decent rating) our musicians are the best, and especially popular in Europe.
But our music is being strangled by a combination of Covid, Brexit and now recession. The Help Musicians figures show that almost all, 98%, of our 37,000 or so musicians – who have lost 35% of their work this year – doubt that they can survive the winter in their profession. Think about it – nearly all our musicians fear they won’t be able to make music anymore.