In praise of experts
There is a certain irony in the fact that at the very moment the April issue of Choir & Organ – which included David Hill’s interview with Sofi Jeannin – was in the process of being printed, the BBC announced the disbanding of the BBC Singers. The widespread outrage that greeted this bombshell (see News, p.6) must surely have played a significant part in persuading the national broadcaster to think again and enter discussions with the Musicians’ Union about possible alternative funding models that would avert the necessity of closing the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir. The danger is not yet past, but at least there may be some signs of hope.
In the meantime, I was in Paris for one of two 30th anniversary concerts by the French chamber choir Accentus (see News, p.8). Founder-director Laurence Equilbey had already conducted the first of the concerts two days earlier in a packed Philharmonie; yet the repeat performance only half an hour from the centre of the French capital, in the swish new La Seine Musicale concert complex created less than a decade ago from a defunct Renault factory, attracted a near-capacity audience again in its 1,200-seater Auditorium Patrick Devedjian. And what a rousing reception the performers received at the end – cheering, footstamping and coordinated hand-clapping, and this in a country not known for its choral tradition. As Equilbey said, they have had to fight for this.
The UK is justifiably proud of its amateur choral tradition, which stretches back hundreds of years and has seen a recent resurgence in the growing popularity of community choirs. But as Equilbey pointed out, ‘It’s not the big amateur tradition that builds the top.’
In the weeks leading up to the 2016 referendum, pro-Brexit MP Michael Gove notoriously said, ‘This country has had enough of experts’– though I very much doubt he lives by that maxim when in need of a dentist. Of course we need experts in all fields of our national and global life that are valued; how else can standards be raised, knowledge and skills be shared, and groups and individuals be inspired to stretch themselves and do better? Without the experts, the top professionals, we would petrify. Without the unique contribution of the BBC Singers, our national musical life would be immeasurably impoverished. This is not just about musical matters, though. What lies behind the cuts is a persistent attempt by government, through financial means, to weaken the BBC as an independent broadcaster that, in addition to presenting top quality documentary, current affairs, drama, sports, entertainment, arts and music programmes, also scrutinises the ruling classes and is not afraid of critically analysing how we are governed. No government, of whatever political hue, likes to be challenged about their policies and will try to silence opposition. So, as Equilbey said, we have to fight, to kick back and keep up the pressure for the good things in life to be valued, preserved, and shielded from mindless vandalism.
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