What European Identity? Part 2 – Classical Music Edition

European Union Youth Orchestra

How can we possibly continue to enjoy Beethoven or watch touring European orchestras perform in evil, isolationist Brexit Britain?

Today’s Peak Guardian article is an account of an interview recently given by the legendary pianist/conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy to the Observer newspaper, in which Ashkenazy urges classical musicians to “keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit”.

A distilled summary of the Guardian’s breathless spin: Brexit gravely threatens Britain’s continued participation in the international arts and culture scene, but if enough brave musicians come together in a spirit of cooperation then it may be possible to ride out the gravest threat to Europe since World War 2 and the Cold War.

From the piece:

Vladimir Ashkenazy, one of the most revered figures in classical music, has called on musicians to strive to keep up British links with Europe in the face of Brexit. The great Russian conductor and pianist, who made his name as a soloist in the 1960s and 70s, spoke passionately to the Observer about his continued faith in European culture.

“Music will win in the end,” he said, speaking publicly on the subject for the first time. “After all, music is not just an exercise in making sounds. It is a reflection of our joint spiritual endeavours.”

Comparing Britain’s impending split with Europe to other political schisms of the 20th century, such as the rise of fascism and the cold war, Ashkenazy, 79, said he was optimistic that those who love making music together will find a way to keep connections going across the Channel. “I am sorry about it, and I know it will be difficult to get used to a totally different situation, but for musicians many things will remain the same, simply because we will work to find a way to make agreements for the sake of music,” he said.

Many British classical musicians expect Brexit to set up new travel barriers and present fresh difficulties for orchestras receiving EU funding. The potential threat to free travel for working musicians has already prompted the European Union Baroque Orchestra to announce a move to Belgium this summer. It has been based in Oxfordshire since 1985. Meanwhile, the well-regarded European Union Youth Orchestra (EUYO) is considering a move to the continent after 40 years in Britain.

Of course, this feeds nicely into the Guardian’s (and the entire British metro-Left’s) little conceit that by extricating ourselves from a dysfunctional and failing supranational political union we are also somehow hacking away at the cultural and historical ties which bind us to the continent, and so naturally they seize on the Ashkenazy interview as a perfect example of how enlightened artists can help to save Britain from the brutish and self-destructive decision made by the Evil 52%.

Now, Vladimir Ashkenazy is not particularly to blame for any of this. If you want somebody to play a Rachmaninov prelude in such a dazzling way that it makes your hair stand on end and brings a lump to your throat then Ashkenazy is your very man. If, however, you want somebody to give you a good overview of geopolitics and assess the relative failings and merits of the European Union, then you are probably better off turning to someone else. So the point is not that Ashkenazy is wrong (and even he is generous enough to admit that Brexit is slightly less evil than Soviet communism, which is very kind) – that much is entirely forgivable, given that he is operating far from his natural competencies.

No, the problem is the entirely predictable way that the Guardian picks up this narrative and unquestioningly burnishes and amplifies it without stopping even for a moment to consider the validity of the point being made. Where they could take a step back and actually seek to educate their readers about a whole bunch of issues touching on this story, instead they strut and pose and play to the gallery, feeding them the self-affirming story that they expect rather than the hard dose of reality that they might actually benefit from hearing.

The Guardian could have dwelled for a moment on exactly why cross-border co-operation in classical music is supposedly imperilled by Brexit (giving more concrete examples than the unspoken and unprovable suggestion that Britain would deliberately make it harder for talented musicians to tour or work here). But instead, they uncritically write about how musicians will bravely “find a way to keep connections going across the Channel” without stopping for a moment to consider the fact that British orchestras and ensembles tour numerous non-EU countries in the world without the protective shelter of political union, while many non-European ensembles somehow make it to the BBC Proms and give numerous other performances in Britain despite their musicians lacking EU passports.

But the ulterior motive soon becomes clear when the article bemoans the relocation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra, two EU propaganda outlets funded by taxpayers to instil in us a sense of European identity which still stubbornly fails to materialise. In London, with so many preeminent ensembles already located here, did we ever really need these two explicitly political additions to our cultural scene? No, of course not – and the Guardian’s duplicitous attempts to upgrade these obscure ensembles to “major orchestra” status is straining the boundary of journalistic integrity. Their sole purpose was to indoctrinate the young and cause us to associate the European Union with benevolent funding of the arts rather than their tawdry, relentless attacks the nation state.

(The EU Baroque Orchestra has a slightly more successful legacy of seeding other baroque ensembles with past alumni, work which can continue in their new Belgian home.)

None of this is to deny the value of youth orchestras – I was a member of one myself for several years, and greatly enjoyed the opportunities for performance and collaboration that it afforded me – but the EU’s propaganda outlets are neither central to the British classical music scene nor an essential bridge to Europe. Take them away and nothing really changes.

Compare the EU’s musical propaganda outlets with a far more worthy exercise in cross-cultural bridge-building, Daniel Barenboim’s West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, and I know which I would rather preserve – the one which seeks to promote peace and cross-cultural understanding in the turbulent Middle East, not the one which uses European taxpayer funds to shore up a creaking, failing 1950s regional super-bloc.

The United States, by contrast, does not need to keep itself together by funnelling federal money into youth orchestras in a desperate attempt to inculcate a sense of American-ness. And while many pertinent criticisms can be made about funding of the arts in America, it must also be acknowledged that many of the finest ensembles and artistic companies in the world – the Metropolitan Opera, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the New York City Ballet, as well as the feeder schools, companies and institutions which mould the next generation of artists – are based in the United States and do not have to suckle at the teat of taxpayer funding in order to survive.

When government does not try to do everything, private initiative and private philanthropy are often able to step in to do the job far more successfully and lavishly. They need only be given the space to do so – but the EU has no interest in getting out of the way and allowing the arts to flourish on their own, because then the results would not bear the imprimatur of Brussels and thus would have zero propaganda value.

Is the threat posed by Brexit to the European Union Youth Orchestra a good reason to scrap the whole endeavour and remain part of the EU? Of course not.

Has the European Union Youth Orchestra done anything to meaningfully shift the sense of European identity among those who are not directly involved, or the misty-eyed eurocrats who profaned Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony by co-opting the final movement as their anthem? No.

Does Britain’s departure from an explicitly political union necessarily or inevitably mean that artistic links between the United Kingdom and the continent must be weakened? No – or at least, the Guardian have given us no good cause to believe that there is a danger.

(Incidentally, Vladimir Ashkenazy himself lives in Switzerland, which is also famously not a member of the European Union, and yet seems to be able to maintain a fruitful international career including many concerts and residencies in Britain).

The whole Guardian article hangs together only if one is content to take the most superficial view of Brexit, skating around on the thin ice of metro-left shibboleths about how international cooperation and peace only exist thanks to the benevolent hand of Brussels. To take the threats spun from the Ashkenazy interview seriously, one must actually drink the Remainer Kool-Aid and believe that Brexit means isolationism, and in all its forms – economic, social, cultural. To be that cretinous, one must be an unapologetic bubble dweller, proud and stubborn in one’s ignorance of the opposing side.

But then that’s the Guardian for you: a newspaper tailor-made for poseurs who believe (or at least want to signal to their friends) that they already know and understand the nuances of every issue, and that the One True Way just conveniently happens to lean in the same stridently left-wing, pro-EU direction as their pre-existing beliefs.

Among Guardian journalists and readers alike there is zero intellectual appetite to actually get under the hood of any issue and talk about the meaning of democracy and self-determination, whether state funding or private philanthropy does a better job of funding the arts or any other substantial question that is ripe for debate. They just want to take a glib headline and serve it up as red meat to their metro-left, superficially culturally literate peer group (see last year’s uncritical, months-long homage to the NHS).

And so what could have been a useful jumping-off point for a real discussion about the future of the fine arts, the best way to foster cross-border co-operation and whether existing mechanisms of funding are a) effective, and b) a good use of taxpayer funds instead becomes just another wobbly-lipped ode to the Brave Artists Resisting Evil Brexit.

The only result of this “journalism” is that everyone is left slightly more attached to their pre-existing bias, while the opportunity to enrich the public discourse is squandered in favour of yet more left-wing, pro-EU virtue-signalling and alarmist Brexit catastrophisation.

Mission accomplished once again, Guardian. Great job.

 

Save EUYO - European Union Youth Orchestra - Propaganda

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Brexit Catastrophisation Watch, Part 3 – The Cultural Elite’s Ongoing Anti-Brexit Tantrum Is Pointless And Childish

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Hell hath no fury like a self-involved, virtue-signalling, pig ignorant artist forcibly separated from his beloved European identity

Anyone who has ever had the misfortune to be in close proximity to a young child having a screaming meltdown in a supermarket, church or (worst of all) on a long aeroplane journey will immediately recognise the tenor and tone of the Guardian’s latest offering in their ongoing “But The Evil Tor-ees Took My European Identity From Me” series.

And this week’s whinnying public tantrum comes courtesy of writer Tom McCarthy, who can’t wait to tell us how he spurned the opportunity to attend a festival of British arts because daring to celebrate British artistic creativity post-Brexit is clearly akin to having attended the Nuremberg Rallies in 1930s Germany.

McCarthy pompously declares:

In our society, the artist may have no executive power whatsoever, but their ace-card lies in the fact that they command a means – perhaps the primal one – of putting value in the world: a means of making meaning. They can use this status to subvert, or to shore up, power – sometimes both at the same time – and they can do this well, badly or indifferently; but one thing they can never do is be politically neutral.

A few weeks ago I received an invitation to a special reception to be held at the Royal Academy for “British artists” to celebrate “British creativity”. In normal times such a gesture might have seemed a little jingoistic, but essentially innocuous. But these are not normal times. Given the extraordinary far-right takeover the country seems to be undergoing, current talk of “British” X or Y or Z (“values” or “decency” or “culture”) usually marks one end of a chain, at the other end of which someone is being shunned in a playground, spat at in a supermarket, or worse. The invitation mentioned designers and businesses who “shape our culture”, and outlined the security procedures that would surround the event. It wasn’t hard to read between the lines: while Martin Roth at the V&A had made it clear his institution would have no truck with such nonsense, the RA was helping to assemble a roll-call of figures from the arts to pose arm-in-arm with ministers, royalty and innovators of the James Dyson variety, for a soft-power, post-Brexit rebrand of “British” culture.

How terribly brave of McCarthy to make such a principled stand, which will have cost him absolutely nothing and cemented his status as a hero among other pig-ignorant europhiles in the cultural scene. No, really. How terribly subversive, taking a public action which panders to the existing groupthink and prejudices of the political and cultural elite, nearly all of whom remain horrified by Brexit. The idea that Tom McCarthy is in any way being countercultural or subversive is as hilarious as it is pitiful.

McCarthy continues:

The fact is, I’m not an example of “British creativity”. Like all English-language writers, I’m thoroughly European. To read Shakespeare is to read a rich remix of Ovid, Petrarch and Lucretius; to read Joyce (a British passport-holder) is to read Mallarmé, Laforgue, Goethe. The wellspring of our shared archive is Greek – and since the Hellenic world was in fact spread all around the Mediterranean basin, this means that to be European is already to be African and Asian.

Millennia of trade and empire, of diaspora and endlessly crisscrossing migration, have produced a culture that is and always will be cross-pollinated. If London and other British cities have become cultural hubs, this is because they stand at intersections within larger, international flows and networks. To credit an intersection with creating (“innovating”) the currents from which it merely feeds, though, is like calling a lightbulb a generator.

The number of idiotic sentences about Brexit and democracy uttered by self-proclaimed artists probably now registers in the tens of millions, but still McCarthy’s claim that all English-speaking writers are “thoroughly European” is particularly fatuous.

If “all English-language writers” are European, why do we not hail F. Scott Fitzgerald as a great European author? And even if we did consider Fitzgerald to be European, using McCarthy’s tortured logic, isn’t this yet more damning evidence that one does not need to be part of a supranational political union to derive a sense of regional or continental identity? Fitzgerald’s European-ness is innate and inalienable, according to McCarthy, and utterly uncontingent on belonging to a power-hungry, relentlessly integrating Cold War-era club like the EU. So what exactly in the problem with Brexit?

Is Switzerland, outside the European Union, not “European”? Is Norway somehow severed from the continent, its artists unable to “cross-pollinate” ideas with their French or Spanish peers? And if the likes of John Steinbeck and F. Scott Fitzgerald are great European writers despite both of whom having perished before the sainted European Union came into being, isn’t this proof that sharing an undemocratic set of supranational institutions is entirely unnecessary in forging a common heritage and identity?

Weepy British artists still in floods of tears at the thought of Britain leaving the EU should in fact take heart from Tom McCarthy’s rant. Since “all English-language writers” are “thoroughly European”, even those who lived their entire lives on a different continent decades before the institutions of the European Union even came into existence, why get so upset simply because Britain will shortly cease to send MEPs to Brussels and Strasbourg?

The culmination of McCarthy’s virtue-signalling extravaganza:

About the same time, I received another invitation, this time to read from my work at an anti-Brexit art festival in Hackney’s gallery-filled Vyner Street. Beneath bunting designed by Fiona Banner, Bob and Roberta Smith and Jessica Voorsanger played a gig, Katrin Plavcak and Ulrika Segerberg did an electronic sewing machine-enhanced performance, Lucy Reynolds conducted a “choir” who chanted in 20 languages at once, and a large crowd who could trace their heritage to every corner of the Earth ate, drank and generally had fun celebrating internationalism and renouncing tribalist bigotry, while children darted round their legs.

It’s quite possible that several of the Vyner Street participants, being high-profile culture-shaping innovators, were invited to the RA too. I doubt they’ll go, though, any more than I will.

And there it is. That’s what this is really all about. Tom McCarthy hasn’t had his European identity ripped away from him, as by his own admission his sense of European-ness transcends any one political institution and seemingly includes African and Asian culture, too (perhaps someone needs to have a quiet word with him about his imperialist, oppressive cultural appropriation).

No, this is members of the British artistic and cultural scene, left-wing almost to the last man, doing what they do best: spurning patriotism at every turn (embracing “all centuries but this and every country but their own”, as W.S. Gilbert might have put it), revealing their exquisite discomfort with anything British and promoting a rootless form of virtue-signalling internationalism instead. It is self-evident that Tom McCarthy would have no qualms about attending a celebration of French or Italian culture, were he invited to one. No, it is only his own culture which he detests and sees fit to associate with the “far right”.

“Look at me, look at me! I’m a citizen of the world! I’m not beholden to your base, quasi-fascistic preoccupations with national identity and community”, screams Tom McCarthy’s insufferable hissy fit in the Guardian. Well, good for him. Thankfully, a majority of Britons (even those cowed by Project Fear into voting Remain) disagree with this toxic notion.

Castigating the inventor James Dyson for having “[thrown] his lot in with Nigel Farage” in supporting Brexit, McCarthy declares “I don’t even dry my hands in public toilets” any more following the EU referendum, a riveting declaration that this brave, Super Virtuous Man will have absolutely nothing to do with those who dared to defy the pro-EU orthodoxy.

If Tom McCarthy chooses to forego washing his hands after using the lavatory as part of some pinch-faced middle class anti-Brexit rebellion, that is his own business. This blog would be quite content if he simply took pity on the rest of us and ceased to sculpt prissy, virtue-signalling little articles in the Guardian out of his own faeces.

 

Thousands Of People Take Part In The March For Europe

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