Classical saved in new music plan

Culture minister decides not to cut classical funding to support contemporary music and instead uses extra lottery money to prop up venues and encourage broader collaboration between genres

The classical music scene breathed a collective sigh of relief last week when the culture minister, Uffe Elbæk, released his plan to strengthen music in Denmark.

In the run up to the election in September, Elbæk had voiced controversial plans to cut into the funding of classical music in order to increase funding for conetmporary music styles such as rock, pop or electronica.

But ElbækÂ’s plan entitled ‘En Scene – Mange GenrerÂ’ (One Stage – Many Genres) is instead focused on increasing co-operation between two main genres of music.

“It is hoped that the plan will break down the old institutional and economic differences between the main genres, such as by having a symphony orchestra work with a klezmer band, or by encouraging collaborations between jazz and electronica,” Elbæk wrote in the report.

In total Elbæk has managed to find an additional 135.5 million kroner in lottery funding to support music over the next four years, with the vast majority of the extra funding going towards extra support for regional venues and transportation costs for musicians.

“We managed to find 135.5 million kroner over the next four years, which is extraordinary in a time of economic crisis,” Elbæk wrote in a press release. “The music plan is a forward-looking solution that not only strengthens contemporary music, but also every other link in the music chain.”

Regional venues will see their support increased by 7 million kroner, to 31.7 million kroner a year, while the fund to support transportation costs for musicians will gain an extra million kroner, raising the support to 4.5 million a year.

Some 16 million kroner has been set aside to promote Danish music abroad while another 16 million is being invested in developing musical talent and supporting new types of musical expression.

The additional millions were found without cutting into the budget for classical music, as was widely anticipated.

“It’s problematic that classical music gets twice as much support as contemporary music even though contemporary music is in much more trouble,” Elbæk said in October when he laid out his ideas for the future of Danish music. “So we’ll see if we can transfer money from classical to contemporary.”

Two of the most controversial suggestions included turning the Royal Theatre’s Gamle Scene  into an ordinary venue by moving the ballet to the Opera, and disbanding a symphony orchestra.

Elbæk argued at the time that it was preferable to eliminate badly performing institutions when money was tight, rather than cutting evenly across the board.

Neither of these plans materialised, however, and Elbæk explained that he decided to change tack after meeting with important music figures.

“The white elephant in the whole discussion has been: can the culture minister conceive of disbanding a symphony orchestra?” Elbæk told Politiken last week. “The reaction in music circles has been that they don’t want that. It has been an ‘aha’ moment hearing from both the contemporary and the classical that they want to be seen as one stage.”

As a result, Elbæk’s plans focus on increasing co-operation across the genres by encouraging music schools and academies to start projects to investigate new musical genres.

Symphony orchestras will be encouraged to collaborate with other types of musicians in order to increase their relevance as well as the size of their audiences.

In particular, the funding will target women and young people, in the first instance to encourage greater participation of women in contemporary music and in the second to support the national talent base.

Last ThursdayÂ’s announcement was met with a muted response, though representatives of live music organisations were disappointed they did not receive more money.

“It’s deeply disappointing that contemporary music isn’t getting the extra support everyone in the music scene had hoped for with Uffe Elbæk as culture minister” Jacob Brixvold from Dansk Live told Jyllands Posten newspaper on Friday. “It has been shown that venues need between 30 million and 40 million kroner more, and we have been given 5 million.”

Elbæk responded that he had never promised any money for venues at all.

“They should be pleased that they received any more money at all,” Elbæk told public broadcaster DR. “They have to understand that Denmark is in a completely new economic position and that culture has to adapt its expectations accordingly.”

Elbæk was also criticised by some for stating that 135.5 million kroner had been found to support music, when in fact most of the money was needed simply to maintain funding for projects established by the previous government which were going to end.

By some calculations, only about 50 million extra has been found to specifically support for contemporary music.

Elbæk’s proposals now have to be considered by parliament after which it is the role of the government’s music committee to implement the initiatives.