Foreign or Danish, it’s all about making the grade

Politicians complain there are too many international musicians in Danish orchestras, but according to one of them, it all comes down to talent


The high percentage of foreign musicians in Danish orchestras merely indicates that internationals may be outperforming their Danish counterparts in auditions, according to Peter Morrison, a cellist for the DR Symphony Orchestra. 

Rejecting recent claims from politicians, who told DR that too many foreigners have infiltrated Danish music, Morrison suggests that foreign musicians are simply filling the needs of the country’s orchestras just as well, or better than, their Danish counterparts. 

“Danes very often win jobs in Danish orchestras, and when they don’t, it simply means that someone else – that is, a foreigner – was better at the audition,” Morrison told The Copenhagen Post.

As an Australian who has lived and played in Denmark for ten years, Morrison doubted the country’s orchestras have a distinct identity or sound that politicians could define  – and if they did, Danish musicians wouldn’t be the only ones able to produce it.

“Only a few orchestras worldwide have a recognisable sound, cultivated over half a century or more, and they don’t maintain it just by hiring their own citizens,” Morrison said. “They will hire anyone who has learnt to recreate that style authentically over a broad repertoire and to the highest possible standard.” 

When orchestra positions open up, Morrison said, nationality has nothing to do with who is hired. The deciding factor, he suggested, comes down to their ability to perform.

“Anyone from the EU is allowed to audition for orchestral jobs in Denmark, and when it comes to the crunch, those with better control of their nerves on the day will win,” he said.

“Audition processes in Denmark are set up so as to be equally fair to all candidates, and if a person is not good enough on the day, that decision is made by a majority vote by a large representative body of orchestral musicians from the orchestra in question.”

The standards are universally high – it is just a question of finding a suitably qualified candidate.

“It is not infrequent that an audition for a vacant position results in no successful candidate from a large pool of Danish and EU candidates, with the position remaining vacant until another audition can be arranged at a later date generally many months down the track.”

According to DR’s report, at least a third of all musicians in the country’s five regional symphonies are foreigners – varying from 33 to 45 percent. 

“This is a wake-up call that shows us that the quality of music education in Denmark is in need of an examination,” Ole Sohn, the culture spokesman for Socialistisk Folkeparti, told DR. “I encourage the Culture Ministry and the educational institutions to sit down and look at how we can make education better.”

However, Morrison rejected politicians’ suggestions that the statistics indicate a problem with Danish music education.

“Talent is not limited to geographical boundary,” he said. “As for education, we mustn’t forget that some of these foreigners actually studied with Danish teachers at Danish music conservatories − the very same places the politicians think are not doing a good enough job.”

Politicians should see the presence of foreign musicians as an opportunity, Morrison said – not as a cause for alarm.

“It’s no different to a sporting event like the Olympics, and it’s the same rules for most orchestras around the world,” he suggested. “It’s called competition, and it is healthy for the long-term artistic development of a nation’s cultural scene when ideas and sounds from around the world meet.”

“Would politicians or journalists here complain if a Dane won an orchestra job over someone else in another country?” he asked. “I sincerely doubt it.”

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