More than 60 internationally famous musicians have signed an open letter, made public in the Netherlands, opposing cuts in the government subsidy for the prestigious Concertgebouw Orchestra. The letter appeared shortly before today's general election, in which government support for the arts is a hot issue.
A list of co-signers amounting almost to a who's who of music appears the letter, prepared by members of the orchestra, which is generally ranked among the world's top three or four. More than half of its funding comes from the government.
Among the names on the letter are those of Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Daniel Barenboim, Alfred Brendel, Colin Davis, Antal Dorati, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the Amadeus and Juilliard Quartets, Zubin Mehta, Yehudi Menuhin, Itzhak Perlman, Eugene Ormandy, Riccardo Muti, Carlo Maria Giulini, Klaus Tennstedt, Pinchas Zukerman, Pierre Boulez, Luciano Berio, Witold Lutoslawski and Michael Tippett. Several of the Americans cited in the letter have been contacted and confirmed that they had allowed their names to be used.
The open letter, which was dated Sept. 3, asks readers to "write or telegraph an indication of your support" to the Concertgebouw Orchestra "as quickly as possible." The orchestra is threatened with budget cuts that would mean the dismissal of 23 players. The cuts were suggested, on the recommendation of a committee of government economists, by Minister of Culture Hans de Boer, who may or may not remain in office, depending on the results of the election.
A statement of policy on government support for the arts (as part of the larger issue of the economic crisis) is part of the platform of all the major Dutch political parties. Some 40 parties are participating in the election, of which perhaps 10 or 12 may expect to win seats in Parliament. The Netherlands now has an unprecedented unemployment rate of 12.6 percent and faces budget deficits of approximately 10 percent. The Ministry of Culture's suggested cuts are part of a general program of budget-cutting imposed on all government ministries.
According to the open letter, these cuts "threaten to destroy the Concertgebouw Orchestra as a world-class ensemble . . . The result will be an inevitable drop in the standard for which the Concertgebouw has been acclaimed throughout the world . . . and will result in an inability, because of diminished numbers, to perform many of the works for which the orchestra is renowned, and make it impossible in the future for us to engage the world's leading conductors and soloists." In addition to the names of the internationally famous musicians, it is signed, "The Members of the Concertgebouw Orchestra."
One name missing from the open letter is that of the orchestra's music director, Bernard Haitink, who has already made clear his position on the issue. If the orchestra is forced to drop 23 members, Haitink said, he will resign his position and "never set foot on a Dutch stage again."
Among the alternatives that have been suggested is the idea of corporate funding -- still a new and controversial idea in performing arts, though support of visual artists by businesses is well-established in the Netherlands, dating to the time of Rembrandt and before. Controversy on this subject has raged in Dutch periodicals for several years.
In addition to subsidies from the city of Amsterdam and the national government -- more than 50 percent of the orchestra's annual budget -- income comes from ticket sales, record royalties and broadcast fees. Private contributions are not a significant factor.