“Actually, it’s very appropriate that they played Beethoven’s 5th Symphony this evening. It begins with the fate motif, yet ends very energetically. And Beethoven just can’t get round to ending the finale. He goes on and on. That’s what the orchestra has to do too – just keep going!”
One of the guests at the drinks party after the last concert of Holland Symfonia in Haarlem sums up the situation very aptly. The fate motif is even an understatement, because after this evening’s concert in De Philharmonie, it’s all finished for this orchestra in Haarlem. An orchestral tradition that began in this town at the end of the 19th century has come to an end here. And in a few weeks’ time, an end will be put to their concert practice in Leiden and Alkmaar, and to all the educational and social projects the orchestra has developed so successfully in recent years. No other orchestra in the Netherlands will be hit so hard by the government’s drastic measures. “In effect, these cutbacks mean the shutdown of this company”, says the troubled orchestra director.
However, the straw to be clutched at is a fresh start, as the government has decided that an orchestra should remain to accompany dance. And Holland Symfonia has signed up for the job, although for barely a third of the funding they’re getting now, so it will be necessary to reorganise and let people go. Not exactly something to look forward to. So this evening is filled with mixed feelings. But judging by the musicians’ performance, hope and pride have gained the upper hand over sadness and anger. I’ve seldom heard such a lively and energetic Beethoven’s 5th.
The evening is an intensely sad one for me. But I also remember wondering at the time Holland Symfonia was founded 10 years ago, when I was director of another orchestra in the same region, how it would all end. After all, how strong is the hand of such a big orchestra in Haarlem when two leading orchestras and the best concert hall in the world are situated 25 kilometres away by car, in Amsterdam? Can our country continue to afford that?
Apparently not. Last year, the government slashed the orchestras. Elsewhere in the country, the cities and provinces under attack took up arms immediately to save their orchestras and change the minds of the politicians in The Hague. When that didn’t work, it turned out they were prepared to put the money on the table themselves. “Limburg with no orchestra? Unimaginable!” But Haarlem and Noord-Holland did nothing. Presumably due to lack of money or other priorities. For the sake of courtesy, the Lord Mayor and the Royal Commissioner in Noord-Holland attended the concert, but I didn’t see them at the drinks party afterwards. And there were no government representatives from The Hague at all; not even any officials. Holland Symfonia fought a lonely battle.
The concert was preceded by a documentary made by the orchestra. They were so proud of this film they’d even hung posters in the station in Amsterdam to announce it. It gave a clear picture of what was being lost in the way of special educational and cross-over projects. In the documentary, one of the musicians stated (though actually quite modestly), “We are the most modern orchestra of the Netherlands”. And rightly so, as the orchestra can indeed point to an enviable portfolio of unique projects, from which many an orchestra could take example. But it was not enough, as it turned out. “I’m going to take this film to the Ministry on Monday and give it to Zijlstra”, said the chairman of the Supervisory Board to the audience. “And then they’ll have to watch it!”
He’s right, but it won’t work. Just as Beethoven couldn’t check the onset of deafness, the end of Holland Symfonia as we know it has become inevitable. All that remains is the hope that the approaching finale will end in a major key, just like the Fifth.< blog archive