A young musician friend has been telling me about a fully-funded chamber music group based in Denmark. Each member of the group, which is supported by the Danish Government to expand the reach of chamber music across the country, is paid a full salary and has accommodation provided. They also have a full-time manager who takes care of the practical side of things, from organising local concerts in schools and community centres to arranging for the musicians to travel to cultural centres and perform concerts, both in Denmark and abroad. Yet travelling abroad is only a secondary purpose, for their main task is to establish a presence in the community, bringing live classical music to all sorts of people.
And of course a chamber group is ideal for such a purpose, being smaller, cheaper and more nimble than an orchestra of sixty or eighty people. In Denmark there is also funding for professional development, such as attending masterclasses or making records, and the funding even stretches to counselling and therapy for inter-personal problems that develop within the group.
My mouth was open as I listened to this description, which might as well have been of Shangri-La. A full salary for each person in a chamber group! A dedicated manager and a counsellor on tap! Such a thing is unknown in the UK. From time to time, stories filter out from Scandinavian countries of musicians on government grants equivalent to full-time salaries – I’d heard of similar things happening to string quartets in Norway – but I always wondered if they could be true.
Years ago at a festival in Finland, I met a pianist who had allegedly just received three years’ funding from the Finnish Government to shut himself away and prepare all Beethoven’s piano sonatas for a cycle of performances three years hence – for which he was going to be paid additionally. It was so far from my own experience that I made a point of laughing and saying it probably wasn’t as fun as it sounded. But the story came back to me when I heard about the salaried Danish group. My life and the lives of my chamber music partners would have been utterly different with such possibilities. Well, all I can say is : good for the Scandinavian countries and their enlightened governments! What an admirable example of cultural vision!