I keep coming across articles about the importance of revising our approach to international travel. For the sake of the environment as well as public health, we’re told, we should be working towards the possibility of doing everything in the places where we live. City planners and architects should be thinking how to provide us with all the facilities for a satisfying life within 15 minutes’ travel from our homes.
It’s undoubtedly true that, certainly while the virus is still circulating, musicians will have to consider the risk to ourselves of travelling to perform in other countries, and the risk to them of importing us. Heedless travel will be unacceptable.
In theory, the fifteen-minute city is a lovely idea. But how would it work for artists?
Like most musicians who are predominantly performers, my whole career has been based on the necessity of going somewhere else to play concerts. As someone who was never starry-eyed about the whole airport/hotel scene, I often found it tedious that I had to keep going away. How nice it would be to have audiences at the end of one’s own street! But that was rare. And anyway, local audiences didn’t want to hear you every week. So if your aim was to play concerts and earn fees from doing so, you had to keep moving.
Concert-goers are keen on hearing performers from far away – or at least have been trained to think like that. A glance at the season’s brochure for any big orchestra will show that its concerto soloists are usually from Elsewhere. The same is true of solo recitals and chamber music seasons. Elsewhere is glamorous! (British musicians, of course, benefit from this attitude when they travel abroad and become the exciting foreign visitors.)
However, it may turn out that Elsewhere loses its glamour – at least for a while.
If we are prevented from travelling to make a living, we need to think about about how musicians could make a career by staying local. (Yes, there’s teaching, but that doesn’t suit everyone.) With things set up the way they are, there is currently no way for a concert performer to make a living within 15 minutes of home. Lots of things would have to change. Funding, for example, and promoters’ agendas, and audience’s attitudes.
Could one imagine that UK symphony orchestras would switch to a roster of UK artists for their concerto spots? Could recital and chamber series cultivate a ‘love your local artists’ ethos? It would be great for UK musicians, but would audiences and sponsors embrace the change?
There could be many positives from a new approach which slows down the merry-go-round of musicians who spend their lives whizzing about to play to one another’s home audiences.
This topic is going to be important, and I’ll return to it. Send me your thoughts!