Brexit: how do we, music professionals, navigate this strange juncture in our history?

Author: Gaetan Le Divelec

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Fragmentation, isolationism, have never been a fertile ground for culture. There is simply no example in history where the culture of a country was enhanced by isolationism. Periods of significant cultural blossoming have always coincided with periods of openness between peoples – one thinks of the enduring eras, the vast territories of free trade engendered by the great empires of history, the Silk Road, the Renaissance, and, yes: our extraordinary European Union. The musical world has every reason to feel concerned and, yes, emotional, at this strange juncture in our European history. Across Europe, forces seem to be at play which go against every fibre of our being: forces of withdrawal, of rejection of the other, of offloading our responsibilities of solidarity among peoples and nations.

Against this background, and now that the UK’s split from the European Union is all but done, should we be asking what music can teach us about the situation we’re facing, and how it can help us navigate our world?

Whatever the outcome of this tortuous process, and of negotiations over the next year, the sun will rise in the East on 1 February 2020. The musical world, which is driven by forces almost as primal as the stars – human beings’ need to make music, to listen to music, and to do these things together! – will adapt and find its way. It always does. For those of us for whom music is a profession, there may be new constraints – administrative, migratory, logistical, economic – but our fundamental challenges will remain the same: ensuring that great music meets its audience, in all its diversity. As our societies evolve, wherever we are, classical music communities face, perhaps more than most, an enormous task of adaptation to meet these fundamental challenges – against which the unknowns brought about by Brexit will probably soon pale into insignificance.

While the practicalities of Brexit and the additional challenges it brings remain a worry for us and for many others within the profession, they will only strengthen our resolve to cultivate meaningful global relationships and to continue to foster international dialogue. While we celebrate classical music’s extraordinary blossoming globally, and the vitalising influence classical music’s emerging markets bring to the artform we serve, Europe is in so many ways its cradle and its bedrock: we forget this at our peril, and the European continent will remain central to our resolve to continue to build bridges. But here we should perhaps also pause to remind ourselves of an important perspective: that “Europe” is bigger than the European Union: the European Union does not, alone, incarnate European identity, or indeed European culture. There are many European nations – vast swathes of territories, home to large populations who are culturally and geographically European, whose rich culture is at the core of Europe’s DNA – which are not in the European Union.

Being a London-based company, on the outer fringes of this extraordinary continent, can make one feel vulnerable as we ride out the Brexit turbulence. But London’s history is profoundly enmeshed with European history, and this does of course include music: for over 300 years London has acted as one of Europe’s major classical music hubs, with countless continental musicians and composers electing to make London their home, and visionary Londoners bringing their vitalising influence to the wider classical music world. This will not change. As we celebrate Beethoven’s 250th anniversary, let us salute some of these visionaries: the Londoners of the Royal Philharmonic Society who commissioned his Ninth Symphony, which gave birth to what was to become the European Union’s anthem… – perhaps one of the most ironic twists among Brexit’s many absurdities!

Our own DNA as a company is firmly rooted in this history: the founders of what is now Askonas Holt were two extraordinary, continental Europeans: Alfred Schulz-Curtius (a German impresario who emigrated to the UK in 1876) and Lies Askonas (an Austrian, who fled to the UK during the Anschluss). Over the years of its existence, Askonas Holt continued to be led by visionary people, whose gaze was always unflappably turned to Europe and the wider world. We celebrate this heritage, and it is still very much alive today: we are led by an Irish Chief Executive, we employ team members from 13 countries on four continents, and about one quarter of our staff are from mainland Europe. We act on the belief that we are stronger, better and more resilient because of our differences. Music brings people together, transcends differences, sharpens creativity and stimulates the imagination – both these qualities never more needed than in times of strife and discord, than when we need to resolve conflict: it is a force for good, and it is with renewed energy that we at Askonas Holt will continue to create and nurture relationships, across Europe and the world, to serve it.

A dual French-British citizen, Gaetan Le Divelec was born in Nantes, France and has resided in the UK since 1986. He has been a Director at Askonas Holt since 2016. 

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