Orchestras are told to double Dutch

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The Independent Online
DISCORDANT noises are coming from Holland's orchestras following the introduction of a government quota system to promote Dutch classical music.

Amsterdam's prestigious Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra is now conducting legal action against the culture ministry's move, claiming it violates their freedom of expression and contravenes EU anti-discrimination regulations.

The row is over a ruling compelling Dutch orchestras to devote at least 7 per cent of performing time to the work of Dutch composers, 3 per cent of whom must be living composers. Orchestras which do not meet this requirement by April will lose part of their state subsidy which accounts for around 75 per cent of most orchestras' funding and totals 150m guilders (pounds 45m) annually.

Elly Koning, the Concertgebouw Orchestra's lawyer, describes the quota system as "ridiculous" referring in particular to its definition of Dutch composers which she claims can be stretched to include such "Dutch" maestros as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mahler.

"The ministry says composers can be considered Dutch if they are Dutch nationals, live in the Netherlands or have made a longterm and significant contribution to Dutch music. There is a case to be made that these famous names have fulfilled the latter condition," said Ms Koning

The Association of Dutch Orchestras - the country has 15 - is backing the court case. "Of course we must promote Dutch music but culture state secretary Ad Nuis is making it an obligation rather than something exciting and thrilling. What we need is a policy of promotion not punishment," said its Director Rudolph Wolfensberger.

He says too that a quota system will not work because orchestras will always find ways to get around it. "In Belgium if an orchestra wanted extra state funding for a foreign tour, it had to include a Belgian composition in its programme. This gave Marcel Poot a brilliant career - orchestras always chose his work because it was just five minutes long."

But the Dutch Composers Society, which has around 200 members, backs the government's policy. Board member Andre Douw who is also coordinator of the composition department at Amsterdam's prestigious Sweelink Conservatory, insisted the measure was necessary: "It's a drastic solution but something has to be done because this problem has been playing for a long time and the orchestras refused to take action voluntarily.

Some Dutch composers like Theo Louvendie, Louis Andriessen and Peter Schat are well-known contemporary classical composers but newcomers like Theo Verbey need the opportunity to have their work heard. Some composers are insulted that such a policy is necessary and I can understand that but hopefully it will be an interim solution."


Theo Louvendie; Peter Schat; Louis Andriessen