Has RTÉ already cast the National Symphony Orchestra adrift?

The NSO needs Government action to preserve, protect and nurture it

Nathalie Stutzmann, principal guest conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, was not mentioned on   RTÉ  during a piece   about the National Concert Hall’s  Female Conductor Programme. Photograph:  Maxwell

Nathalie Stutzmann, principal guest conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, was not mentioned on RTÉ during a piece about the National Concert Hall’s Female Conductor Programme. Photograph: Maxwell

 

Why did Nathalie Stutzmann, principal guest conductor of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, not even get a mention on Morning Ireland when RTÉ Radio 1’s flagship programme broadcast an item on the National Concert Hall’s (NCH’s) Female Conductor Programme? After all, Stutzmann was among the big names listed as having given her time and energy to the inaugural programme’s 12 participants.

Could it be that RTÉ’s orchestra plans mean that the station already feels it has cast the RTÉ NSO and all it stands for adrift? Or that even though the new conductor programme was presenting its participants in concert with the RTÉ NSO, the initiative came from the NCH. Which meant that so, too, did the PR push.

On the one hand, it might seem like no big deal. But it does show that even when the NCH and the RTÉ NSO are partners, the divergence between their interests is considerable.

Does this matter? Well, yes. And it’s likely to matter even more if the Minister for Culture, Josepha Madigan, and the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten, decide to implement the Boaden review’s recommendation to use public money to facilitate the separation of the NSO from RTÉ. The review’s relevant recommendation is that “The National Symphony Orchestra should be a national cultural institution, in its own right or within the National Concert Hall.”

There’s been no word yet from Government on what the decision will be. But everyone I’ve spoken to seems to think that giving the orchestra to the NCH – yes, the word giving has been used – is a done deal.

I hope that’s not the case.

I think back to the time when the cutbacks that followed on from An Bord Snip Nua were supposed to see the integration of certain elements of a number of national cultural institutions.

Place yourself at a far enough distance and that might seem to make sense. Just as much sense as the handing over of a national symphony orchestra to a national concert hall. Or, say, the creation of a single administration for the Abbey Theatre and the Gate Theatre. They’re all in the same business, after all.

Competitors

But the NCH and the RTÉ NSO are not just in the same business. They’re actually competitors within that business. They compete directly for audiences every time one of the visiting orchestras in the NCH International Concert Series plays in the same week as an NSO concert. With a single management promoting both, you would expect the event with the bigger financial exposure to take precedence. And that would not usually be the NSO.

At the moment, RTÉ pays rent for the presence of the NSO at the NCH and hiring fees for its use of the hall. Disputes about the payments involved have been a long-standing feature of the relationship between RTÉ and the hall. The Boaden review’s new scenario envisages an ongoing NSO subvention from RTÉ on top of new financial support from the State. Given the fraught history it would be well nigh ridiculous to expect the NCH to look after the interest of the orchestra rather than the hall in this regard.

Although it is not at all obvious, the NSO and the NCH actually compete for available dates at the venue. The current situation whereby RTÉ has a virtual stranglehold on the NCH’s Friday night slot actually closes off a wide range of opportunities for the hall’s own promotions. It’s just another area in which the best interests of the NCH and NSO are in stark conflict.

And, of course, if both bodies are national cultural institutions under the Department of Culture, they will be in direct competition for departmental funding.     Government action to preserve, protect and nurture the NSO is what is needed, whether or not it is related to the recommendations of the Boaden review. Any blurring of lines between the management of orchestra and hall is likely to have exactly the opposite effect.

West Cork Chamber Music Festival

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival got into swing on Friday. The highlight of the opening concert was Quatuor Danel’s account of Beethoven’s String Quartet in F, Op. 59 No 1, the first of the set of three dedicated to the Russian diplomat, Andrey Razumovsky.

Quatuor Danel performed all three works in separate concerts over the weekend, and brought to each a combination of fire and intimacy, of reason and passion, that highlighted the music’s sense of exploration, of venturing into unknown territory.

Quatuor Danel was also responsible for an almost symphonically rich presentation of Elizabeth Maconchy’s sometimes angelic, sometimes violent Quartet No 2 of 1936.

The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam was revelatory in Mozart’s Quartet in G, K387.
The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam was revelatory in Mozart’s Quartet in G, K387.

The Dudok Quartet Amsterdam was quite simply revelatory in Mozart’s Quartet in G, K387. The players’ persistent delicacy, the freshly thought-out balances between instrumental lines, the communication of music so familiar as something new, all added up to a kind of musical spring cleaning that was extraordinarily energising in its effect.

If the ultimate in performers’ urgency and commitment could make a performance great, then violinist Nurit Stark and pianist Cédric Pescia’s approach to Ernest Bloch’s battering ram Violin Sonata No 1 would stand at the top of the table. Stark’s gutsy bite was of such intensity that it wouldn’t have been surprising to see smoke rising from her instrument. But the music itself couldn’t quite weather the intensity of the onslaught.

Pescia gave a late-night account of Bach’s Goldberg Variations that was hugely impressive in its unhackneyed presentation of the great theme. The variations were often magisterial in manner though not always clear in detail in the rapid fingerwork of the faster sections.

An all-Brahms piano recital by Barry Douglas was a master class in the richness of perspective that an all-encompassing vision can bring to the composer’s finely textured but muscular style.

The West Cork Chamber Music Festival continues in Bantry until Sunday, westcorkmusic.ie

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