For the last 8 years Daniel Barenboim has conducted the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra in an open air concert in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, free of charge for the audience. This year Madrid was booked in as one of the venues for the European tour of this orchestra, which was founded by Barenboim and the Palestinian writer Edward Said in 1999. Then, in May it was announced that the Mayor Ana Botella was cancelling this concert and a number of high profile arts events as part of the budget cuts.
In the end there was a concert in the Plaza mayor earlier this month and the replacement orchestra was the Orquesta de la Comunidad de Madrid (ORCAM) , conducted by José Ramón Encinar. The cancellation surfaced as a news item this week because it was raised at the press conference in Madrid for the tour, which kicks off in Seville and includes a series of Proms concerts. Norman Lebrecht made a mention of the cancellation via Twitter @NLebrecht.
At the press conference Barenboim insisted there had been no discussion about the cancellation of the concert and that he had not been given the opportunity to suggest alternatives to reduce the cost to allow the concert to go ahead. He described the way the way the matter was dealt with as “Neither intelligent nor elegant”.
I think there is no need here to describe the severe problems facing the economy in Spain, but you might be interested to know more about the orchestras which are based in Madrid. In addition to the ORCAM referred to above, Madrid residents can enjoyed an annual series of concerts by the Orquesta Nacional de España and chorus (OCNE) , the state television's Orquesta de la RTVE and chorus, whose previous principal conductor was Adrian Leaper , and the house orchestra at the Teatro Real opera house, the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid (OSM) . Don’t forget the Banda Sinfónica de Madrid , a symphonic wind band which performs a lovely free summer series on Sunday lunchtimes at the bandstand in the amazing Retiro park before moving indoors for their Winter concerts.
All of these ensembles are made up of full time professional musicians and all of them except the OSM are civil servants employed either by the city, the Madrid regional government, or the national government. They have contracts for life and all other benefits associated with a civil service post. The OSM players are employed through a subcontract arrangement, but even so most of their salaries are paid from public funds.
Four symphony orchestras, two choruses and a symphonic wind band are competing for an audience in a city with a population of 3.237.937 and where the Madrid Region has a population of 6.387.824. Of course, when I use the word compete it is misleading: these ensembles do not really compete for an audience because they do not depend on ticket sales for their survival, they simply rely on government funding. I am not going to do the maths here but when my grandfather used to talk of people who lived a champagne lifestyle on a beer income he might have been talking about classical music provision in Madrid.
Daniel Barenboim’s concert will have been missed, but there are very pressing needs here in Madrid and using a local orchestra instead of his touring one has not exactly brought the city to a halt. The Plaza Mayor was just as as full to hear the ORCAM conducted by José Ramón Encinar as it would have been to hear the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra conducted by Barenboim. Among the clatter of plates and glasses with tapas and cerveza, and the waiters in the bars around the seats in the square calling out their orders, some people might not even have noticed the difference.
(This post was amended to include a correction about the RTVE on 21/7/2012)