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"Art transforms human beings."

Photo: Célia Bastos

Q&A with Claudia Toni

“Make them use more their potential, go deeper into what they are able to do, explore parts they don’t know they have.”

Mark Pemberton, from Association of British Orchestras (ABO) said, during the International MultiOrchestra Conference that is necessary to extend the reach of the orchestra outside the concert hall. How can we do this in Brazil?

I am a bit afraid of saying what I am about to say because I am politically left wing and don’t want to be misinterpreted, firstly because I’m convinced that it is a duty of the government to support Culture the same way they support Education and Health. However, I’m starting to question whether in Brazil the fact that the State provides too much has caused institutions to behave badly. I think in general artists in Brazil are very alienated regarding what is happening in the educational area. Any cultural institution from rich countries has educational projects. Here, when the orchestra makes an educational project it works like this: a bus full of kids arrives, they sit there, watch a guy turned with his back to them and who doesn’t talk to them, plays a song that doesn’t have lyrics for two hours, with no break. They will never want to go back to that boredom! You don’t tell them what that is and why they are there. Outside Brazil organisations realized that if they didn’t include educational projects, they wouldn’t get sponsorship anymore. The cultural organisations here don’t go after that. It needs to include the community itself, the orchestra needs to stop being this white elephant, indivisible, on a stage where a small amount of people can sit to watch them. The orchestra is a sum of multiple ensembles.  Why not get a quintet of strings to play Beethoven at a public school? The orchestra fits anywhere. People here are very comfortable in their positions.

The orchestras that participate of the Transform, like Aurora and the Scottish Ensemble, are famous for promoting the idea of an accessible orchestra. What do you think of these models of management?

Since I’m well known for my catty tongue, I don’t have a problem saying this: I think that in general musicians from abroad are infinitely better formed than ours. Their background is more solid, starting by the regular school, which is better. They already have a head start. And we shouldn’t forget that music in Brazil is for the middle-low class. Outside Brazil, especially in the north hemisphere, it’s for the middle and sometimes middle-high classes. Therefore, a musician from Aurora have already had a better base formation, with higher cultural aspirations and a better understanding of their role in society, they have lived and learned general culture better than our musicians. Making music will open new doors for them. In Brazil we have a really high contingent of musicians and students of music who are evangelical. This means the perspective is really conservative in terms of behaviour and culture in general, and the music is above all a possibility of social ascension.  The government should already be thinking about this matter, so this doesn’t crystallize and we don’t have very reactionary ensembles. This is very serious and scary. I think there is more political commitment in the societies abroad because they understand democracy, the importance of civil society to participate, and they also have a stricter market. The fact that in Brazil the institutions receive money from the government without having to worry about the poor, about the old people, about the disabled… no one holds them accountable. But the orchestras are closing up in this crisis, instead of opening. The young musicians are being pushed to discover new ways of making music and this is part of the history of Scottish Ensemble and Aurora. There are new spaces they had to find, new music other than the symphonic orchestra. I think this society pushes people to rethink the orchestra. The ascent of the very poor musicians has a bright side. These young people that are starting to be educated now want to do something for their communities. The two orchestras you mentioned are taking care of old people, are taking care of those who have difficulties, which is the big issue for rich countries. Our musicians may make that change, may choose to teach music, or make smaller ensembles instead of a big orchestra, because they want to give back to the places they came from.

How does Brazil and United Kingdom compare themselves in the sector of orchestra, and what can Brazil learn from this exchange?

They differ completely, firstly because all orchestras in Brazil, aside from three of them, are public. In the United Kingdom there aren't public orchestras, they are all private, nonprofits or owned by musicians. That is why they recreate themselves permanently, because the survival is really harsh. Even harsher for London's orchestras, because there are seven of them in London alone. While the Brazilian orchestras present three concerts per week, the ones in London only perform once a week, and sometimes once every fifteen days. This musician doesn’t have a work contract, he receives for the hours of rehearsal and for the performance. Anyhow, the British musicians are known for their ability of first reading, and the reason is that as the orchestras don’t have money, they can’t pay for rehearsals. Sometimes they perform a very difficult piece with one single rehearsal, at the concert day. That is very bad. But that reflects on the managing and they have to invent a lot of stuff, to make deals with the social area, or with a benefactor, they have to find their survival. Something that here, because of that reassuring a job in an orchestra kept by the government, gives them a comfortable situation and the possibility of being a bit alienated and not want to leave this comfort zone. We can learn from the British orchestras above all this commitment with the audience, and with the community. There they turned away from the concert hall conditions and have understood that it’s better, more beautiful, more fun and more interesting, from an artistic perspective, if they left this comfortable position and started doing innovative things along with the community.

Was there a moment or situation during the projects which moved or impressed you?

I’ve seen so many things growing along this time, but what moved me the most was watching the Multiorchestra Conference this year, where 300 people from the orchestra sector spent three days talking, discussing their problems, without seen each other as competitors – who thinks they are rivals here is insane, because we have 200 million people and only twenty orchestras, who can be other's competitor? You can make 200 more orchestras and we still won't be able to make good music for everyone. That's the logic that out there they already figured it out, of working together, associatively, and I think people here started to understand that this is possible in this meeting. And that was really great.

AUDIO CLIP

(Portuguese)

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Claudia Toni

Cultural Manager, expert in Public Policy for the Arts and former Executive Director of Osesp - São Paulo State Orchestra.

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