Gramophone guest blog

The break-up of the Danish National Chamber Orchestra is telling of policy makers' values

Kreeta-Julia He...Fri 12th September 2014

What are the values that our politicians appreciate and how clever are their actions in the long run? Asks Kreeta-Julia Heikkilä, the DNCO's Concertmaster

Danish Radio has given notice to the Danish National Chamber Orchestra for January 1, 2015. The verdict to disband came out of the blue for the 75-year-old orchestra, which has been internationally known for its high-level Mozart recordings directed by Adam Fischer, and innovative and varied programmes. The orchestra performs music from a wide variety of genres, from Baroque to modern and pop music.

Classical music often receives criticism for its high ticket prices, elitism, repetitious programmes and marketing that fails to reach new, younger audiences. Ironically, classical music is even used to turn away youth at the doors of shopping centres. This, however, is something that the orchestra in question (and many other symphony orchestras) cannot be identified with. I therefore think it is high time to start a discussion about general values in modern society.

In our culture, entertainment, and therefore also popular music, is ever present on the TV, radio, Internet and other media. Sexiness, superficiality, entertainment, idols and danceability are trends that cash in big time and move money and masses. This is directly linked to a consumer culture where, unfortunately, simpleness and speed are ruling values. 

I was honoured to experience some unforgettable moments with the DNCO, such as in the highly produced Ledreborg and Juleshow pop concerts with a 10,000-strong audience, as well as performing Mozart's symphonies in the Vienna Konzerthaus. I understand the merits, purposes and values of different music genres, which is precisely why I am worried about the area of music which shows its value mainly intellectually. Culture and art are not appreciated for their intellectual or spiritual capital anymore, and are only seen in terms of their financial value, which is why they are so easily cut when the money runs out. If we can afford X-Factor and Popstars, we need to ask ourselves, why not classical music with what it has to offer?

If we expect classical music to entertain, we have missed the point. Art's purpose in society is to pay homage to nature and to the prevailing state of being and its effects. Its purpose in society is to evoke feelings and thought. Music as art helps us to clear our minds, handle different emotional states and, most importantly, to become sensitive. It can often be near to impossible to express or describe complicated, intuitive feelings with words or lyrics which is why we use abstract music for this. Classical music specifically challenges its audience to become intellectually and spiritually sensitive. Listening to beautiful music is indeed a great place to start your mental, intellectual and spiritual development.

Both Bach and Pythagoras saw that music in its highest form offers something supernatural to humans and that the goal of music is to attach the soul to its godly nature, not to entertainment. In the words of pianist Ralf Gothóni: 'The magical connection to the miracle of being human is found through developing ones sensitivity.' The combinations of instruments, their frequencies and vibrations, changes in rhythm and the intricacy of harmonies help immensely with the development of ones sensitivity. After all, we are spiritual beings and classical music is one of the most powerful soul foods.

The positive effects of classical music on the brain are well known, and have shown that music does not have to be directly understood to be able to be of benefit. The most important thing is to welcome the intellectual challenge of music. I would like to argue that as classical music increases spiritual and intellectual wellbeing it benefits our happiness as well. Or as Gustav Mahler put it: 'It is a funny thing, but when I am making music, all the answers I seek for in life seem to be there, in the music.'

I do wonder if one of our original sins, laziness, has caused this. What are the values that our politicians appreciate and how clever are their actions in the long run? If art institutions that further spiritual and intellectual development are driven down, leaders can only wonder at the rising cost of mental health care. If our society encourages the worship of critique-less, simple and ready-chewed culture, how can anything have an impact anymore?

Becoming cultured and educated facilitates knowledge, spiritual development and open-mindedness. The Danish National Chamber Orchestra has led the way in this with its versatile and varied programming policy and also achieved a broad, new group of patrons of classical music. I wish the policy-makers were cultured and educated enough to understand the value of intellectual development and to honour it in their decisions. By only offering people numbing, media-friendly gameshows we neither support intellectual development nor do we add to culture and education in society.

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