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Why travelling musicians are worried about a no-deal Brexit

Handel could only work here thanks to his very own Act of Parliament. No wonder less well-connected musicians are sweating about the implications of crashing out of the EU, says Claire Jackson

Music is often credited with an ability to break down barriers and transcend social and political boundaries. But the metaphorical aspect of this tagline relies on the realisation of the literal: musicians actually need to physically travel to reach audiences. As Brexit negotiations go on (and on), the industry is becoming increasingly itchy about the implications of a no-deal exit from the EU. The British mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly has been among musicians campaigning on the front line against the end of freedom of movement, reminding MPs that, as reported by the Incorporated Society of Musicians, a third of instrumentalists and singers rely on work in the EU for at least half their income.

Jacob Rees-Mogg had a textbook epic fail when he recently used the example of Handel to claim that cultural exchange is possible without the EU. The Tory MP claimed that the German composer was permitted to work in England – where he spent most of his career and wrote works including Water Music and Messiah – with ease. Theatre director Sir Nicholas Hytner put Rees-Mogg right by pointing out that an Act of Parliament was passed in 1727 to allow Handel to earn a salary as a composer for George I. Well, that’s the answer, then: post-Brexit, we’ll all individually secure royal patronage and seek parliamentary approval. Easy peasy!

Against this backdrop of political turmoil comes more positive development. Bauer Media, which owns Kiss FM and Magic, is launching a new classical music radio station. Scala Radio goes on air on March 4 and promises an accessible format to appeal to new fans of the genre. Presenters include Simon Mayo and film critic Mark Kermode, who will include film scores throughout his programme. There will also be segments by Goldie and William Orbit (whose remix of Barber’s Adagio for Strings was one of the first electro-classical ‘cross-over’ tracks to enjoy popular success). This column has previously touched upon the wealth of high-quality classical radio programming already in existence, particularly via the two main stations, Classic FM and Radio 3. In a market that’s – if not exactly crowded, certainly busy – is there really room for another specialist output?

Post-Brexit, we’ll all individually secure royal patronage and seek parliamentary approval. Easy peasy!

Apparently so: Bauer’s research, reported in TheObserver, indicates that classical music is enjoying a growth in popularity among the under-35s, with almost half (45 per cent) of young people saying they see classical music as an escape from the noise of modern life (see above). The research cited orchestral performances at film screenings as a way that this age group had first accessed the genre, as well as instrumental versions of pop songs (which isn’t classical music at all, but if it’s working as a gateway, that’s all well and good).

One artist who is slated to be a regular fixture in Scala Radio’s playlist is Sir Karl Jenkins, who celebrates his 75th birthday on February 17. The Armed Man: A Mass For Peace, written for the millennium, has been performed more than 2,500 times since its premiere in 1999, making Jenkins one of the most-played living composers. His latest release, Piano (Decca), features keyboard arrangements of popular works, as well as two new compositions.He performs in Glasgow (March 3), Birmingham (March 10) and Manchester (March 16) as part of a birthday tour.

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