Abigail's Blog: The Brexit Blog
Earlier this week Royal Northern Sinfonia headed out of the UK to France – a journey within the European Union as EU citizens. This Saturday they will leave the European Union as they cross the border to return to the UK as non EU citizens. In between they will play 5 concerts with their Music Director Lars Vogt as part of La Folle Journee Festival in Nantes – they feature for a third time in this extraordinary festival – the largest classical music festival in France – which reaches 1000s of audience members by – totally improbably – scheduling performances non-stop over 11 hours each day over several days. The word crazy in the festival’s name is completely justified! On return to the UK on Sunday, RNS will head to London’s Barbican to be part of a weekend festival with 5 performances by England’s leading orchestras celebrating the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. To complete the picture, last week they played to audiences across the North of England – in Middlesbrough, Carlisle and at home in Sage Gateshead. A fortnight which represents what RNS and many other orchestras are – regional, national international.
On Tuesday this week, the Orchestre National de Lille arrived from France to the UK to begin a UK tour – a journey within the European Union. On Sunday when they return to France, they will do so from outside the European Union. The orchestra played at Sage Gateshead this week – the tour was built around their Music Director Alexandre Bloch’s love of Sage One at Sage Gateshead. He has performed in it with Royal Northern Sinfonia and when planning his first tour in his capacity as Music Director for Orchestre Nationale de Lille, he wanted to bring them to Gateshead. They arrive with a delegation of business and civic leaders and with an aim to signal the importance of and continue to strengthen Franco-UK relations. The Hauts-de-France region has strong links with the UK – 5,500 businesses are actively trading with the UK. The tour is a chance for audiences in the UK to hear music performed in a different way by a different group of musicians. But it’s also a way of making connections and a catalyst for business and civic conversations to happen between the two countries.
None of this is unusual. It’s just what orchestras do. And the symmetry and symbolism in these border crossings is total happenstance, let’s be clear. You will be relieved to know that orchestra tours are planned much further in advance and with greater efficiency than Brexit has been. So this exchange over the top of our Brexit date is pure coincidence.
But it shines a light on a very simple and quite important matter. The arts and culture are relational – they can create links between people and ideas. We tend to think of this in relation to the role of the arts and culture in local communities. But it is equally true across international borders. And this has been going on for centuries – the arts and culture have long woven the fabric of international relations.
As leaving the EU will cause us to think about the practicalities of international relations, so it might also cause us to think about the softer end of international relations. We may see that culture can play an active and effective role in sustaining and building links. The fact Royal Northern Sinfonia is invited to headline the biggest classical music festival in France and that the Orchestre National de Lille brings a delegation of leaders on tour to meet with leaders in each region it visits – not just the capital – is a powerful reminder that people exchange and build relations with other people and that the cultural and social exchange around the arts can be significant.
Whatever our individual views of Brexit itself, the shifts which are coming in our dealings with other European countries are an opportunity to use cultural exchange to underpin newly defined ties and relations. The arts have a long standing track record in doing this and my sense is that artists and the sector will only step up the energy on this front in coming years. We could have a very culturally rich time ahead of us.