BRITAIN MAY never again produce composers of the stature of Edward Elgar, Ralph Vaughan Williams, or even Harrison Birtwistle. The young men and women who should be stepping into the shoes of Tippett and Nyman are discovering it is almost impossible to make a living out of classical music.
According to Michael Berkeley, chairman of the board of the Royal Opera House, artistic director of the Cheltenham Music Festival and a leading composer: "The future for young composers is bleak." Lack of money is also making it impossible for British music festivals to work with the world's top composers although European rivals can, he told the Independent on Sunday last week.
A cut of up to 80 per cent of Arts Council money for new commissions in the past five years has left even well-established composers struggling to attract work. Indeed, their financial difficulties are about to be compounded by new rules at the Performing Rights Society, which will slash their royalties. Mr Berkeley said he was particularly concerned at the impact on young composers, who might be lucky to get pounds 3,000 to pounds 5,000 a year for a couple of commissions with accompanying educational workshops. "It is absolutely ludicrous that, as we're about to go into the new millennium, we're probably facing the worst situation for young composers for the past half century." Mr Berkeley said the cuts meant that figures such as this year's composer- in-residence at Cheltenham, Mark-Anthony Turnage, were not receiving the recompense they deserved. And he added: "I can't even begin to commission the great 20th-century composers like Kurtag, Ligeti or Henze." Mr Berkeley is to raise the problem with Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, tomorrow. The Cheltenham Festival has a strong tradition of introducing new works to the British public. But now it must rely more on pieces already premiered overseas to maintain the policy. Whereas in the past it commissioned a new small-scale opera every year, this is now possible only every other year. …