Is the South Bank Safe in These Hands? Director Jude Kelly Desperately Needs to Overhaul the Venue's Classical Music Programming. but She Won't Do It by Appointing Composers as Her Advisers
Byline: NORMAN LEBRECHT
AMONG the more obvious shortcomings of Jude Kelly's recently announced "vision" as artistic director of London's yawning South Bank, the shortest by a good head and shoulders is her self-assembly pack of artistic associates and advisers.
The very need for such a support system exposes Kelly's lack of confidence in the core area of musical programming at Britain's biggest arts centre.
The complex, comprising three concert halls - Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room - and the Hayward Art Gallery, has been strung together pretty much haphazardly over half a century with little by way of consistent policy beyond a tacit acceptance of the primacy of classical concerts.
For many years these were put on by any performing group or impresario with the price of a booking guarantee.
More recently, four orchestras - the Philharmonia, London Philharmonic, London Sinfonietta and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment - were given residency status with a view to adding coherence to the programming.
But the musicians stubbornly resisted mutual co-ordinations and the Arts Council at its most politically correct has been pressuring the South Bank to reduce classics while imposing a measurable cultural policy across its art forms.
Kelly, the ex-chief of West Yorkshire Playhouse and founder of West Hampstead's Metal art studio, has been candid about her insufficient musical knowledge and quick to make key appointments.
Marshall Marcus, formerly of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE), joins her as director of music, and Gillian Moore, previously of the London Sinfonietta, as head of contemporary culture. Their task will be to create overarching themes and co-ordinate them between four resident orchestras and visiting artists, a job once performed unpaid by an occasional clash committee. The South Bank is about controlling art and whatever else is rising there; the payroll is positively booming.
Beyond the initial hirings, Kelly has bolstered her regime with a panel of artistsinresidence and associate artists whose role is to come up with eye-catching cycles and ideas that will make the greyfaced arts centre competitive once more, both with Europe's finest and with the flourishing Barbican. These star associates are supposed to add celebrity, energy and a sorely needed X factor to the Arts Council-funded problem centre.
Unfortunately, Kelly's hat was low on rabbits. She named the young conductor Vladimir Jurowski artist-in-residence, but he already fulfils that role de facto as chief of the resident London Philharmonic and a regular with the OAE, which get first pick of his brains.
Kelly would have liked to parade Esa-Pekka Salonen as an associate, but the deceptively modernist Finnish conductor has yet to finalise a relationship with the Philharmonia Orchestra and was not prepared at this stage to nail his soughtafter colours to an inchoate South Bank.
So what she was left with in the classical foreground was a pair of English composers, Oliver Knussen and George Benjamin, generally well regarded and guaranteed in every way not to rock a boat. Knussen, 54, has been music director of the London Sinfonietta, artistic director at Aldeburgh and head of contemporary music at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts.
Benjamin, 46, founded the South Bank's Meltdown festival and was consultant to Radio 3 in its 20th-century-music seasons. Knussen is a Commander of the British Empire, Benjamin a Chevalier dans l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres, both lapel-busting members of the cultural Establishment. …