Art and Politics

Presenting the Toonzetters Prize 2010

A few years ago, I was elected chairman of the board of the Dutch Composers Union (GeNeCo). I was a bit reluctant to take this position, but one of the reasons I decided to do it was that we would be celebrating our 100th anniversary in 2011. In my first year as chairman, I was also elected to the board of the performing rights organization, BUMA/STEMRA. A new world opened up for me. Suddenly the fairy tale world of composing, of willing musicians and applauding audience – or the petty fights between composers about commissions and stipends – turned into a provincial theatre piece compared to the millions of euros, testosterone and political bulldozing that I was confronted with in the world of the performing rights organizations. I’d never suspected that what a German Supreme Court judge or a European minister thought would, could or should have an effect on a composer. And yet there I was, between representatives from Universal, Bertelsmann, Sony, trying to defend the ever-decreasing territory that is called modern classical music. I quickly had to shed my innocence and naivety, and even after years of experience on both boards, I sometimes still feel overwhelmed by political forces. One has to tread so carefully. One would think that all composers in the Netherlands have the same interests: a flourishing music scene, media attention, and these days an active lobby in The Hague, and a presence on internet and the social media, among other things.

But we can’t even seem to get all of the modern classical composers lined up on the issues. On top of that, on the BUMA board I have colleagues in the pop and multimedia music. And then to make things even more difficult, many composers are also music publishers. It often is a very tricky and treacherous path, trying to form alliances in order to protect the modern classical music. Sometimes I support the implementing of certain legislation only to turn around and find out that I put my position on another board in danger. It seems pretty ironic to be able to undermine your own position while trying so desperately to defend it. These personal reflections, though, are just that. The other side of the coin is that the 100th anniversary of GeNeCo was an overwhelming success, and most recently it looks like I have won the battle in getting an allocation of a nice sum of money for music education in the primary school system.

And then it’s pretty ironic to think that music education has almost completely disappeared from the primary schools. Maybe that’s the reason why this modern classical composer was elected to these boards – to change that situation.

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