Sir: Yes, it is sad to see talents like Sir Simon Rattle and Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla leaving our shores (‘Rattled’, 30 January) and yes, the Brexit complications faced by British musicians are ludicrous. But both might be bearable if there were sufficient investment in grass-roots music here. At least then we could hope that the gap left by departing maestri would be quickly filled by homegrown talent. Unfortunately, the government continues to turn a blind eye to musical education, despite the many studies evidencing its benefits. Even before Covid-19 restrictions drove a stake through the sector, a recent report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Music Education showed that half of primary schools were failing in their curriculum obligations, while in over half of state-funded secondary schools, 11- to 14-year-olds were given no musical education at all.
Conductors, like football managers, are in large part a symptom of excellence more than a cause. Jürgen Klopp wouldn’t take my Sunday league team to the Champions League and Rattle/Gražinyte-Tyla wouldn’t get a great Mahler 9 out of my local community orchestra. However, with a bit of long-overdue investment in music education, British orchestras might soon find themselves spoilt for choice again.
The whole truth
Sir: As David Crane says, Sathnam Sanghera is anxious for the truth to be told about the British Empire (Books, 30 January). He would surely also want the whole, more recent, truth to be told. What can sometimes be overlooked is the work done by legions of people across the world whose only purpose in life, in all spheres of government, was to build institutions and improve people’s lives. This has to do on an untold scale with the scope and quality of governance. There were jobs to be done and there was much goodwill on both sides. The phrases imperialism and colonialism have no meaning in giving recognition to the achievements of these people whose legacy has also given shape to modern Britain. The Commonwealth stands as witness to this broader truth.
Sir: Matthew Parris is right to call for the recognition of the many people who have continued to work during this pandemic, including the self-employed (‘A salute to the “inessential”’, 30 January). The reasons are not just financial, but also to be there for customers. As a heating engineer in a rural area, I have fixed burst water mains in a local world-class stud that houses mares in foal; rescued an elderly lady who had water pouring from a burst pipe that had blown her electric consumer unit; replaced numerous hot-water cylinder elements and central heating pumps in homes. All this is done from a willingness to maintain some sort of normality for those in need (at all hours). Not essential in a medical sense, but nonetheless essential to daily life.
Sir: The long overdue factual assessment of Hungary’s place within the EU was at last provided by Fredrik Erixon (‘Franco-Hungarian empire’, 16 January). Viktor Orban is a genius of realpolitik who can always come up with the right soundbite to win his numerous elections or referenda, however bad the polls are the night before. Globally, he managed to become a good friend of Israel by being second only to Trump to accept Jerusalem as the capital. In the EU, he often manages to drag along one or two of his eastern European neighbours, sometimes most of them, when it matters. As a 1956 Hungarian protestor it hurts me to say this, but his excellent relations with Russia and China are testimony to his political acumen when it suits his purpose.
Meanwhile, having left his ‘Micron’ days behind, Macron uses the same methods: anything will do for him so long as he can manage a little Brit-bashing along the way to EU hegemony, now within sight.
Take the biscuit
Sir: Charles Moore (The Spectator’s Notes, 23 January) says he would rather work with someone who prefers digestives to custard creams. His prejudice does not need to end there. My father, who knew a thing or two about biscuits, disapproved of those who did not break their digestive in half before biting into it.
Deviating from Patten
Sir: Many years of experience have taught me that if you take the complete opposite view to Chris Patten you are normally right. This particularly applies to his verbose and grandiose article ‘Lessons from Hong Kong’ (16 January).
Sir: Sam Leith is correct in saying a pair of DMs goes well with formal wear, but I question his assertion that they ‘will last you a good two or three years at least’ (Notes on, 30 January). The ones I bought in 1996 while a PR bod at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders are in almost daily use, and still going strong.
Sir: The fact that the present Archbishop of Canterbury finds it necessary to have a ‘Chief of Staff and Strategy’ (Letters, 30 January) tells us all we need to know. As a lifelong member of the Church of England I would have thought those functions resided with God.