Norman Lebrecht

Will Britain’s orchestras survive the Brexit exodus?

In the first month of Brexit, two British orchestras were publicly beheaded. The London Symphony Orchestra was shocked to discover that its music director, Sir Simon Rattle, had taken a better job in Munich, while the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra was forced to accept that its luminous Lithuanian, Mirga Gražinyte-Tyla, was simply too hot to hold any longer. Some pundits quickly predicted a post-Brexit talent haemorrhage.

Of the two decapitations, the LSO’s was by far the more painful. Rattle is a totemic figure, a tousle-haired Liverpudlian who learned his scores in public libraries and won a music scholarship from the local council. He is the ultimate welfare-state success story, with a knighthood and an Order of Merit to show for it. He spent 18 years converting rustbelt Birmingham into a musical mecca.

That this personable, unpretentious, dedicated man should now declare his future in Europe and apply for German citizenship is a severe shock to the system. At the darkest hour, with concert halls shuttered and musicians facing visa hell, Rattle’s defection is being regarded, rightly or wrongly, as a loss of faith. I have heard the word ‘betrayal’ muttered by senior figures. His appearance last week at the head of a petition for renegotiating EU access for British musicians was greeted with hollow laughs. Not since Sir Thomas Beecham flitted off to America in the spring of 1940 has a conductor’s departure aroused such heated emotions.

‘And this little piggy didn’t go anywhere due to problems with the paperwork.’

Rattle is more than just well loved; he is sorely needed. He is the Marcus Rashford of classical music, the only maestro who can melt Etonian hearts in power. Without him, music in this country will be weaker.

Barely had that baton dropped before Birmingham lost the most brilliant conductor of a new generation, a shy Baltic woman with more natural energy than the North Sea.

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