Schoenberg Quartet

Schönberg Kwartet




25 years book

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Air of another planet

A quarter century of musical conviction

The Schoenberg Quartet celebrates a milestone

Niek Nelissen

Grant problems

Financially speaking the Schoenberg Quartet was not exactly in tip top condition at the outset of its independence in 1991. From a grant awarded to the Schoenberg Ensemble, partly intended for rehearsals and concerts of the Schoenberg Quartet, the quartet received a sum of 80,000 guilders both in 1991 and 1992. Prior to the instigation of the new government cultural plan, the quartet applied for a grant of 72,000 guilders. In 1992 the Arts Council advised against awarding the grant. This still arouses the ire of Ad ‘s-Gravesande, the first chairman of the board. “Given the fact that the composition of the quartet had changed, the Council decided the quartet first had to prove itself all over again. Apart from that kind of nonsense, you have to ask yourself what they were actually required to prove for 72,000 guilders. The Arts Council committees were always curiously put together. That was the case over and over again. The nice thing about chamber music, though, is that the quartet members were quite convinced the committee members had never actually been to one of their concerts. I’m not trying to claim the musicians always played from memory so that they could actually peer into the audiences they were playing for. However, attendance at chamber music concerts is relatively modest. If you happen to be giving a coffee concert in Doetinchem, for instance, you really do notice whether somebody from the Arts Council has shown up. The fact is they had simply never been and their assessments were not based on their own observations but on a review or two.”

The board decided to mobilise a campaign of support under the motto ‘Save the Schoenberg Quartet’. Many admirers of the quartet wrote to Culture Minister Hedy d’Ancona, impressing upon her the error made by the Arts Council. Cherry Duyns pointed out that more money had been budgeted for the riot police to take on a handful of football supporters. Marius Flothuis argued vehemently “not to snatch this money away from an ensemble that was already in financial difficulties, but rather to consult your esteemed colleague at the Ministry of Defence as to whether he might not be able to miss a little wherewithal.” Lodewijk de Boer found it “a downright disgrace and reason enough to give the responsible members of your Council a good thrashing and to send them to bed without supper.” Nor were well-known musicians slow to speak up. Simon Rattle wrote to d’Ancona expressing his amazement at the “short-sightedness of approving a cut that saves so little money and threatens one of the finest Dutch artistic institutions.” An ‘ardent venerator of the Schoenberg Quartet’, Hans Werner Henze wrote to the chairman of the Permanent Chamber Committee for Culture that it was impossible to imagine the European musical scene bereft of the ensemble. Among others who made comparable pleas were Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Chailly and Sofia Gubaidulina.

In addition to the support campaign the board also decided to approach Members of Parliament. “It seemed sensible to me,”‘ recalls ‘s-Gravesande, “to get a Member on our side. MPs can score points with this kind of thing. They may just manage to come up with reasons to make adjustments. There is a chance of success especially when the work of a particular body is held in high esteem. Most receptive of all was Aad Nuis, the next State Secretary for Culture. During a parliamentary debate he managed to reverse the decision to refuse the grant.” The fact that the ministry itself had become completely convinced of the quartet’s qualities became apparent two years later, when it requested the Schoenberg Quartet to perform during the opening of the Cin-Bal de l’Aubette in Strasbourg. Returning in a government aircraft, the quartet, thinking back on the problems of 1992, must have felt a certain satisfaction.