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Sep 16 / Simon

Favourite themes taken from life

Art Quarterly, Summer 2014
Simon Taitcelebrates a book focusing on Rembrandt’s sources of inspiration

Rembrandt’s Themes: Life into Art; Richard Verdi; Yale University Press; £25

If you want the essence of this book at a glance, look no further than the frontispiece. The illustration Richard Verdi and his publishers have chosen is not one of the savagely honest self-portraits Rembrandt made throughout his life, nor the exploration of the tragic Titus – did a father ever know a son so well? – nor the glimmering landscapes (though some of the more intimate portraits appear towards the end of the book). It is a simple etching of indigent travellers at the door of a rather grudging householder who is dropping a few coins into a hesitant-looking palm, because these are not habitual mendicants but ordinary people fallen upon hard times. This is Rembrandt the man speaking.

Verdi hurries into his subject leaving behind the biographical facts he assumes we all know – for the record, Rembrandt died in 1669 aged 63 – along with his best known works, old ground not necessary to cover again. He is searching the life of the man looking back from the difficult later years when he was out of fashion and lack of commissions and penury forced him to look deep into his own psyche and powers of invention for his narratives. These are Rembrandt’s best work, and Verdi ranges back through his career to find their sources.

The book sprang from a series of lectures Verdi gave in New York the mid-80s to accompany an exhibition of Rembrandt etchings. He skips aside the arguments of attribution that have dogged Rembrandt scholars in recent years, and brings the gaze of a non-expert, he avers, to bear on relatively few works connecting them with what was happening in Rembrandt’s imploding life. His 1654 version of Bathsheba, contemplating David’s letter summoning her to his bed, has Uriah’s wife almost lasciviously proclaiming her nakedness and with the features of his mistress Hendrickje, the very year in which she was summoned by Amsterdam’s church council three times to answer charges of “acting like a whore”, presumably for living with the painter out of wedlock. He’d been here before: Hendrickje appears as Bathsheba in a much smaller version with a more modest nudity, an arm across her breast, a gauze kerchief in her lap, the year after Rembrandt’s wife Saskia had died.

Biblical stories were Rembrandt’s favourite themes, despite the Netherlands’ Calvinist church forbidding sacred imagery, and he returns to them for his uncommissioned work, but with slightly different takes on the familiar tales. He choses to make a drawn version of the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt, for instance, which has them preparing to leave, not actually en route as they are more usually depicted, and Verdi returns to the theme of this subject which Rembrandt painted almost throughout his life. More than two dozen versions survive and in none of them are the figures formally posed in the traditional manner.

Rembrandt, like Durer before him and Hogarth later, made ends meet by creating etchings he could make prints from, and Verdi has found an important influence on him in his home town of Leiden in Lucas van Leyden whose drawings and prints he collected from his 20s. They gave Rembrandt a source of subject matter as well as instruction in this very particular and technically complex form, and it is in these black and white works on paper that Rembrandt commands the high drama if narrative, such as his 1653 etching The Three Crosses. Verdi acknowledges, too, the debt Rembrandt owes to his teacher in Amsterdam Pieter Lastman for his painting and to his fellow Lastman pupil Jan Lievens with whom he worked back home in Leiden, working up themes between them in their own styles.

So biblical themes seem to have dominated Rembrandt’s creative intent throughout his career, despite the religious strictures of Holland at the time, and Verdi shows us the artist’s development through them from his formative Leiden years in the 1630s but skipping past his fame to the painful final decade when, for instance, his 1654 etching, Presentation in the Temple, another favourite theme, is so sparingly drawn and so poignant as to make the drawing move in the imagination.

Sep 16 / Simon

Lost Arts

The Musician, Summer 2014
With funding failing across the board, what future is there for the arts in the UK? The Musician explores how the Lost Arts campaign is recording the losses…
Feature by Simon Tait

Sir Richard Eyre, the former artistic director of the National Theatre, was in euphoric mood at the recent Olivier Awards. He had every right to be. His production of Ibsen’s Ghosts at the Almeida had just won three statuettes. “There is something emancipating about doing a show outside the West End where you didn’t think you have to hit the jackpot every time. You’re not panicking about whether you can fill the theatre”.

But by saying that, Eyre betrays that he is living in a vacuum. Barely a month before the glittering presentation night at the Royal Opera House, Nottingham Playhouse, where Sir Richard cut his teeth as a director and artistic direct or of a theatre, was told that Nottingham County Council was scrapping all of its £94,500 annual grant despite a well-supported online campaign. It’s worth about 6% of its turnover, but it will mean something in the Playhouse’s offer can no longer happen.

Even inside the bubble of national London-based funding, the cuts are having their effect. In March at the National Theatre, where Eyre was boss for ten years, five musicians who had been the on-stage accompaniment for the smash-hit War Horse were fired i replaced by a recording. An injunction application on their behalf by the Musicians’ Union failed.

These two instances give a sense of the range of the challenge facing Britain’s culture, and the magnitude of the fight to keep to a minimum casualties in the fight to prevent the loss of art.

Lost Arts is a campaign set up in 2011 by eight unions whose members are directly affected by the cuts in cultural funding: The Musicians’ Union, Equity, BECTU, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the National Union of Journalists, UNITE, Prospect, the PCS and the Federation of Entertainment Unions, a who between them span every sector of the arts and culture in the UK.

Its aim is to inform the next spending review by recording and cataloguing the projects, events, initiatives, performances, organisations and companies that are being lost because of cuts in public funding. “When we get to the end of the three year funding round we can be pretty sure that we won’t get the money back that’s been cut,” said the MU’s general secretary, John Smith. “So we’re going to have to be in a position to remind government and the public just what the nation’s lost”.

Maddy Radcliff is the MU’s campaigns and public affairs officer who has nurtured and tended the Lost Arts website for the last two years. “We are facing an unprecedented attack on our artistic and cultural life,” she said. “Central government is cutting arts funding as well as local authority funding that supports arts and culture where we live. With less money, arts organisations are cutting down what they can do and hiring fewer people to do it. It’s proving tough for them to survive. The big ones might have the money and the time to hire fundraisers or re-train staff, but that’s not true of everyone. Smaller organisations are struggling, and from the list you can see some have already closed.

“Right now, the creative economy accounts for 1 out of every 12 jobs in the UK. Arts and culture businesses make up about half of that. These aren’t just statistics – it includes all of us as artists and musicians. That’s why feeding in to Lost Arts is so important. So that we can make a collective case for the value of arts and culture, to us and our communities, before government.” (

The Lost Arts website gives the latest reports of where the cuts hare being felt, starting at the top with just over £14m from the British Library and nearly £5m from the V&A, both directly funded by DCMS. The cuts to the British Library, many of whose staff are members of Prospect which also represents museum and archive staff, have seen staff members reduced by a third, salaries for those remaining frozen for four years so far, and acquisition and conservation budgets severely slashed. Meanwhile, the BL contributes £4 to the economy for every £1 in funding it receives, said Prospect’s national officer Sarah Ward. “Our research clearly demonstrates that Prospect members are absolutely passionate about the work they do, they’re committed to their museums and galleries, to archaeology and to heritage,” she said. “However, these years of government cuts have had such a detrimental impact that motivation is at an all-time low, and members are genuinely concerned about what the future holds.”

From the Arts Council’s national portfolio, English National Opera has lost £777,000, English National Ballet £581,014, and Opera North £915,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, Manchester’s Castlefield Gallery has lost all its ££98,600 ACE funding as has Foursite, the women’s theatre company, whose £174,000 grant also went. For the gallery it meant a reformation, finding other ways of earning through, among other things, capitalising on its city centre property. For Foursite it meant the end, and the company closed after 25 years. Polka Theatre, the South London children’s company, has lost all of its £609,000 annual grant and so is having to rely heavily on the support of its audiences, and on top of its cut from the county council Nottingham Playhouse has lost £61,000 from ACE.

Music suffers in the latest Lost Arts reports, too. The London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia – joint residents at the Southbank Centre – have each lost £92,000, the LSO £100,000, the North Music Trust which runs the Sage Gateshead and with it the Royal Northern Sinfonia, £164,000, the London Sinfonietta £47,000 and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment £19,000. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic has lost £986,000 in its revenue funding, but has been awarded £240,000 from the Arts Council’s Catalyst Fund over three years to enable to raise its fundraising operation.

The nationally subsidised arts are at the point when the Lost Arts data will come into play, with Arts Council England to announce on July 1 how it will spread £271m in grant-in aid and £60m in National Lottery funding for National Portfolio organisations for 2015-2016 – the government has only confirmed ACE’s funding to 2016, not for the full cycle to 2018. The investment, as ACE prefers to call its grant-giving, has been £1.4 billion between March 2012 and April 2015 and the projected settlement for 2015-16 represents a further cut.

So far since 2011 national arts subsidy has fallen by 33%, meticulously meted out by the Arts Council to avoid major casualties, but casualties there have been. In 2008 the Arts Council had 880 regularly funded organisations on its list, that is cultural concerns in receipt of annual revenue; from 2011, and renamed national portfolio organisations, there were 696 after a 30% cut to its grant in aid.

Since then, ACE says, the arts have been resilient under the pressure of cuts, they have been inventive, open, and consultative, prepared to make partnerships with other arts organisations to not only save money but to expand operations. It has, ACE says, been a hard but uplifting experience. From now, though it is going to be much tougher and the uplifts more difficult to identify. Larger organisations and project are likely to find themselves without Arts Council revenue funding though ACE will not confirm that any of the eight major symphony orchestras it has funded for decades will lose NPO status.

ACE had had another cut for 2014/15 of 1.7% and for 2015/16 another 1.3%, and since the Arts Council itself was compelled to take 50% cut to its operations those cuts will have to be passed on, as sensitively as possible according to its spokeswoman: “We will look to protect the budget for funded organisations and will instead reduce our strategic budgets – the investments we make to support the wider development of arts organisations and audiences across the country”. IN 2014/14 ACE will also be able to use £28.3m of lottery money as revenue for the priority areas of touring and young people.

But the arts have been squeezed by a pincer movement of national funding cuts and local authority reductions, and the future in that quarter is even more uncertain. Business sponsorship and philanthropy have so failed to be the Seventh Cavalry, while according to the latest figures from Arts & Business trusts and foundations, such as the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Esmé Fairbairn Foundation, have increased their support to a point where some are seriously depleting their endowments.

Local authority funding has traditionally been at least the equal of the national subsidy for the arts, but between 2010/11 and 2012/13 the net expenditure for cultural services went down £3.378 billion to £2.9 billion, or 10%. Looked at in more detail, however, we find that funding by councils on arts development went down in the period by 5%, on theatres and public entertainment by 7%, on archives by 10% and on museums and galleries by 15%.

BECTU’s assistant general secretary, Luke Crawley, wants a change in the law to protect local funding.
“We’re trying to get the Labour Party to make a manifesto commitment, and it seems to have some traction, that arts funding in local areas will be statutory, the same way as spending on schools is statutory, so that local authorities will have no choice but to spend money on the arts,” he said. “We think that would go some way to heading off the most vicious cuts, and the way to stop threats of 100% cuts”.

Martin Brown, assistant general secretary of Equity, points to “extremely alarming” developments, such as Cardiff Council substantially withdrawing from funding its theatres, but he also has sympathy for those local authorities. “The arts councils are there to support the arts, nothing else, it’s their job. It is not for local authorities for whom costs for essential services are outstripping inflation and their income is going down. We fear we may be seeing a backing out of arts funding by local authorities that can never be reversed. The structural shift to the way live arts are funded we believe is really alarming.

“The funded theatre sector is a massively important generator of employment, not only directly on stages but because the work of funded theatres goes into not only the commercial theatre but into film and television, creating more employment again. I’m not sure the government has got that.”

The Writers; Guild’s assistant general secretary, Ellie Peers, fears a freezing of playwrights’ careers because subsidised theatres, for so long the breeding ground for new work, are cutting their development programmes in order to continue to keep their theatres from going dark by putting on standard repertory. She points to the up to 25% tax breaks the government is offering for theatre production coming into effect ion September, but how it will work is still unclear. “”It may help the theatres that remain to stay afloat, but for those that have closed it will be extremely difficult to revive.

“The money the creative industries bring to the economy is massive, but if you have a scenario where people cannot be paid for gong into that industry, because they simply can’t afford to, it’s a false economy, and very short-termism. New writing is how our theatre flourishes.”

In April this year the National Campaign for the Arts, the lobbying group founded in 1985 by Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell, has launched a 50p campaign following the revelation that the contribution of local government to the arts has been steadily falling from 20p a head two years ago to 16p a head now. The NCS co-commissioned Ipsos/MORI to carry out a poll which showed that, even in these difficult times, local authorities should be investing at least 50p a head in arts , museums an heritage. It showed that nearly 90% wanted some funding for the arts, while in fact sewve4ral contribute nothing and others are considering 100% cuts to what they give to their cultural life, following the examples of Somerset County Council and the London Borough of Westminster.

The NCA’s chair is the actor and director Samuel West, son of two doughty campaigners for the arts, Prunella Scales and Timothy West. “Because investment levels are so small – less than half a penny in every pound – cutting them won’t balance the books,” he said. “Instead, it will make independent cultural organisations unsustainable and could make the UK cultural desert spread”.
Last year the NCA published its index, its annual health check for the arts (the next is published this autumn to chime with the party conferences), which showed how much harder arts organisations are having to work to get the funding they need. While subsidy has been sliding from both national and local sources, business sponsorship and individual giving are both falling, despite the government’s ambitions for philanthropy as a major source for cultural funding. The index also found that while employment in the arts is down, earning by the cultural sector is up – “This could suggest that arts organisations are working harder to produce great art with fewer people,” the report says.
The cultural sector has become adept at making its financial case for subsidy and for private funding, and it will become harder. While the economy appears to be reviving and coming out of the dark age of recession, the Arts Council warns that the cultural economy is traditionally three years behind the national situation, so that in practical terms the arts are where the country was in 2011. It means the campaign has to get even more urgent, said Sam West: “It’s difficult to put figures on the value of the arts to us because the government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.

Figures box

Arts Council England’s grant in aid

2009/10 444m
2010/11 449m
2011/12 338m
2012/13 360m
2013/14 352m
2014/15 350m

Regional breakdown of National Portfolio organisations

Region No of RFOs No of NPOs 2010/11 RFO funding 2014/15 Grant in aid Lottery funding for children and young people organisations Indicative Lottery funding earmarked for touring
East 34 30 11,017,813 10,714,731 1,295,189 875,000
East Midlands 54 42 11,326,007 9,939,532 947,408 566,000
London 277 250 178,853,242 164,851,588 1,626,878 6,517,000
North East 69 42 14,553,407 14,749,130 509,000 371,000
North West 109 85 24,643,339 24,298,468 1,423,000 435,000
South East 54 46 14,693,145 15,036,158 1,607,323 707,000
South West 78 69 17,248,321 15,489,543 926,355 1,294,000
West Midlands 66 51 48,955,631 42,348,396 1,183,208 4,383,000
Yorkshire 105 80 27,680,224 25,309,851 1,073,000 2,876,000

Top and bottom local authorities for cultural funding in pence spent per head of population
Top 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
1 City of London
2 Middlesbrough
3 Exeter
4 Kingston upon Hull
5 Eastbourne
5 Manchester
7 Maldon
7 Norwich
9 Cheltenham
10 Leicester
Bottom 10 Areas
Rank Area £pppw ?
309 Wealden
309 Adur
319 Selby
319 Bath and North East Somerset
319 Forest of Dean
319 Isles of Scilly
319 North Somerset
319 Wigan
319 Wokingham
319 Huntingdonshire


Samuel West, actor and chair, National Campaign for the Arts

“The government will have us talk in economic terms, but what’s at stake is not money, it’s not even art, it’s something more fundamental that that. It is our identity”.

Sep 16 / Simon

Archives are brought together for keeps

Simon Tait
The Times, 30-8-2014
A sprawling white block nestling in a fold of the Sussex Downs, at first sight “The Keep” lives up to its name: a fortress. But this keep is very much an open stronghold, one that is welcoming upwards of 16,000 visitors a year to see and use the extraordinary archives it houses.

This new bastion near Falmer is a £19m archive centre, a collaboration between East Sussex County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council and the University of Sussex. “We are a keep in the sense of safeguarding, not of excluding anyone or anything,” says the county archivist, Elizabeth Hughes. “We are very much a public resource”.

All three institutions have consigned their historic material to The Keep, which is the centralisation of eight different collections, and it has taken nine years to plan.

The collections remain the responsibility of the different institutions, but for the public’s purposes they are integrated, with a single retrieval system especially developed for The Keep.

The collections date back to 1101 with charters such as that of Battle Abbey, built on the site of the Battle of Hastings, of about 1140. A goldmine for family history explorers are the parish and church records from 1538, giving details of births, marriages and deaths.

There is a strange little object in a small pot which turns out to be Gundrada’s Tooth, filched in the mid-19th century from the coffin of the 11th century wife of William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, when it had been unearthed in Lewes. It is here as an archive rather than in a museum as an object because it arrived accompanied by a document, which is the letter from the person who took it from the coffin confessing their crime and consigning their booty to posterity.

There is an unrivalled group of early maps, so detailed even the sheep grazing in a 17th century chart appear to be portraits. One of 18th century Brighthelmstone shows the lay-out of the individually held arable strips, known in Sussex dialect as “laines”, which explains the symmetry of Brighton’s modern system of roads some of which are still called laines.

Early books to be found include a late 15th century Caxton imprint of Ranulph Higden’s 14th century Polychronicon, his history of the world as it was then perceived. And the medical encyclopaedia of Ambrose Parey of the 1670s in which the chirurgeon explains, in graphic illustrated detail, the treatment of wounds, and shows a mixture of mythical creatures and actual monstrosities, or “monsters caused by the defect of seed”.

There is the photographic record of the village of Telscombe by the horse trainer Ambrose Goreham, who trained the 1902 Grand National winner, Shannon Lass, there, with every villager captured and identified. And Charles I’s coded letter of 1646 to John Ashburnham in Paris in which he asks for the news to be passed to his queen, Henrietta Maria, that his cause was lost.

The university brings the Bloomsbury Archives, including the Monks House Papers that document Virginia Woolf’s whole career as well as her correspondence with the likes of T S Eliot, Noel Coward and Katherine Mansfield. In the Archives of Rudyard Kipling are the author’s own exquisite drawings made for his Just So Stories, and the letters to his cousin Stanley Baldwin.

Also from the university comes the Mass Observation Archive, the chronicles of everyday life by those living it, begun in 1937, revived after a 25 year break in 1981 and still being added to.

The Keep has built-in expansion – “The only certain thing about archives,” Hughes says – with space for the current 6.5 miles of shelving to grow to ten miles, and the building is expected to last for 60 years.

“Growth has never abated,” says Christopher Whittick, the senior archivist. “There I is still old stuff out there, some of which we know the whereabouts of and it’s only a matter of time before we get it, and other stuff that pops out of the woodwork”. The Keep has no purchasing budget, but an active and generous Friends organisation which allows Whittick to haunt sale rooms and even watch eBay where he has had several important finds.

Family history research will continue to be a popular pursuit, but its nature is changing, Hughes says. Because much preliminary research can now be found online, visitors are likely to be doing different searches. “They can prepare themselves better, they can spend more time doing deeper research – not just who their grandparents were but where they lived, what the industry there was, what their education was likely to have been,” she says. “There are fewer people researching, but they are using more documents, and also using more obscure documents”.

Jun 10 / Simon

The Big Interview – John Berry

The Stage, 8/6/2014
The English National Opera artistic director’s bold, contemporary programming has divided audiences, but he seems to have steered the ENO through the 2011 financial crisis. He tells Simon Tait about th company’s plans for commercial partnerships and a new relationship with the public, and why surviving cancer has made him unafraid of risk

For John Berry, English National Opera’s artistic director, the microcosm of the surreal switchback ride ENO has been on for the last couple of decades and more came on a balmy spring evening in 2012 at the Royal Opera House when the company picked up three Olivier Awards for the previous season.

“What you didn’t know then was that we’d had a real blip,” he says. “The arts council grant was down, the economy was tricky, box office was tough, a whole series of issues came together in 2011, and it was the very season when we won the Olivier for ‘outstanding achievement in opera for breadth and diversity of work’”.

It was very the season for which the company recorded a season deficit of £2.2m. “It’s an opera, really, isn’t it?” he says.

That switchback ride seems to have been up on artistic highs like that season’s Castor and Pollux to financial crises when the arts council – whose grant, though reduced, is still worth half the ENO annual turnover – has had to bale it out.

There will be no more bale-outs, Berry says unequivocally, the fairground ride has stopped. The loss of 2011 was cancelled not by ACE but by using reserves the company had decided to build up, and for last season will show a surplus of £200,000-plus. In April he announced a season as risky as any, but also a development programme that will change its business plan and the public’s relationship with the company.

Next year John Berry will celebrate 20 years at ENO and he is credited with the contemporary programming that has delighted and sometimes horrified audiences, which has brought new people to the Coliseum, ENO’s home, and kept traditional opera lovers away. He has been called both reckless and inspired, and he is presiding over the company’s biggest changes since Lilian Baylis created it 83 years ago.

At 24 John Berry was a promising clarinet player who had won one of just two scholarships to study the instrument at the Royal Northern College of Music (he was born in Lancashire and grew up in Cheshire) who had gone on to New York to study with Gervase de Peyer. He had been feeling unwell for some time and went for a check up. “The doctor said, ‘I hope it’s TB’”.

He returned to Manchester, went from the airport straight to Christie’s Hospital and found that it wasn’t TB but Hodgkin’s Disease, usually fatal then, and that the cancer had spread to his chest. Through 1985 and 1986, under the care of the pioneering oncologist Derek Crowther, he underwent operations, chemo and radiotherapy which failed, he had two treatments that failed he was given an experimental combination therapy not then used in this country. The tumour began to respond and by 1986 was gone. It has never returned.

His lungs damaged, however, his playing career was over and he launched into a different career, setting up a series of music schools in Cheshire, called Sounds Alive, with 500 pupils. “The cancer changed me, changed everything,” he says.

At the RNCM he had been captivated by the voice, with some of his classmates being a generation of great singers including Jane Eaglen, Clive Bayley and Barry Banks. In 1990 he founded the Brereton International Symposium masterclasses in Cheshire, sponsored by Jerwood, to which he brought stars such as Birgit Nilsson, Thomas Hampson, Renata Scotto and Brigitte Fassbaender. “When you’re as naïve as I was you don’t think about writing to someone like Nilsson, but she rang back and said she’d love to come – because it was private. Tom Hampson has become a life-long friend”.

He became a singers’ agent, an advisor to the Royal College of Music and the Hallé Orchestra and a consultant on BBC and Channel 4 opera film projects, but was still running his summer school when he joined ENO as casting director in 1995. He arrived on the cusp of the change between Dennis Marks, who hired him, and Nicholas Payne –still a friend and mentor – as ENO directors and rode the controversial three year reign of Sean Doran before the arrival of Loretta Tomasi as chief executive, a new title. By then Berry, now 52, had risen through director of opera planning to become, in 2005, artistic director.

“Under Loretta and me there has been no bale out. There were good years and not so good years when those reserves have been a fantastic foundation for us to make important decisions,” he says now.

Last December Tomasi stood down to return to her native Australia and with an interim management team and a new chairman, Martyn Rose, replacing Peter Bazalgette who had been appointed chairman of the Arts Council, Berry devised ENO’s future.

He had laid the foundations not only by creating a safety net with reserves saved from the good times, but by building a network of co-production partnerships across the world. There are 40, the first having been with the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. The recent Thebans, Julian Anderson’s first opera, which Berry knew he wanted to do four years ago, could not have been possible if Bonn Opera hadn’t paid for and built the set in exchange for David Alden’s ENO production of Lucia di Lammermore. “It saved us half a million,” Berry says. “Our international connections are so extensive now that if I say I want to do something, I know we can raise the money for it”.

Terry Gilliam’s production of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini that opens on June 17 is one of the most ambitious projects of recent years, Berry says: “It has to be good”.

The 2014-15 programme has all the chutzpah that has been associated with Berry, with 11 new productions. Richard Jones, always controversial but particularly recently for his Glyndebourne production of Rigoletto, will direct The Mastersingers of Nuremburg; the enfant terrible of opera directors, Peter Sellars, returns with the world staged premiers of John Adams’s “The Gospel According to the Other Mary, and the first fully staged production of Purcell’s 1695 opera The Indian Queen; two young British composers get world premiers; the film director Mike Leigh will do Pirates of Penzance, his first ever opera; there will be a new partnership with the Bristol Old Vic for a production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo.

Underneath the headline riskiness, though, is sound support in the programme, he says. Pirates of Penzance by Leigh will be extremely popular and there will be plenty of performances; there will be revivals of bankers like Carmen, La Traviata, The Marriage of Figaro, Jonathan Miller’s La Bohème. “There were probably two seasons where I programmed too much contemporary rep, too much rep that was edgy,” Berry admits. “This season and the next season it feels more balanced in an economy that’s still a bit jumpy in an art form that’s still finding it’s feet, so I think I’m actually being sensible”. His target is to raise £3m next year and he has identified 75% of it.

But the strike for independence is in the planning for the further future rather than the next season. The big announcement was the plan for a new production centre, site as yet unknown, which will cost a modest £10m and for which Berry believes he has enough of a promise from supporters to ensure it will be open by the end of 2016, while the company is using five or six different venues around London to rehearse. It will save ENO £1m a year.

He has made a deal with the West End producers Michael Grade and Michael Linnit to create musical theatre that they will fund with the ENO singers and orchestra, taking back some of the 17 weeks a year when the Coliseum is hired out, and which will transfer to other theatres after the initial Coliseum run. A potential profit of millions beckoning. New audiences will continue to be probed for through keeping ticket prices affordable and schemes like Undress Nights when first tickets are available at £25, and by an expanding database.

The Coliseum itself, which ENO now owns, is to open out. Until now closed to the public except when a production is under way, Berry is going into partnership with a restaurateur (as yet unnamed) to provide a restaurant, a foyer café and bars that will be open all day and, as a by-product, contribute to the wider database.

Because of arts council policy ENO cannot tour in England, so that productions like Anthony Minghella’s famous Madame Butterfly is still being enjoyed by audiences around the world but has never been seen in an English theatre other than the Coliseum. So Berry has made another partnership AltiveMedia to take filmed productions to 400 cinemas, as well as making pro-productions with the Barbican, the Young Vic and now the Bristol Old Vic.

Berry has a new partner in Henriette Götz who has arrived from Belgium as executive director, with a reputation for fundraising and commercial acumen in a creative environment.

And although the “transformation”, as Berry calls it, is towards a new independence as the expectation is for a further substantial reduction in the arts council grant when it is announced in July, ACE will still be important. Berry says ACE has available for the whole of England less than there is for the city of Berlin. “They’re under huge pressure, but money from the arts council has to be seen as a springboard for us to really be ambitious and excel with bringing money in from outside of the public funded circle. We are showing we can do that,” Berry says.

“I think what we’re showing is that we can increase what we want to do by getting commercial partners to take some of the risk. Opening the Colly won’t make us a lot of money, but it will change our relationship with the public completely.

“We’re going to be more efficient, have more work, give better public value and we’re going to try and create here a model that is an opera house for the future.”

John Berry box outs

1. Born in Bolton, Lancashire, 1961
2. Trained as a clarinet player, Royal Northern College of Music
3. Landmark production would be Anthony Minghella’s Madame Butterfly of 2005, the highest grossing production in ENO history
4. I’ve never received an award apart from on behalf of ENO
5. First job: Probably working for Harrison Parrott – I was self employed before that
6. Next job: I wouldn’t want to run another opera house unless it was a really exceptional offer, I want to get on with the exciting future there is here
7. Biggest influence: There have been three – Nicholas Payne, former director of ENO now director of Europa Opera; Gerard Mortier, the Belgian opera director; Matthew Epstein, a doyen in artists’ management for singers.
8. What would you have been? Nothing. I began playing the clarinet at 12 and have never had to think about what I do since.
9. Do you have any superstitions? No, when you’ve had a near death experience superstition is the last thing you need. I’m just glad I can stand up every morning which for a long time I couldn’t.

Jun 10 / Simon

Replica of oldest bible is taken home after 1,300 years

The TImes, 19/5/2014
By Simon Tait
It reads like a Dan Brown novel. In the year 716 a Saxon abbot, near the end of his life, decides to take one of the most beautiful books ever made from Jarrow in Northumberland to Rome as a gift for Pope Gregory II. Half way, at Langres in France, he dies but some of his companions decide to continue the pilgrimage on his behalf. They get within 100 miles of their destination, rest at the Gregorian abbey of San Salvatore at Monte Amiata in southern Tuscany, and mysteriously they all die there before they can deliver the book.
The book, now known as the Codex Amiatinus after the Tuscan town, remained at the abbey for the next 1000 years, but its ghost in the form of a perfect facsimile returns to Jarrow this weekend.
Codex Amiatinus is the oldest surviving Latin Vulgate bible, the 4th translation by St Jerome that became the official version for the Roman Catholic Church. But it was crafted by the Venerable Bede and his fellow Jarrow-Wearmouth monks over about 24 years to fulfill a commission from their abbot, Ceolfrith. Of the three that were made then, one was destroyed by fire and of the second only a single page survives and is in the British Library.
The Codex stayed at San Salvatore until the mid 18th century when it was removed to the Biblioteca Laurenziana in Florence, where it remains under lock and key, too fragile to be seen by anyone.
But bible is at last coming home to Jarrow in the shape of a facsimile created for Amiata by special licence with the help of Biblioteca scholars. An exhibition around it, Bede’s Great Bible, opens on Sunday (May 18) at Bede’s World, the museum built a few yards from the site of Bede’s monastery, running until September 21.
The facsimile was made to mark the Millennium in 2000 by a team led by Dr Manuela Vestri, a native of Amiata. “This book is the root of our knowledge about the Bible” she said. “I have spent the greatest part of my life following this manuscript, it is good that it comes home in this way.”
Composed of 1029 pages, measuring 540mm by 345mm and weighing 50 kilos, it was an enormous mission to carry it safely across the known world. The Codex was written by at least seven scribes, one of whom would have been Bede, the most gifted scholar of the age. Bede himself was in his 30s and 40s when the bible was made and at the height of his powers, but his fame was yet to spread overseas with his most famous work, An Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in about 731 when he was about 60. By then he was venerated across Europe, and though he spoke several modern languages he never himself travelled further from Jarrow than York. He died in 735.
Written on the finest Pergamon vellum, it is illuminated by brilliant miniature paintings, the most accomplished of which is probably the one portraying Ezra copying the Holy Scriptures in an echo, perhaps, of Bede himself at work on the bible. Having arrived at Amiata, the huge volume was kept in the abbey’s reliquary cupboard until 1782 and the suppression of the monasteries when it was confiscated and given to the Laurentian Library in Florence.
It took a year to for Dr Vestri’s La Meta Editore team of 20, the original being carefully unbounded and each page photographed in the highest resolution, transferred to vellum leaves and the facsimile assembled in the way the original had been, with four leather strings, and then bound in leather-clad wooden boards.
To help pay for the year-long operation, permission was given for 199 half-size copies to be made and sold, one of which was bought for Durham University. Only one full-size facsimile has ever been made, however, but it is hoped that the exhibition will help raise the £40,000 needed to commission a second for Bede’s World.
The museum was created in the 1970s to evoke the life of Bede and the Anglo-Saxon world of the 7th and 8th centuries in which he lived as an educational resource. The loan of the Codex facsimile is part of a new friendship agreement between the museum and Amiata, where a museum is being built to mirror Bede’s World. “There is a resurgent interest in Bede and for the museum,” said the Bede’s World director Mike Benson. “It’s exactly the right time for Bede’s bible to come home with the help of our new friends in Tuscany. The medieval world becomes larger for us with co-operation like this”.