One of Britain’s most successful orchestras is moving to Belgium amid fears that its musicians may be among the victims of a post-Brexit crackdown on immigration.

The EU Baroque Orchestra has been based in Oxfordshire since 1985, but will give its last UK concert in its current form at St John’s Smith Square, London, on 19th May before moving to Antwerp which is actually where they are based. The critically acclaimed orchestra, described last month as “brilliant” and “the blooming excitement of youth” by Radio 3’s Sean Rafferty, auditions about 100 students a year, including young British musicians, and chooses between 20 and 25 for intensive training and performance. Alumni have gone on to fill posts in major baroque orchestras around the world. Be honest here: who has actually, unless in the specialist world of Baroque music has ever heard of them?

General manager Emma Wilkinson said “that while no one knows what the future may look like, the orchestra decided that moving to Antwerp now would be wise”. She fears that the loss of free movement would make life for musicians very difficult: “I do worry that European orchestras will not be inviting talented British musicians to work with them. It will just be too bureaucratically difficult.”

Asked whether future concerts in Britain by the orchestra might be threatened when it was based outside the UK, she replied: “That’s the problem with the uncertainty around this whole issue. We just don’t know.”

The crux of these statements is that they are predicated on a “we just don’t know” basis. Would have, could have and should have spring to mind. Nothing is set in stone with regards to people living here who are originally from the EU. Neither is anything set in stone about the one million plus Brits living in Europe. This is of course wrong and that fact that they are a bargaining chip to be used in future negotiations between the British tory government and our EU partners leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth.

However, to decide so early and before any negotiations have even started to leave, is, it seems, a bit of a panic move. I would imagine that organising the equipment, instruments and living arrangements in a new country for a whole orchestra is a major undertaking and the cost would be considerable. That’s given that all the current members are happy to relocate to Antwerp. To garner such a move, which could eventually prove to have been be a forlorn waste of time, is very surprising.

Blaming Brexit is an easy goal to score for the remoaners of Stoke and they are making the most of it. Tweets from Labour supporters that they “are really going to miss the orchestra” are just a bit silly. To state, that a Baroque orchestra based in Oxford and is a loss to the country because of Brexit, is having an influence on the outcome of this week’s by-election in Stoke Central is a bit of a stretch. Especially when it was announced earlier this month that the Halle Orchestra is to open a brand new school of music right in the centre of the city.

I fear the good people of Stoke have more pressing issues than the loss of such an orchestra. The NHS jobs and housing worries are much more likely to influence their voting decisions. I cannot at the time of writing find any evidence that the European Union Baroque Orchestra has ever actually played in Stoke, but I may be wrong.

I was originally going to write this blog on the basis that this was some more fake news but alas it is true, the orchestra is going to leave this green and pleasant land. A loss to our culture? Maybe. A reason to follow the Blair mantra of changing our minds and reversing the Brexit plan? Most certainly not!

Is it a case though that they may be in danger eventually of losing precious funding from the EU which could not be guaranteed by the government here post Brexit? Much more likely. What is clear with this story is that it has nothing to do with the people of Copeland and Stoke this week who have much thought and debate to still endure prior to making their mark on the 23rd of February.

So adieu and au revoir to the EU Baroque Orchestra. We wish you well in your new home, it is a shame that it looks likely that your influence, although short lived, will be about Brexit and not for a cultural change surrounding your music.–

Photo by Stefan Karpiniec

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