Funding Crisis for The Arts in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany
For the musician, the actor and the singer, Germany was once the Promised Land. A symphony orchestra and theatre in every town, and state funding that put to shame almost every other country in the world. But sadly the fruitful years are over, orchestras are disappearing or merging and theatres are closing, or offer productions only from visiting companies.
Saxony-Anhalt in the former East Germany is no exception. In Halle the two orchestras are now one. Orchestras in Bernberg, Wittenburg and other smaller towns no longer exist, and others have seen strenuous job cuts.
The Anhaltische Theatre in Dessau is one of the largest in the region. The theatre offers a spectacularly wide-ranging programme including musical productions (recently “Les Miserables” and “The King and I”), operetta, opera including a vast production in 2007 of Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”, a production which was later recorded for DVD production and this year a new production of “Parsifal”. Dessau is well known for it’s productions of Wagner operas and still has a link with Beyreuth. Apart from opera, the orchestra also perform regular symphony concerts, chamber music, and a regular cycle of plays is also in the theatre programme. There is also a close working link with the puppet theatre in Dessau, and the theatre is also the home of the world-renowned Gregor Seyffert Dance Company, whose productions of “Sleeping Beauty”, “Tango Palast” and “Marquis de Sade” have received international acclaim.
Dessau was the birth place of Kurt Weill and hosts each year the Kurt Weill Festival, of which the Anhaltisches Theatre plays an important part. Dessau is also the home of the Bauhaus. Kandinsky, amongst others taught there, and the graduate course in design attracts students from all over the world.
But the theatre is in crisis. Planned budget cuts in 2009 will reduce funding of theatres and orchestras in Saxony Anhalt by approximately €3 million. Discussions are underway in the Anhaltische Theatre which could mean up to 70 jobs being lost in the theatre, up to 17 of those in the orchestra alone. Many of the musicians in the orchestra have devoted years of loyal service to the orchestra. They have raised families in Dessau, and in the present climate in Germany, few will be able to find jobs elsewhere. And what of the cultural life in Dessau? The theatre attracts public from not just Dessau and the surrounding area, but from as far a field as Hamburg. The theatre’s educational outreach programme ensures that many schools in Dessau receive visits from chamber groups or the entire orchestra. Children work closely with the orchestra in cross-arts projects such as this year’s successful “Music and astrology” project, which involved all the high schools in Dessau. School children in Dessau can come every month to hear the orchestra play for just €1 each, and their entire families can join them! Many productions call for child-roles, and recent productions including “Les Miserables”, “Hansel and Gretel”, “The Magic Flute” and “Boris Gudonov” have given a valuable experience to local children of playing an active part in the life of the theatre.
The theatre in Dessau is not just a dominating building in the central of the town, but also a vital central part of the life of the town, and of Saxony-Anhalt as a whole. The expected job cuts will mean that the theatre no longer has the resources to put on large productions of important operas such as “Parsifal”, or major ballets such as “Sleeping beauty”. Important new plays will no longer be staged. The effect on the cultural wealth of Dessau and surrounding area will be enormous. Why should it be that only people in Berlin can see a major symphony performed, or a new play staged? Why should the children in Dessau lose out on their cultural education? Surely in a relatively rural area of Germany, with an orchestral history going back over 200 years, the vital work of the theatre should be supported, not cut back. The cuts seem at least short-sighted and at worst disastrous.