Europe has been in the headlines lately: currency in crisis, leaders in disagreement in their response to turmoil in the Middle East, border controls in Denmark – these and other difficulties cast a shadow on the idea of this united continent. The acceptance of a unified institutional and bureaucratic structure for Europe seems to be on the decline. And yet, Europe’s citizens enjoy using the same currency on holiday as well as at home, working and travelling more or less freely across borders. And whether things might look even worse for the economy if national currencies were still in place is a question no one dares to answer. For the MCO, Europe means something very different and something positive: a cultural, intellectual and physical home. With players from more than 20 nations, a range of movement that reaches ten to fifteen countries and music from all European traditions, the orchestra is at home everywhere.
The concept of Europe as an area of common culture made up of various nations has been in place since long before the existence of the EU or earlier formations. The history of Europe is deeply rooted in its cultural substance, in the common roots of the European languages and religions and also in the artistic innovation that took place across borders. Artists, in particular travelling musicians from Handel and Mozart to Boulez and Abbado, have always been active in bringing together various traditions to recombine and reinvent them, and, in the process, laying the groundwork for understanding among European peoples. At the frontier, in every sense of the word, the musicians of the MCO carry on this tradition, and with their self-founded orchestra they represent a microcosm of Europe.
Thus the orchestra feels itself honoured as well as challenged by its official designation from the European Union’s Culture Programme as Cultural Ambassador for the years 2011 to 2014 and the resulting financial support for its overhead expenses. For us, this is an endorsement of our efforts that brings with it political responsibility – to represent and promote the idea of Europe, and also to make ourselves heard wherever experiences are exchanged or difficulties brought to the table. We are still faced with a range of bureaucratic difficulties, and with national policies that contradict EU laws and legal precedent in questions of taxes, regulations for workers and social security. Artists have a different social security status and different conditions in nearly every country. Why do some countries put free ensembles at a tax disadvantage to subsidised orchestras, when these ensembles already enjoy financial privilege? Who can get a grip on the complex system of double taxation agreements when even the government financial authorities of some countries are at a loss? For artists as well as organizational structures such as the MCO office, these complexities create an immense amount of administrative work and a huge financial risk that causes unnecessary blockades to the free and mobile realisation of the arts – Europe thwarts itself.
The financing of the arts is carried out in very different ways from country to country in Europe. It is our necessity and our aim to tread to new ground and bring together the best of these systems from all across Europe. With this goal in mind, we work together with our foundation to build a new system for supporters and to open our structure for collaboration with businesses and private donors. We look for partners who wish to join the MCO in carrying forward the idea of Europe and participating culturally, socially and politically in the European discussion. A uniform European legal system, an economic area with clear and equal regulations – these demands are the next very necessary steps toward a truly united Europe, not only in the arts but also in other contexts. It is interesting that these are also the measures called for by politicians and economic leaders to create a stable basis for the European currency. The arts may seem less of a priority in times when the Euro is in crisis and entire nations are threatened with bankruptcy. But perhaps we must take culture even more seriously in such moments, as the bridge that can be built between peoples, in its cautionary role,and as the basis of a community of shared values.