Thursday, October 30, 2014

Jordi Savall rejects Spanish prize citing government's indifference to the arts

Today, Jordi Savall, master of early music, formally rejected the prestigioius 2014 National Music Prize awarded by the Spanish Government's Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport (along with 30,000€). His letter explaining the rejection is a poignant portrait of the state of culture in Spain today. (The translation is mine, and a bit rough.) Catalan version here.

Mr. José Ignacio Wert
Minister of Education, Culture and Sport
Government of Spain

Distinguished Mr. Wert:
Distinguished Members of the Jury of the [Spanish] 2014 National Music Prize

Receiving the news of this important prize has generated two profoundly contradictory and altogether incompatible feelings: first, great happiness for the overdue recognition of forty years of passionate, demanding dedication to the spreading of music as a power and language of civilization and harmony, and second, an immense sadness because I feel that I cannot accept the prize without betraying my principles and most sincere convictions.

I am sorry to have to tell you, then, that I cannot accept this distinction because it is awarded by the institution in the Spanish State that is principally responsible, in my opinion, for the dramatic indifference and gross incompetence in the defense and promotion of art and its creators. A distinction that comes from the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports which is also responsible for relegating to oblivion an essential part of our culture, a thousand year old Hispanic musical patrimony, while also scorning the vast majority of musicians who with great sacrifices have dedicated their lives to keeping it alive.

It is true that in a few specific occasions over a forty year career, I have been able to benefit from some institutional collaborations: the celebration of the 5th Centennial of the Discovery of America, the small grants for international tours, and recently the invitations from the Centro Nacional de Difusión Musical to present our projects in Madrid. But like the vast majority of musicians and groups in the country, I have forged ahead solely with my own personal effort, without ever being able to count on any stable institutional support toward the production and materialization of all my musical projects. It has been way too long since the offices of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport that you preside have gone along without giving the necessary push to all those disciplines of cultural life in the Spanish State that currently are struggling to survive without institutional support or even a sponsorship law that would help them, without a doubt, finance themselves and consolidate.

We are living through a very serious political, economic and cultural crisis, a consequence of which is that one fourth of Spanish citizens find themselves in a precarious financial situation and more than half of our young people don't have any possibility of finding a job that would ensure them a minimally dignified life. Culture, art, and especially music, are the basis of an education which allows us to find ourselves personally and at the same time, be present as a cultural entity in an increasingly globalized world. I am absolutely convinced that art is useful to society and that it contributes to the education of the young, and to elevating and strengthening the human dimension and spirit of human beings. But how many Spaniards have been able, some time in their lives, to listen live to the sublime musicians Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero, or Tomás Luis de Victoria? Maybe a few thousand privileged people have been able to attend a concert as part of the very few festivals that put on this kind of music. But the vast majority will never be able to benefit from the fabulous spiritual energy that is transmitted by the divine beauty of these musicians. Could we imagine a Prado Museum where all of its historic patrimony was not accessible? Well, that's what happens with music, because music lives only when a singer sings it or when a musician plays it; musicians are the actual living museums of musical art. It is thanks to these people that we can listen to the 'Cantigas de Santa María' of Alphonse X the Wise, the "Villancicos" and "motetes" of the golden centuries, the "Human, divine tones" of the Baroque period... That is why it's so necessary to give these musicians a minimum of stable institutional support, because without them, our musical heritage will continue sleeping the sad slumber of ignorance and ignominy.

Ignorance and amnesia are the end of every civilization because without education there is no art and without memory there is no justice. We cannot permit ignorance and a lack of realization of the value of culture of those responsible at the highest positions in the Spanish Government to erode with impunity the hard work of so many musicians, actors, dancers, film makers, writers, and artists who determine the true standard of culture and who certainly don't deserve the treatment that they receive, since they are the true protagonists of the cultural identity of this country.

For all these reasons, and with profound sadness, I must repeat that I renounce the 2014 National Music Prize and I hope that this sacrifice is understood as a wake up call in defense of the dignity of artists, and that it can, perhaps, serve as a reflection toward imagining and constructing a more hopeful future for our youth.

I believe, as Dostoyevski said, that beauty will save the world, but for that to happen, one must live with dignity and have access to education and culture.


Jordi Savall    

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