Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Music Theatre Wales

  Information regarding your evidence sessions into "Wales and the World" was brought to my attention via your website. I would like to offer the following observation:

  The arts should most definitely be included in any discussion on how Wales is represented, perceived and participates in the wider world. Obviously there are some large scale players such as Welsh National Opera and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, but there are several other companies who present their work more frequently on the international stage and who undoubtedly create a strong and vital image of contemporary Wales and who should certainly be included in any discussion on Wales and the World.

  I would like to set out Music Theatre Wales' current position:

  During 1999 we presented our acclaimed production of Harrison Birtwistle's chamber opera Punch and Judy at the Alternative Lyrique Festival in Paris. This was an EC funded event bringing together companies from all over Europe working in contemporary music theatre. It was a major showcase for the company and of course for Wales since we were the only organisation representing Wales and the UK. This review in the newspaper Dipason sums up the experience:

    "The Norwegians, Belgians, Italians, Germans and French were represented, but it was the Welsh with MTW who triumphed".

  In 2000 MTW toured its work to the six Tage Oper Festival in Dusseldorf (another international showcase) and to the Concertgebouw in Haarlem, again to great critical acclaim:

    "An incredible experience" Nord Rheinische Zeitung.

  Previous international work has included opening the Wales at Stuttgart Festival in 1993 (in the presence of the Secretary of State for Wales) which was then followed by two further visits to Stuttgart, and performances in Bergen, Banff and Dublin. All of these projects have been made possible through the involvement of the British Council (sometimes with financial support) and Wales Arts International.

  Sadly we have also had to turn down or simply lose many other opportunities (the most recent being Sydney Festival) due to lack of financial support from our end—ie Wales and the UK. The nature of touring internationally has changed in the last 10 years and it is no longer the case that international presenters expect to find the resources to pay 100 per cent of the costs of international productions, nor does the British Council have the resources to support such events to the extent now required. This leaves us with a real dilemma: Our work is in demand abroad, often in the face of stiff competition from companies in other countries who mostly have financial backing from home sources to present their work abroad, and we simply can't play on a level playing field. Quite simply, we cannot hope to present a dynamic image of contemporary Wales if we don't have support from Wales to do so.

  The arts are one of the most exciting and efficient methods of developing cultural, political and business links between countries. The level of investment required to support international performances must surely be worth looking at in this context. Furthermore, the financial return on the initial investment can be considerable.

  For 2001 we have the honour of an invitation to perform at the Shanghai Arts Festival in November. This is a huge and highly prestigious festival and we would obviously wish to fulfil this opportunity. The overall cost of the project will be in the region of £90,000 but the festival is only offering £65,000 (a considerable sum for three performances). This leaves us with around £25,000 to find. How can we achieve this?

  The British Council is already involved. They set up the introduction in the first place and brought representatives of the Shanghai Arts Festival to see our work in London, but their financial support is sadly negligible. I am delighted to say that the WDA is willing to contribute £5,000 sponsorship to the event and that we are having some encouraging discussions with the International Relations Unit at the National Assembly. Wales Arts International is certainly not in the position to help beyond a grant of perhaps £2,000. Commercial sponsorship is proving very difficult to find so this leaves only governmental/Assembly support or private sources such as Trusts or Foundations. With China being such new territory we believe the only realistic source will be governmental, working with the arts to help develop international relationships, but since there is no established office to support this activity it is starting to look like this wonderful opportunity may well be lost.

  Although I am clearly stating a very real case here with specific and immediate needs, it does provide a good example of the frustrations and potential of the arts in international relations. As stated in the report on the arts commissioned by the National Assembly from independent consultant and practitioner Ceri Sherlock: "MTW has garnered international plaudits and is ambitious to afford opportunities for Welsh artists, musicians and composers . . . A lean organisation fuelled by innovation MTW has much to deliver for Wales in this exciting field".

  It should be said however, that the Shanghai case is unusual and exceptional: It is a great deal more expensive than any of our previous visits to Europe, not least due to the cost of travel and accommodation, and the sum we are seeking is far more than usual. Under more normal circumstances we would be seeking help in the region of £5,000-£10,000 to ensure the viability of an international project, a far more reasonable sum to seek. That said, China is an unusually exciting prospect!

  I sincerely hope this will be considered in your deliberations. If you would like us to contribute further please do not hesitate to contact me. On the other hand, if you are able to give us any useful information in our efforts to represent Wales in China we would be truly grateful.

Michael McCarthy

Artistic Director

13 February 2001

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