Post-‘Brexit,’ EU Youth Orchestra could continue

As the 'Brexit' referendum takes Britain out of the EU, one EU institution may have been saved.

Zervac Attila
A ‘Save EUYO' flash mob in Budapest, Hungary.

Forty years ago, three years after Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community, Lionel Bryer and his wife, Joy, both of the International Youth Foundation of Great Britain, had a dream: to found an orchestra that would represent the European dream of countries joining together.

Thus was born the European Union-financed European Community Youth Orchestra, later renamed the EU Youth Orchestra (EUYO). Led by such maestros as Claudio Abbado, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Leonard Bernstein, and Daniel Barenboim, with its 140 young musicians (ages 14 to 24) performing around the world, it became what EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called “one of our most distinguished ... ambassadors” and “a potent symbol of our European Union.”

But this past spring, as the upcoming “Brexit” referendum was threatening to take Britain out of the EU, the EU Commission dealt what amounted to a death blow to the orchestra, saying it would stop funding it. 

This came at a troubled time for arts in Europe, says Andreas Masopust, deputy chief executive officer of the German Orchestra Union. For example, the choir and orchestra of the Rome Opera were almost let go in 2014, and the Symphony Orchestra of Cordoba in Spain saw its budget cut by 40 percent the same year, according to Mr. Masopust.

The effort to keep the EUYO alive included musicians from the EUYO and others performing Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on May 20 in cities including Vienna, Berlin, and Brussels. In early June, the European Commission announced it had discovered ways to continue funding the EUYO. In a statement, the EUYO said that “the Orchestra looks forward to working in detail on these proposals.... The Orchestra is aware that only when the precise details of these proposals are confirmed by both the Commission and the EUYO can the future of the Orchestra be said to be assured.”

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