World culture, to hear Milan Kundera tell it, has Europe to thank for the novel and the symphony. Reading a novel is easily done—everyone can manage that on their own. But a symphony requires an orchestra in order to be heard. It was a centuries-long developmental process that led to the classical and romantic orchestras with their constantly increasing numbers of instrumentalists, and it’s a process that’s continued to this day. What’s more, regardless of whether it’s a wind orchestra or a string orchestra or a big band, everyone needs instruments that fi rst have to be built. That requires lots of experience, knowledge, skill, thought, hand-crafting, and creativity, and without these instruments, no orchestra can play a symphony. But there are other things that also need to be in place in order for an orchestra to function: logistics, management, marketing, architecture, cultural policy, etc. And even before a single note is heard, an orchestra has already cost a lot of money. Then there are the musicians themselves who, with their skills and following numerous rehearsals, actually go about playing the symphony. To acquire said skills, they had to go through years of training—which in turn ensured the employment of numerous music teachers.
So an orchestra, in all its complexity, would seem to be a good metaphor for the entire cultural sector. But in politics and society at large, there seems to be a tendency to view everything in terms of economics—which is something that an orchestra, a university of music, and the entire music business can keenly feel. Many people give in to this tendency and start relying on justifications like “indirect profitability” or increases in brand value. But while economic considerations are of course important, they can’t be everything. Far more important than fi nancial value is cultural value.
A society that considers itself European most decidedly should spend what it takes to sustain orchestras and the associated infrastructure. Investments in orchestras and in artistic training are investments in the future of a society, in both its diversity and its unity. And in precisely this respect, an orchestra is a metaphor for a society, as well—for it embodies simultaneous diversity and unity: every voice counts, but those who don’t play at all won’t be heard, either.