Friday, May 26, 2017

This Music Prize is Contemptible

I had this in this week's miscellanea, but realized it deserves its own post. As part of the celebrations around Canada's 150th anniversary, Vancouver announces a classical music competition, the 2017 Vancouver International Music Competition. The site preens itself with the following text:
In its 150 years, Vancouver has grown into a cosmopolitan city nestled in the great outdoors. Enjoy the snow-capped mountains, waterfront forests, cityside beaches, Olympic history and the world’s highest suspension bridge.
Yes, all that is true except the part about the suspension bridge. Vancouver doesn't seem to make the list of either highest suspension bridges or tallest structures anywhere that I can see. But the rest, yes, Vancouver is a remarkably beautiful city, but it has always had a bit of a challenge when it comes to supporting the arts. The symphony has gone bankrupt on more than one occasion, for example, and the Vancouver Opera just closed down doing a regular season of productions in favour of three productions clustered together in the spring--what they are calling a "festival" format.

But what I find annoying, no, not annoying, contemptible to a high degree, is the fluffing and preening of announcing this award compared to the minuscule prizes given to the winners.

The instruments are piano, strings (including harp and guitar) and voice. In the very grand tradition of Canadian awards and commissions that I have previously covered--would you believe a princely $800 commission to write a new piece for the carillon in Ottawa?--the grand prize in each group, piano, strings and voice, is, wait for it, drumroll please. One thousand dollars. Canadian dollars. Which comes to $746 US. Are you kidding us? Mind you, this does reveal in stark clarity just how really, really important the arts are to Canada. Not very damn.

To get the full sense of how astonishingly tiny these prizes are, let us compare them to, oh, the cost of purchasing a home in Vancouver, one of the hottest real estate markets in the world. Here, from an article in the Globe and Mail, is a brief summary of house prices in Greater Vancouver:
Sales volume peaked last March, while the average price for detached homes sold in the area called Greater Vancouver hit record highs that surpassed $1.8-million during the first quarter of 2016, according to real estate board data. The price for Greater Vancouver detached homes averaged $1.61-million in November, down 8.6 per cent from $1.76-million in July.
That includes all those remote suburbs, what about in the City of Vancouver itself?
The price for detached homes sold within Vancouver’s city limits recently averaged more than $2.6-million. 
That is the AVERAGE price. I saw another article that listed typical fixer-uppers in urban Vancouver. Yes, for around 1.5 million you get a two bedroom bungalow, one bath, about 900 sq ft. And it's a fixer-upper.

Now let's go back to those "prizes". Honestly $1,000? That reminds me of a scene from The Color of Money with Paul Newman and Tom Cruise. Tom wins what he thinks is a big pot playing pool, it was a few hundred dollars, and Newman replies "you know what that buys you? One shoe!" Yep, a thousand dollars Canadian, especially in Vancouver, doesn't go very far. One night in a top hotel. Lunch for you and a few friends. Yes, this is how really proud Vancouver is of its musical talent.


Hey, Vancouver? You want to have a music competition? Offer some real prizes instead. $50,000 for each category. That would come to $150,000 or less than 10% of the cost of ONE average home sale in the Greater Vancouver area.

Otherwise, just keep your money, because you obviously can't afford to spend any of it on something as trivial as music.

No envoi for this one.


Marc Puckett said...

Someone has the notion that the composer ought to be able to complete the commission in 40 hours? $20 an hour at that rate. I doubt that entered into the decision-making process at all; still. Eugene in many respects would like to be Vancouver when it grows up (although of course there is no ocean and only pedestrian suspension bridges) but even here I very much doubt that e.g. the MacMillan Requiem commissioned for the Oregon Bach Festival last year involved such a comparably small fee. Are there not wealthy patrons of the arts in Vancouver?

Bryan Townsend said...

Marc, I offer two different examples here. The one was an $800 commission to write a piece for the carillon in Ottawa. I think that was the Federal government? But follow the link for more information. And yes, that was in violation of the Canadian League of Composer guidelines which, I believe, would suggest a fee of around $2000. But my main rant is not against a commission, but against a prize for a very high profile music competition of a ridiculous $1000 CAN.

Yes, Vancouver is stuffed full of wealthy people, that's my real point. And they have absolutely no regard for the arts.