Brexit has forced the departure of the European Union Youth Orchestra from its UK headquarters to Italy, it has been announced.
The orchestra was established in London in 1976 but the British vote to leave meant it had to come up with a plan for a future outside the UK.
“It makes absolutely no sense for the office not to be in the EU,” said the chief executive, Marshall Marcus. “You can’t ask for EU funding and then not be in the EU.”
The orchestra said on Wednesday it had accepted an offer from the Italian culture ministry to be based in Ferrara and Rome. Italy is the home of the orchestra’s founding music director, the late Claudio Abbado, and the EUYO will have spring and autumn residencies at the Teatro Abbado in Ferrara from 2018.
The loss of the highly respected arts organisation was inevitable, but it will still be looked at with dismay by many in the arts world.
The orchestra’s co-chairs, Sir John Tusa and Ian Stoutzker, said in a statement they were delighted with the agreement with the Italian government and the city of Ferrara. “This is a major endorsement of the achievements and potential of the EUYO as practical evidence of Europe in action,” they said.
“This is a good day for musical and cultural cooperation in Europe. We are grateful to all parties for their vote of confidence in the European Union Youth Orchestra.”
The orchestra has about 120 players every year, aged between 17 and 24, and this year has 13 from Britain. It appears unlikely that British players will be eligible in future years.
The orchestra said UK musicians were currently still eligible and no firm decision on future arrangements would be made until the outcome of negotiations between the EU and the UK.
The orchestra has existed for more than 40 years but had been threatened with closure in 2016 when the EU announced its attention to end funding.
That was seen by many as a bureaucratic decision and provoked a backlash. Three months later the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced that the money would be found to continue funding the EUYO.
Marcus said the relocation would be a positive move, taking the orchestra forward into the next stage of its history.
Staying put was not an option. “June 23 was quite clear,” he said. “The heart of your operation cannot stay in London.”
Orchestras are particularly fearful of what Brexit might mean, given that so many have players from across Europe. What might the future be for British musicians in Europe? How easy will visas be? Will it be more expensive to transport instruments?
“There is a whole gamut of things for UK organisations, which means going out of the UK into the EU is going to become more complicated and more expensive,” said Marcus. “The classical music industry operates with very slim margins. These things can be a bit of a killer.”
He said Brexit would not stop the EUYO coming to the Proms or the Edinburgh international festival but there may be questions over other projects.
Marcus said the move signalled “a bold, imaginative and sustainable future for the EUYO”.
The EUYO has about 3,000 alumni, many of whom are now conductors and players with some of the world’s leading orchestras. It holds a rigorous audition process every year in all 28 member states of the EU.
The departure follows the relocation of the European Union Baroque Orchestra, from Oxfordshire to Antwerp, for similar reasons.
The EUYO has a reputation as an outstanding orchestra. A Guardian review of a concert in 2015 noted: “This was gripping, exhilaratingly good orchestral playing, surging with energy, laser-sharp focus and collective daring … This year’s EUYO has a technical prowess that is downright terrifying.”
The EUYO also announced that the Italian broadcaster Rai would become its first official broadcast partner. It also plans to open an office in Brussels.