Patrick Alfaya: “The classical music sector is devastated”

The person in charge of the San Sebastian Musical Fortnight, Patrick Alfaya, faces the next edition with the same uncertainties that surround the rest of the cultural activities at the beginning of the year. Based on a double forecast depending on how the pandemic evolves, Alfaya estimates that this year the festival will have a budget of around 1.2 million euros, compared to more than two million for other editions. As for the programming, his intention is to delay its preparation by a month – until the end of March – to see how a sector evolves that, today, “is in a mess, completely stopped”.

– What have the institutions commented to you for the next 82nd edition?

– As always, they have been very respectful and have not given guidelines. We are the ones who are talking to them, maintaining a fluid dialogue, which allows us to build budgets, for example. What happens is that this year we are like everyone else: without knowing what is going to happen. At the moment, in the Basque Country we have a maximum capacity of 400 people in any room. We all look to the future with a certain optimism for vaccines and what we are doing is working on two possibilities.

– A plan A and a plan B …

– Yes, the former would be more ambitious than the past in the sense that there may be a certain movement of foreign orchestras. And I say “true” because we don’t think we can do second or eighths by Mahler, Berlioz, etc., with 150 musicians. Let’s forget about that, among other things, because they involve choirs that would occupy a large part of the stage. They cannot be very large musical masses. We have to reach capacities of between nine hundred and one thousand to start thinking about foreign orchestras.

– With a capacity of 400 spectators it is not possible …

– It is such a large deficit that it is no longer a question of whether it gives us the money to do it or not, but of responsibility. Are you going to spend tens of thousands of euros on a concert for four hundred people? That is not justified and more so in a situation like the current one. I suppose that as people are vaccinated the capacity will go up, but this is not going to be tomorrow, but late spring. We think that we can reach Fortnight with 60% of the capacity and that will allow us to bring some foreign groups, pending how mobility is in those countries.

“European orchestras are in hibernation, but in the US many small ones will disappear”
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– What about plan B?

– If things stay the way they are now or get tough, we will return to a program like 2020, more chamber music, with small groups, looking for the outdoor stage. There is another question, which is that of the public: they can be vaccinated, but there has been a very long hiatus, we do not know if people are going to resume their routines.

– What is your intuition?

– After the Spanish flu at the beginning of the last century, in the twenties there was an explosion of madness where it seemed that everything was possible. I believe that when it is clear that we can go out without a mask – perhaps in more than a year – there will be significant economic exuberance. What I don’t know is how long that will last.

– And sticking to the Fortnight?

– If we go to that stage of a festival with orchestras I think the audience will come. Now, the room will be full, but because we will be at 50% with about a thousand people. What I don’t know is what would happen if we went out with a Fortnight like the one in 2019, with two opera performances, with ballet, with six or seven foreign orchestras, and filling the Kursaal. It is not clear to me because it will take time to ‘rebuild’ the demand from the public. If I were a politician, I would spend money stimulating demand. It is something that has always been little work in all of Spain and that is important.

– Will there be opera?

– With 400 people capacity, impossible. We have to go to a minimum of 1,200 or 1,400 people, because if not, we cannot. On the other hand, we always do the opera together with other festivals so that the numbers come out and now everyone is waiting, no one takes the first step. And finally, it is taking a risk because if there is a positive from the day before, you have spent thousands of euros and there is no function.

– What budget will the next edition have?

– (Laughter) Depending on whether we do plan A, B or C …

– But even if in the end it is not fully executed …

– More than 40% of our budget is box office. So even if people want to come, we won’t be able to house everyone, 100%. I calculate that we will be between 1.2 or 1.4 million, compared to 2.4 million in the last years prior to 2020. Last year the capacity was 400 seats available at the Kursaal, with which we raised a hundred and a bit a thousand euros. We fill, yes, but let’s face it: with a room at less than 25%.

“I believe that once the pandemic passes, it will take time to ‘rebuild’ the public”

– In these first contacts, how are you finding the sector?

– The sector is a mess, completely stopped. Nothing moves. You usually had offers. Now there is nothing in circulation.

– In hibernation or will there be clusters that will disappear?

– In Europe we can talk about hibernation. In the United States they put you on the street without compensation. The highest paid orchestra in the world is that of the Metropolitan in New York, where they sent their musicians home and when they regain activity they will be called back.

– If you haven’t changed profession in this time …

– Of course, of course. In the United States, there is going to be a fall in orchestras. The Metropolitan musicians made a lot of money and will be able to hold out longer. In addition, they have a lot of prestige and will be able to continue giving classes online, but there are many small – on budget – orchestras that are going to disappear.

– What is commented on among those responsible for classical music festivals?

– Everyone is very stopped, waiting, hoping that in spring-summer there will be greater laxity in sanitary measures because the number of infections will drop. Everyone is very scared. What I say is “let’s have a plan A, a plan B and if we need a plan C, but let’s keep working because much of the sector is waiting to see what happens.”

“We usually close 80% of the programming at the end of February, but we will try to push it back to March”

– And what would be the deadline for Fortnight in order to build your schedule?

– At the end of February we would have to have 80%, and we would leave, as always, Fortnight Andante and something else. This year we plan to win a month and see if we can wait until the end of March to see how vaccination has progressed and if this allows us to be more ambitious.

– That puts them five months in the field of uncertainty.

– Definitely. Just as last year there were orchestras that already wanted to close, even to broadcast their performance ‘online’ –to which I have not seen much sense–, this year everything is stopped.

– Almost six months from now, was it important to finally celebrate the 81st edition?

– It had to be done, I think. A mantra that we kept a lot in Fortnight was that you had to put money in the street and it is the same for Jazzaldia or Zinemaldia.


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