IF A Herald reader has heard the name of the Dunedin Consort in recent days it is likely not because of its award-winning recordings, acclaimed performances or bold way with repertoire under the direction of Glasgow University’s Gardiner Professor of Music, John Butt. The pioneering early music ensemble has been in the news because it was one of the high-profile casualties in Creative Scotland’s recent rethinking of its recipients of regular funding.

Many eloquent words have been written in support of the arts companies whose sustainability has been threatened by that announcement in the last week of January, but the final sentence of the swiftly issued statement from chief executive, and ensemble viola player, Alfonso Leal del Ojo, was brutally realistic: “Our board will need to consider how this will affect the future of the company as a whole, and whether – over the coming years – the impact of poor Scottish national support will ultimately deprive Scotland of one of its greatest cultural assets and ambassadors.”

The Dunedin Consort performance in its home city last weekend was at Edinburgh Methodist Church on Nicholson Square, neighbouring the Festival Theatre. In the sort of initiative to extend the audience for early music, it was an inventive Sunday afternoon salon where the recital was complemented by the musings of St Andrews University academic Dr Tom Jones on the place of music and art during the Enlightenment. He took for his opening text a quotation from Rousseau: “Societies have assumed their final form: no longer is anything changed except by arms and cash” – unintended as a comment on the current situation, I am sure, but resonant nonetheless.

Loading article content

The concert was introduced by Sir Muir Russell, who chairs the Dunedin Consort’s board of trustees, who denounced the “incomprehensible decision” to terminate regular funding in the context of an upcoming programme of work that includes tours to the US, France, Spain, Brazil and Bolivia as well as the residency at Krakow’s Passiontide festival that I have written about in this space previously. While the visits overseas bring in funds to the Consort’s coffers, the Creative Scotland cut threatened to leave a £100,000 a year shortfall in the budget for its work in Scotland.

On Sunday, that work included a lusty ciaconna by Johann Christoph Bach, a cousin of Johann Sebastian’s father Ambrosius, and pieces by Georg Muffat, whose family fled to France from Scotland and whose work inspired Handel. It attracted a near-capacity house of Consort supporters, as you might expect of a recital that also featured star soloists in bassoonist Peter Whelan and soprano Joanne Lunn. That audience was quite cross about the recent turn of events.

The received wisdom over coffee at the interval was that Creative Scotland is intent on transferring some of its limited resources from this music to rock and pop. In the absence of any statement of explanation for the entire raft of regular funding decisions from Waverley Gate, such beliefs are bound to circulate, and if there is any justification in that one, it points to some lazy assumptions about the arts and younger people. Here is one observation from Sunday that contradicts the simple-mindedness of believing that classical music equals bald heads and walking sticks and indie music means hipster beards and piercings. In the audience was Richard Michael, doyen of jazz in Scotland, whose Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra has nurtured generations of young players. I’d guess that in his youth playing jazz was a slightly transgressive thing for a classically-trained musician to do. On stage were his cellist son Robin and violinist daughter Hilary, who have eschewed the old man’s taste to specialise in the trendy field of baroque period performance.

Just as we now recognise that music has therapeutic benefits far beyond its entertainment value, Dr Jones noted that it was an article of faith during the Enlightenment that the one of the purposes of the arts was in training the passions. That belief found musical form in Muffat’s Armonico Tributo Sonata which alternated “humours” as much as tempi, with the bouncier, spirited side of the dialogue eventually winning out.

Optimist that I am, I took that as an omen of a positive outcome from the current funding malaise. And so, at least for the Dunedin, it has proved.