Eesti Kontsert mulling wrapping up Hortus Musicus activities

Kertu Orro.
Kertu Orro. Source: Gunnar Laak

The five-year financial plan of the Eesti Kontsert Foundation includes wrapping up the activities of legendary early music ensemble Hortus Musicus as well as dialing back regional concert activities and concentrating them in the capital Tallinn. Kertu Orro, head of Eesti Kontsert, tells ERR in an interview.

Eesti Kontsert's 2023-2027 financial plan lists "ending the activities of the Hortus Musicus ensemble in 2025." What does that mean?

It is one possible development we have included in our long financial plan. We are putting together our five-year financial plan based on public funding remaining on the current level.

In other words, you will be forced to cut back if no extra funding is available?

Yes, reorganization and cuts are in order if our operating subsidy will not increase. Based on growth of the consumer price index as outlined by the Bank of Estonia, it is clear that sustainable operation requires one to boost income or dial back expenses. /.../

But ending Hortus Musicus is not a final decision today. It is one possible scenario of how we could continue to operate and organize concerts.

To what extent is progeny a factor here? We know that Andres Mustonen, as the person who has kept Hortus Musicus going, will not be staying on.

While progeny can be seen as an issue, Eesti Kontsert's strategic goals prescribe concentrating on it in terms of classical music beyond early music. We are working on a young artist's program, which requires additional resources from our budget. Some reorganization is needed to find these resources and put the focus on young musicians.

How much would Eesti Kontsert save by ending Hortus Musicus concerts?

Our calculations suggest it would help save €144,000 annually. I should add that Hortus Musicus is not engaged in full concert activity as a musical ensemble attached to Eesti Kontsert. They will be playing roughly half the concerts that would amount to full-scale activity this year, and the drop in volume has been organic.

And together with members of the ensemble, we have been discussing finding ways of turning Hortus Musicus into an independent ensemble, just like all other bands in Estonia, for years.

Would the niche of early music survive?

The niche would not disappear if only because we have other players in that field. And should Hortus Musicus cease to be attached to Eesti Kontsert one day, that does not mean Hortus Musicus would cease to be altogether. Certainly not!

When could we see a final decision in these terms?

It think it will become clear in 2024. That is when we will know our next five years' financial capacity and forecasts.

Reading more of the plan, it also lists cutting back concert activities from 2026 and gradually dropping regional performances by Estonian interpreters that "only draw a limited auditorium." The plan also describes dialing back regional concert activities and their concentration in Tallinn. What does this mean for the audience?

It means that Eesti Kontsert will perhaps be offering a less fully fledged regional concert schedule. But I would once more emphasize that the plan describes the situation should consumer prices grow but our funding remain unchanged.

I believe this will not happen as state budgets tend to grow from one year to the next, and I believe the field of culture will also see additional resources in the next five years.

What we have written down today is based on our operating subsidy remaining the same. I hope this will not come to pass, and Eesti Kontsert will keep working toward being the largest regional concert organizer when it comes to classical music.

Does the current version of the plan prescribe less ticket revenue?

We forecast tickets to become more expensive. But because the purchasing power of our audience is bound to suffer, we dare forecast that total ticket sales will fall.

To what extent have planned investments affected these decisions?

They have an effect because our four concert houses require investments to the tune of €600,000 annually. /.../ Eesti Kontsert cannot cover these expenses from own revenue today.

Investments and recurring expenses are all coming from the same pot at the end of the day. And this means some very difficult decisions are in store for the next five years.

How big is your current operating subsidy?

It is currently €5.4 million most of which is spent on salaries and main activities. Eesti Kontsert covers for all other administrative and real estate management expenses from own revenue.

How much would be needed from the government to keep Hortus Musicus and regional concert activities?

We could continue in recent volume if our subsidy would simply match the growth of the consumer price index.

Do these painful decisions hint at state budget strategy priorities where ministries have been told to look for ways of cutting costs, with freezing funding for agencies and foundations seen as one option?

Yes, I believe that is very much the case.

But what I would emphasize is that the interpretation of the five-year plan is based on the task that the foundation has been given to plan its expenses knowing our level of funding will not change.

Expenses continue to mount nonetheless, and the Bank of Estonia has come up with some rather stark forecasts. Hence the scary scenarios. But I still have hope that the reality will be more optimistic.

In summary then, closing Hortus Musicus has not been decided yet and constitutes one possible option on the backdrop of these dark scenarios?

Precisely. Eesti Kontsert has already carried out all other cuts, layoffs and optimization in the last three years. Our salary expenses are the same they were in 2018. But we all know that salaries have grown by around 43 percent since then, which gives you an idea of how much we've already cut back in terms of staff.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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