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Culture means helping other people

»Elbphilharmonie Support Fund« helps freelance stage artists in need.

The several-month closure of the Elbphilharmonie to the public due to Corona has plunged freelance stage artists into dire straits. The »Elbphilharmonie Support Fund« was set up six weeks ago, and has been able to help many of them weather the worst of the financial storm. But the funds are almost used up in the meantime. Further donations could enable us to extend the relief action.

Be it in the concert hall, the arena or in a club: music is always a communal experience. It is created by the interaction between the performers on stage and their audience. During the Corona pandemic, the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie turned this community between musicians and audiences into a kind of mutual solidarity group. Via the »Elbphilharmonie Support Fund« set up jointly by the Elbphilharmonie, the NDR and Konzertdirektion Dr. Rudolf Goette, concertgoers have been showing active solidarity for weeks now towards those musicians most severely affected by the restrictions imposed on public cultural activity: the freelancers among them. In the meantime the volume of applications to the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund has exceeded the one-million euro barrier, with individual amounts of up to 2,500 € being paid out to over 750 persons acutely affected.

After the lockdown to prevent the virus from spreading in mid-March, concert activity almost came to a complete standstill. The income of freelancers working in music rapidly collapsed to zero. Events long since planned with concert organisers and concert halls were suddenly cancelled for the foreseeable future. In legal terms, the situation was clear: in the case of force majeure, each party to a contract bears his own costs. In this case, the artists involved are not entitled to any kind of cancellation fee. It wasn't long before the government initiated support programmes for solo freelancers and self-employed people, but these are principally helpful to those who have significant overheads. Freelance stage artists do not belong to this category as a rule, and due to Corona they suddenly lost the means to earn a living.

All the more welcome, then, for some of the most severely affected was the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund, which was announced at the beginning of April as an unexpected additional and quite unbureaucratic source of help. The Fund started as a kitty containing money donated by many concertgoers who waived the right to a refund of ticket money already paid for concerts that were then cancelled. In addition to these funds, generous donors donated substantial amounts to the Elbphilharmonie Fund, and continue to do so. The most recent major donation was a five-figure amount that came from the Friends of the Elbphilharmonie & Laeiszhalle (Freundeskreis Elbphilharmonie + Laeiszhalle e.V.).

The intended purpose of the money is clearly defined: in response to applications, the Fund will pay a single amount of no more than 2,500 euros to those freelance stage artists who would have given a concert or appeared at the Elbphilharmonie and/or the Laeiszhalle during the lockdown period. It is irrelevant which concert organiser would have been responsible for the concert(s) concerned. So far, more than 900 applications have been received, amounting to a total of more than 1 million euros. Each application is checked by a team, who make a recommendation; the final decision about the allocation of funds is taken by a steering committee made up of the leading representatives of the three bodies that initiated the Support Fund. Nearly 650,000 euros have already been paid out, and another 50,000 euros will be approved shortly.

The recipients of the money allocated live in Dublin or Pinneberg, in Rome or Michendorf, in Brooklyn or Norderstedt, in Kabul or Röthenberg an der Pegnitz, in Montreal or in Connewitz: in contrast to the government support, grants from the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund are not dependent on either the place of residence or the nationality of the artists affected by concert cancellations. The pandemic is no respecter of national boundaries, any more than the international concert activity at the Elbphilharmonie and the Laeiszhalle has been up to now. The sole criterium for the allocation of funds is an engagement at one of the two concert halls that was cancelled owing to Corona during the closure period.

Joachim Höchbauer
Joachim Höchbauer © Joachim Höchbauer 2020

Joachim Höchbauer is a singer from Regensburg who has been living in Cologne since his student days. The bass from the Balthasar Neumann Choir was to sing in a performance of Liszt's »Via Crucis« under Thomas Hengelbrock at the Elbphilharmonie in April. Like all the members of the choir, he was paid the fee he would have received out of the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund. »That was great!«, says Höchbauer. »And totally unexpected. The money enabled me to pay my rent for an entire month!«

Ulrike Payer
Ulrike Payer © Matthias Brommann

For Ulrike Payer, a pianist from Wilhelmshaven,  a whole series of rehearsal accompaniment dates and performances with the NDR fell through. She, too, complains about the dilemma of the government aid: »The emergency support from the State of Lower Saxony was initially intended to tide people over a liquidity shortfall, but it was then expanded to cover overheads, and otherwise has to be repaid«, she says. But she scarcely has any overheads apart from sheet music and costs for the piano tuner. Thanks to a grant from the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund, she can manage much better in the next few weeks than she had dared to hope. »That was truly sensational, it was a huge help!«

Daniel Müller-Schott
Daniel Müller-Schott © Uwe Arens

World-class cellist Daniel Müller-Schott was scheduled to make two guest appearances at the Elbphilharmonie in March/April: in a chamber music duo together with violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, then three weeks later as soloist with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He, too, was awarded compensation for his lost fees by the Support Fund: »In times of cultural and social uncertainty, with the cancellation across the board of all concerts and cultural projects, support for musicians is absolutely essential«, he says. »I am very grateful to the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund and I think it's terrific how the fund gave me immediate support with no bureaucratic fuss. In this way, culture has a future.«

Stefan Dünser
Stefan Dünser

»PAR!S! PAR!S!« is the title of a concert for children aged 6 and upwards that Austrian quartet »Die Schurken« was to give in a series of performances in the Elbphilharmonie Recital Hall in April. Not one of these concerts actually took place. The ensemble musicians applied to the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund for help, which they were granted. Trumpeter Stefan Dünser wrote us a particularly nice e-mail afterwards: »In the name of my »Schurken« colleagues as well, I'd like to express my warmest gratitude to you and your team for paying out a large part of our fee!! I could hardly believe it, so much appreciation and support – really! The Elbphilharmonie is not only a noble venue – the Elbphilharmonie team is altogether noble-minded. Can I say that so casually?« And Dünser declares from the other side of the bond of solidarity that links musicians with audiences, as it were: »We promise to return the favour with lots of super projects in the future!«

In the meantime, the Fund's resources are almost completely exhausted. This means that it will have to wound up at the end of May unless additional donations enables us to respond positively to more applications. There is still the chance to help secure freelance musicians' livelihoods quickly and without bureaucratic fuss. Every donation to the following account is welcome:


HamburgMusik gGmbH

IBAN: DE09 2105 0000 1000 1082 04

Hamburg Commercial Bank

Purpose: Spende Hilfsfonds


All donations to the Elbphilharmonie Support Fund are tax-deductible. For donations up to 200 €, the transfer slip or a bank statement is sufficient proof. For donations of more than 200 €, the donor will automatically receive written confirmation of the donation.

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