On June 23, just before a rehearsal, the Belgian chamber orchestra Beethoven Academie was informed that its government grant was to be eliminated entirely as of 2007 — in effect, that it has six more months to live.
In desperation, and figuring that you can buy and sell anything on eBay, it put itself up for auction on the web site.
This is not a joke, according to the ensemble's communications director, St_phanie Adriaansen. With the orchestra probably having to disband completely, finance director Bart Michiels is trying to investigate every possible option for saving Beethoven Academie — or, at the very least, providing some sort of humane ending for the musicians.
The opening bid was placed at a symbolic €1, but very quickly rose to €2,500; as of 6 p.m. (Belgian time) today, the going price was €8,000.
Based in the Flemish city of Mechelen (known in French as Malines), Beethoven Academie was founded in 1993 by conductor Jan Caeyers with the aim of performing late-Classical and early-Romantic repertoire on modern instruments but with a historically informed interpretation. The size and constitution of the orchestra replicated (but for that modern equipment) that for which Beethoven wrote his Third Symphony (the "Eroica").
Since then the group and its program have expanded: now comprising 40 musicians, Beethoven Academie has been giving around 40 performances per year; its repertory has expanded as far forward as Stravinsky, Piazzolla and Wolfgang Rihm; they have collaborated with such artists as conductor Christopher Hogwood, soprano V_ronique Gens, pianist Eliso Virsaladze and choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. Since 2004, the group's artistic director has been Herv_ Niquet (known for his many concerts and recordings of French Baroque music with his ensemble Le Concert Spirituel); their first recording together, to be released this year, is of symphonies by Charles Gounod.
Among Beethoven Academie's plans for the 2006-07 season are — or were — 70 performances of 17 separate programs, including collaborations with cellist Natalia Gutman, actor/filmmaker Wayn Traub (on Haydn's opera Philemon und Baucys), and the Royal Ballet of Flanders.
For now, those plans seem to be doomed. When Bert Anciaux, the minister of culture for Flanders (music in Belgium is funded regionally) announced his budget for 2007-10, Beethoven Academie's budget line, which had been €1.1 million annually, was completely removed.
Anciaux seems to be taking the heat personally for this decision, as he is mentioned by name in the eBay listing, the orchestra's appeal on its web site (www.beethovenacademie.be) and most of the Dutch-language coverage of the situation. Indeed, one wag has listed the Flemish Ministry of Culture itself (with Anciaux and other officials) on eBay. No bids have yet been placed.