Finally, we've turned the page on 2020, a blighted page which will perhaps inspire future composers to pen tragedies to make the last acts of La traviata and La bohème look like walks in the park. Welcome, therefore, to 2021, where all will be for the best in this best of all possible worlds. A little more than a year after the arrival of Covid-19, the understandable tentativeness of our government during those early months has now given way to rigorous management and clear marching orders, such that we will soon be able to join with governments in Leonard Bernstein's famous chorus from Candide: "We have learned and understood / Everything that is, is good / Everything that is, is planned / Is wisely planned, is right and good."

Tristan Labouret © Philippe Durville
Tristan Labouret
© Philippe Durville

"Everything is wisely planned, right and good" is pretty much what Roselyne Bachelot was broadcasting on France Inter on December 17th. The Culture Minister was congratulating herself on the reopening of music conservatoires announced by a decree three days earlier, a decision which came as something of a surprise to professionals in the arts sector, coming as it did four days before the start of the academic holidays, as well as appearing to fly in the face of the self-isolation recommended two days previously in an advisory note from the Scientific Council. While Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer was following this advice, letting it be known that students would be permitted to stay away from schools two days before the holidays, Bachelot – formerly our Health Minister – therefore proposed the polar opposite, inviting people into conservatoires on the exact same dates. In other words: let's put the clusters into a musical context, and the coronavirus will arrive at its coda without the need for a recapitulation.

Within the conservatoires, everything is judiciously planned, wise and good. So one might ask why in God's name the return to classes wasn't delayed by a week to allow for a sensible period of isolation after the festive mingling. Instead, teachers were once more manning the arts educational decks to welcome their students. All of them? Not quite: in many places, singers and wind players were excluded (although not all, classes with flexible arts-academic timetables being exempt), as well as the adult students most liable to transmit the virus, unless they happened to be students in the professionalisation cycle. That should all be perfectly clear! Music training courses have now re-opened, but still, singing is generally forbidden: we await with bated breath the official ministerial decree which recommends that we hum, transforming classes into herds of donkeys out of Shrek. Another option would be to focus musical training exclusively on sacred music and relocate singing practise into churches on the week-end, sandwiched between Eucharists, since religious services have been authorised by the Council of State. All it takes is a host and a drop of holy wine to understand the harmonic progressions of the Mass in B minor: old man Bach would be thrilled!

Because outside the conservatoires, everything is judiciously planned, wise and good. Free to squeeze himself into a TGV and take off his mask to tuck into a salad, 50 centimetres away from a neighbour similarly poised to devour a slice of pizza, a lover of the musical version of Four Seasons is still barred from re-entry into concert halls, cinemas, theatres and opera houses – which, one notes, have never at any point done anything but adhere scrupulously to barrier methods. On the above-mentioned December 17th France Inter broadcast, Bachelot explained knowledgeably that if cultural venues were to be reopened, the problem would be the 40,000 additional people roaming the streets of Paris. Clearly, it's useless to counter this figure with the hundreds of thousands of travellers who flocked to the stations of France and Navarre during a single week-end during the holidays. The examples of Madrid and Monaco prove clearly that it's possible to maintain a public cultural life while maintaining the struggle against the pandemic.

But after all, in the French culture sector, everything is judiciously planned, wise and good! As I write this, a number of orchestras, chamber music groups, singers and dancers are rehearsing for their January productions, the latest government announcements having mentioned January 7th as a possible date for halls to reopen. That is, before a government spokesperson performed a U turn on the first day of the year, without giving any additional information. In the face of the artistic blurring in the upper reaches of our state, all organisers of cultural events undertake – not without a certain level of weariness – the continuous construction of plans A, B and C in the face of whatever scenario our authorities will pull out of their hats at some random moment. And whatever that may be, don't expect the light at the end of the tunnel to come from the vaccination campaign, which is progressing at the speed of a tortoise.

I would have preferred to conclude this editorial by offering you, in the guise of a postlude to 2020 and a soon-to-come exit from the pandemic, the "Sacred thanksgiving song of a convalescent to the deity" from Beethoven's Op.132 quartet. But in the end, it feels more appropriate to suggest the tortoises from Saint-Saëns' Carnival of the Animals, to start its composer's anniversary year in a rhythm more matched to current circumstances. Happy 2021 to all, and I wish you strength.


Translated from French by David Karlin