Early music pioneer and peace activist accuses ministers of incompetence toward the arts.

Jordi Savall has rejected his government’s Premio Nacional de Música 2014 (the National Music Prize) joining a growing list of Spanish artists choosing to reject or return their awards. He took the opportunity to hit out at politicians accusing them of “grave incompetence” in the defence and promotion of art and artists.

The 73 year-old popular Catalan early music pioneer and peace activist, last seen earlier this year in Sydney and Melbourne with his moving Jerusalem Project, received the prestigious award on Wednesday, but in an open letter to the jury, and in particular to Minister of Education, Culture and Sports, José Ignacio Wert, explained that to accept it would be “betraying my principles and my most intimate convictions”.

Savall admitted that the prize had filled him with “great joy” although, he added, that it felt somewhat belated after 40 years of passionate musical advocacy. He felt, however, that as the award was coming from the Spanish government he had to refuse given their record of “dramatic disinterest” in the arts and their “grave incompetence in the defence and promotion of the arts and artists.” In particular he accused the Ministry of Culture of ignoring the ancient Hispanic musical heritage and belittling the vast majority of musicians who “with great sacrifice dedicate their lives to keep it alive.”

Whilst acknowledging the achievements of himself and other musicians in the early music field, Savall says that any results over the years have come from the commitment and money raised by the artists themselves in the face of lacklustre support at State level.

A lifelong champion of music education, Savall nails his colours to the mast in an impassioned statement of his beliefs: “We are living through a serious political, economic and cultural crisis,” he says, “in which a quarter of Spaniards are in a very precarious situation and more than half of our young people do not have, nor will have, any chance of getting a job that assures them anything like decent life. Culture, art, and especially music, are the foundation of an education that allows us to realize ourselves personally and at the same time, be present as a cultural entity, in an increasingly globalized world. I am deeply convinced that art is useful to society, contributing to the education of young people, and raising and strengthening the human and spiritual dimension of human beings.”

But the system is fundamentally unfair, he argues: “How many Spaniards at some time in their lives have been able to listen to live music from the sublime Cristóbal de Morales, Francisco Guerrero and Tomás Luis de Victoria? Maybe a few thousand privileged to have been able to attend a concert of the few festivals that program this kind of music. But the vast majority, may never benefit from the fabulous spiritual energy transmitted through the divine beauty of this music.”

“Could we imagine a Prado in which our ancient heritage was not accessible?” he asks. “Well this is what happens with music. As live music exists only when a singer sings or a musician touches an instrument, musicians are the true living museum of musical art… Therefore it is essential to give musicians a minimum of institutional support, because without them our musical heritage will continue the sleep of oblivion and ignorance.”

Accusing the Spanish government of ignorance and a lack of awareness of the value of culture, he issues a call to arms to prevent those responsible from eroding the hard work of musicians, actors, dancers, filmmakers, writers and artists “who hold the true standard of culture and do not deserve the treatment they suffer because they are the true protagonists of cultural identity.”

“I believe, as Dostoevsky said, that beauty will save the world,” he concludes, “but for this you need to live with dignity and have access to Education and Culture.”