Music plays a leading role in Switzerland’s cultural image. From the start, Pro Helvetia provided grants to orchestras and musical ensembles for concert tours abroad.
Orchestral concert tours belong to the classical forms of cultural policy and are often associated with its most prestigious dimension as veritable cultural diplomacy. There are numerous excellent orchestras and musical ensembles of international repute in Switzerland, in spite of its decentralised structure and lack of cities large enough to compete with the metropolises of neighbouring countries. In the course of the post-war cultural policy of Pro Helvetia, these orchestras became the main players within the musical dimension of the Swiss image abroad.
According to the logic of prestige and cultural diplomacy, the Foundation’s grants were reserved to large municipal orchestras such as the Tonhalle Orchester in Zurich, the Collegium Musicum and the Geneva based Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. Corresponding with the point of view of those responsible for cultural policy, the musical tours were aimed at introducing contemporary Swiss music to the world while at the same time offering performances of high quality. Therefore, Pro Helvetia’s grants and subsidies were made available to orchestras on the condition that works by Swiss composers were taken into consideration.
Up to the 1970s, the musical reputation of Switzerland abroad was based mainly on works by Arthur Honegger, Martin Frank, and Willy Burkhard, turning the composers into the foremost ambassadors for Swiss music.
However, orchestral concert tours did not completely disappear from the Foundation’s portfolio, especially as diplomats considered these initiatives vital to promoting Swiss culture in the world. In addition to traditional projects, from the 1980s on, more attention was given to jazz, experimental music and to the education of young musicians.