It is an incredible privilege and also quite terrifying to be here as I survey the extraordinary knowledge, passion and commitment to classical music that sits in front of me this afternoon. Rachmaninoff said "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." If a lifetime is not enough, then my 15 minute speech will certainly be inadequate, but I will do my best.
First I think I should put my own cards on the table. I have loved classical music all my life, ever since my mum bought me a collection of classical LPs when I was a child and I fell in love with the Beautiful Blue Danube. At 11 my school music teacher made me sit through an entire cycle of the Ring. Whenever I say that, people grimace as if to say "surely not Wagner at 11?" but actually I loved it for the very simple reason that there was a great story I could follow which made the music come alive. The sheer force and power of the music in the cycle also fuels the imagination so that music makes the story come alive as much as the story opens an avenue to interpret the music.
In a very different way I noticed that same technique when I went to see one of the LSO's education programmes a couple of weeks ago when they focused on the Carnival of the Animals. Again the power of stories and images, working to complement and enhance a musical offering.
Despite my love of music, I suspect my tastes are a little less adventurous than most people here. However since I have been lucky enough to take on this brief I have started to listen to slightly more challenging music - starting to tread what you might call the long yellow brick road from Classic FM to Radio 3. I fear I am still only a few steps along that road.
Let me start by saying simply this: if you love music, Britain is one of the best countries in the world to be in.
I tried to do some research to see if this could be objectively demonstrated. It turns out that if you take big, internationally acclaimed orchestras, Russia has one for every 28m of population, America has one for every 17m of population; France has one for every 9m of population and Britain has one for every 5m of population. In other words we are twice as well served as France and three times as well served as the US. Only Germany and Austria do better.
Now of course we mustn't rest on our laurels. The controversial Gramophone survey suggested we only have one orchestra in the world's top 20, which is a reminder if nothing else that others do not always see us as we see ourselves. But few would disagree that we offer choice and variety in classical music that is amongst the very best in the world. Much of that success, incidentally, is down to the people in this room for which you deserve huge congratulations.
We also do very well in pop music too with British acts like Coldplay, Radiohead and Robert Plant scooping up 13 awards at this year's Grammys. I'd love to find out if you could demonstrate a scientific link between our success in classical and our success in pop.
And there are other genres like musicals, where the highest grossing musicals of all time on Broadway are - yes - British. We owe that to Andrew Lloyd Webber for Cats and Phantom of the Opera.
But in a way where we sit on international league tables of classical music is irrelevant, because unlike the World Cup or the Olympics, success in music is not a zero-sum game. For one country to do well does not require another country to do badly - indeed quite the opposite. When one country does well it enriches us all. And music, in particular, is a great way of bringing people together. We export some of our finest musicians - think of Simon Rattle at the Berlin Philarmonic - and attract the best from across the globe. Our orchestras tour all over the world as cultural ambassadors for the very best we have to offer, something for which you deserve more recognition. But by the same merit we are blessed in the UK to be enriched by an extraordinary array of international talent that either performs or bases itself in the UK.
Let me stop here and come back closer to home by showing you a short video. This was taken at St Matthews School, a small primary school in the heart of Westminster that happens to the closest primary school to where the Department of Children Schools and Families is located. In many ways it fits the traditional model of an inner city school, with large numbers of children from socially deprived families and a significant number of children not speaking English as a first language.
It does, however, have one very special asset, and that is the head Nicola Cottier. She happens to have a huge passion for music, although doesn't herself play an instrument. Nor for that matter did any of the other staff when she took over the school, so she set about changing things.
When we talk about the success of British music, we tend to focus on the big achievements of our stars. But if you believe, as I do, that Plato was right when he said that "Music and rhythm find their way into the secret places of the soul" then you want the keys to music to be unlocked for everyone, and not just those who happened to have a privileged education.
St Matthews School is an inspiring example of how that can happen in the state system, but it is an all too rare one as well, as the Cambridge Primary Review by Robin Alexander pointed out so powerfully last week. So focusing on music education, and how we can do it better, would be a major preoccupation of mine if I end up being the real as opposed to the Shadow Culture Secretary.
Sometimes it is important, when looking at something like music, to step back and ask what works well and what doesn't work well.
One of the things that works particularly well in this country is the mixed economy funding of the arts. Most music organisations benefit from a combination of support from private giving, public support and ticket sales. Public support comes both through the taxpayer and the National Lottery.
A Conservative government will do everything it can to preserve that mixed economy. I truly believe we have an opportunity to benefit in this country from a combination of American-style private giving and European-style public support.
We need both types of funding because different types of funding allows different types of creativity to flourish. It is unlikely that the state could support an individual soloist right through in the way a philanthropist can; but by the same merit private giving is unlikely to replace the Arts Council's Take It Away scheme which provides interest free loans for more than 16,000 people from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds to buy musical instruments. One can imagine a philanthropist endowing the ENO or the Royal Opera House, but not perhaps doing what the lottery does in providing £10m every year to Youth Music to support the development of young musicians under Christina Coker's excellent leadership.
<h2>New sources of funding</h2>
I am happy to pay tribute to Labour for increasing funding for the Music Standards Fund. But I think there is still a lot more that could be done.
Firstly a Conservative government will return the lottery to its original four pillars. Repeated smash and grab raids by ministers have meant that lottery funding for the arts has fallen by £231m or 52% since 1997. Our reforms won't get it back to that level I'm afraid, but they should generate an additional £50m or so for the arts which will make a huge difference.
Secondly we will see what can be done to encourage private giving. Some of you may say I am absolutely mad to be talking about private giving in the current climate, but I make no apology for doing so. This is a long term project, and we will not be in recession for ever - so wouldn't it be fantastic if a government bit the bullet and laid the foundations for US levels of philanthropy here in the UK?
We hear a great deal about the billionaire philanthropists, and sometimes when it comes to Alberto Vilar or Sir Allen Stanford for unfortunate reasons. But we should not forget the people who are financially on the next level down either: people who may not be in the Sunday Times Rich List but have accumulated enough wealth through their lives to be able to support a treasured cause.
I think we can do this in a number of ways. We need to look at how to encourage arts and music organisations to build up endowments, especially through legacy giving. The key to this is to create the structures which allow people to be recognised for legacy giving when they are still alive, something that happens much more successfully in the US.
We should simplify the gift aid system which forces arts organisations to go through a morass of bureaucracy in order to get relief.
And we also need to be much less British about being prepared to recognise and publicly reward people who are generous philanthropists. We have the honours system which to me seems a perfect way to do this, and I commend the Prince of Wales for establishing his Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy. But again much more could be done.
Something else that I think works well in this country with respect to music is the role of broadcasters.
From the very outset television has proved influential in the development of music and musicians. In this country, our unique public service broadcasting ecology has added a distinctive colour to Britain's musical palette.
Perhaps more than any other institution, the BBC has promoted and advanced British music. It goes without saying that the Proms is probably the finest celebration of classical music anywhere in the world, filling its seats last year to an astonishing capacity. Although they did not create the Proms, the BBC has used its stewardship of this festival to do a huge amount to open up classical music to a wider audience.
If I am trying to defend the licence fee to a critical audience, the Proms is usually amongst the first things I mention, alongside of course the excellent BBC orchestras.
I must confess however that part of the reason for praising the BBC is because I have what Baldrick would call a "cunning plan" that I want their help with. I will come to that in a moment.
As I mentioned when we saw the video about St Matthews earlier, if there is one area I would like to focus on it is music education. I don't pretend to be an expert, and I am aware that a huge amount of work has been done. But I do think it is a worthy area for a Culture Secretary to focus on, because in the end it helps to secure the foundations upon which the entire success of British classical music is based.
The government has talked a great deal about this. In 2001 they promised that, 'in time', all children of primary school age would have the chance to learn a musical instrument. The same pledge appeared in Labour's 2001 and 2005 manifestos.
There have also been a huge number of schemes and initiatives along the way, perhaps too many. 'Creative Sparks', launched in 2005, was supposed to ensure that all children, by the age of 16 would have 'performed music live to an audience'. We've also had Creative Partnerships, the Wider Opportunities Fund, the Music Manifesto, the Sing Up Campaign, a music teachers development fund, and finally the Find Your Talent pilots.
I know our orchestras have played their part too, not least with the 'live to every child pledge'. Just last year for instance I'm told that 400 concerts took place for schools reaching 250,000 children.
All these initiatives have had individual merits, but many have struggled to find a tangible way to harness the many different ways one could approach the topic of music education. Indeed the sheer number of initiatives has caused confusion, and we are still a long way from our goal.
Put simply, we want every child to have the chance to play a musical instrument. Despite the pledges and promises made by ministers, more than a third of pupils who would like to play an instrument still do not get that opportunity. This means 1.2 million primary school pupils are being denied to develop their musical talent.
Less than half a million 5-14 year olds receive music tuition. And only 13% of key stage two pupils receive instrumental or vocal tuition - the same amount as in 2002.
I therefore think most would agree that provision, whilst excellent in places, is pretty patchy throughout the country, both in terms of provision and the infrastructure that supports it.
We should also remember that making announcements is much easier than actually implementing them. Two years after the launch of the music teachers development fund which was supposed to train 2000 music teachers, just 304 teachers have completed the course, and nearly the entire budget has been used up.
<h2>Winning the argument with teachers</h2>
So what can be done? I don't want to stand here today and tell you I have all the answers. But there are two things I think that could make a difference, one practical and one more theoretical.
The more theoretical one relates to the attitude the teaching profession take towards music education. We need to banish the idea that music education is something that is "nice to do if you can" in other words when you have finished concentrating on literacy and numeracy. It is not an "either-or" - quite the reverse, music education has been shown to help a child's broader education on all sorts of levels.
We saw it in the video of St Matthews. But it is there in the hard evidence too.
As well as Robin Alexander's Cambridge Primary Review last week, a particularly good piece of empirical research was carried out by Schellenberg in 2004.
Of four randomly assigned groups of six year olds, two received musical tuition. Another was given drama lessons whilst the remaining one had no extra lessons at all. As would be expected over the time period, all four groups showed increases in IQ.
Similar increases were seen in the drama and 'no lessons' groups, but both the group learning the keyboard and the group having singing lessons saw the average IQ of the groups rise by around a third more than in the control groups.
The social effects are clear. Children involved with music, in general, have more positive attitudes, greater awareness of others while exhibiting a higher level of self esteem. Further studies suggest that these effects are even more pronounced for otherwise disaffected students.
So we need to win this argument with the education establishment. This is not simply about creating the musicians and audiences of the future. This is about tapping into the talents of every single child and helping motivate them through the whole of their studies.
I have been working closely with Michael Gove in this area and he, like me, is determined to make progress because we need to recognize that this is not something that can be solved by one government department alone.
<h2>National Music Week</h2>
Secondly a more practical suggestion.
Before I set it out in detail, let me pay tribute to what you are all doing already. I know that all the orchestras represented in this room have a huge commitment to musical education, by visiting schools and by performing for students. I have seen a number of programmes in action and I warmly welcome the commitment you made last year to get every child in to hear a live musical performance at least once during their school years.
You need Government to row alongside you on this, and to help raise the profile of what you are doing. So here is a suggestion from the interim report of the Music Education Task Force, presented to me and Michael Gove earlier this week. They proposed establishing an annual National Music Week. Primarily, but not exclusively focused on schools, this would bring together schools, community groups, the music industry, broadcasters and local government in a week long celebration of music.
This has been talked about before, and sort of happened in 2006 although it was never repeated. I want to suggest to you today that this is simply too good an idea to let fall between the cracks.
We would need the support of broadcasters like the BBC and Classic FM, hence my grovelling earlier to the BBC, who could possibly set up a televised national school orchestra competition. But in many ways this is not about new initiatives, but providing a platform or focus for what already exists. By concentrating events into one week, we would hope to give music in schools a real boost, one that would last throughout the rest of the year.
Let me leave you with what Bach said about music. "There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the time and the instrument plays itself." If only. But if there are any young Bachs out there, let's make absolutely sure we find them.