The people who run Britain's great orchestras aren't stupid. Not only that but they include individuals who are not state-hating free-market ideologues. They sucked a commitment to publicly funded high art provision with their mother's milk.
Plus they have musicians, composers and patrons breathing down their necks, some of whom are very big noises indeed, and occupy strategic positions in the British state. These people – wealthy, connected, self-confident – won't go quietly.
As reported by the BBC on 16th November 2010 a second round of cuts is now hitting British classical music, with provincial orchestras in the frame:
The Halle, based in Manchester, received £821,300 from the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (Agma) this year – almost 10% of its total budget.
Like all recipients of Arts Council England money, the Halle's grant is being cut by 6.9% next year and the orchestra must reapply for support beyond that.
Halle chief executive John Summers warned the orchestra was in danger of slipping back into the "life-threatening" financial crisis it experienced a decade ago. Source
Look at the list of top British orchestras:
Academy of Ancient Music
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
London Mozart Players
London Philharmonic Orchestra
London Symphony Orchestra
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
The English Concert
See here for a fuller list.
That's a lot of public money to defend. Of course, some have diversified funding. The LSO, for example, does lucrative Hollywood film work. Many orchestral players are freelancers, moving from job to job.
But others are contractual. Effectively they're salaried civil servants. A top international orchestra can't exist on temporary staff. The players must work together over many years as an intimate, homogeneous group to produce high quality music.
Arguments to defend British orchestras, BBC Radio 3 and the BBC Proms, the great cornerstones of British musical high art, will hot up as the public expenditure cuts – deeper than anything ever attempted in Britain before – begin to bite.
It becomes increasingly difficult to defend tax-money spent on, say, a third oboe parping away at a Mahler symphony while old ladies on inadequate state pensions, shivering in poorly maintained public housing stock, have just had their meals-on-wheels cut. But the arguments have to be made.