British Orchestras & the Cuts

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BBC Prom

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

Hallé Orchestra

London Mozart Players

London Philharmonic Orchestra

London Symphony Orchestra

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Philharmonia Orchestra

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.


Closure of BBC Radio 3 Message Boards

The BBC has suddenly announced the closure of the BBC Radio 3 Message Boards:


BBC Radio 3 message boards closure


Users are deciding where to go. R3OK is welcoming refugees and Friends of Radio 3 have revved up their forums. Both are excellent.

With the BBC facing cuts, the Murdoch brood wailing about BBC competition and licking their lips, the BBC orchestras under threat, and the Proms (funded by the BBC) always at risk in times of recession, the destruction of the Radio 3 online community sounds a warning bell.

Hopefully people won't just disappear, or get lost on Twitter and Facebook. BBC classical music needs all the friends it can get.

Roger Wright, Controller BBC Radio 3, Director of the BBC Proms

Greenwich International Early Music Festival & Exhibition 2010


Another superb early music festival and exhibition at Greenwich. Slightly fewer exhibitors than last year, but both halls were packed. Given the length and depth of the recession that's a pretty good showing.

I went to just one concert: Rachel Brown playing Telemann's Twelve Fantasias for Solo Flute in the chapel.


I sat at the front in case the small sound of the baroque flute was lost further back. But it wasn't necessary. The implied harmony of these solo pieces, aided by the chapel's acoustics, may even have been more pronounced in the centre or rear of the hall.

Hall management should do something about their blow heaters! The audience mustn't freeze, but the flute shouldn't be made to compete with electric motors.


Rachel Brown is at the top of her game (she gave a festival master class the previous morning). These pieces, along with JS Bach's solo Partita and CPE Bach's solo sonata, are tremendously exposing, with the smallest error immediately visible.

She uses a sweet, bell-like tone, similar to that employed by Stephen Preston and Lisa Beznosiuk. Very different from the louder, breathier, more aggressive continental style of, say, Jed Wentz.

There were no errors of any importance. Ms Brown maintained a poise and a stamina to the end. That's a full hour of completely solo performance – a tremendous feat.

In some ways her performances are conservative. Not much extemporising, no showy cadenzas, little finger vibrato. But that means that when she does 'let rip' the palate's unjaded and it comes as a delightful shock.

For example, she deploys a wonderful technique whereby the final note of a phrase or section is given a gentle 'push' before she terminates it, sending it out into the hall to shimmer in the acoustics, like an exotic bird.

Worth keeping an eye on the concert schedules and hearing Rachel Brown play these pieces. She's recorded them recently.

This festival, and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance who host it, are gems. Long may they survive.

The following photos includes a few of the trip down-river from central London. High res copies are available. The image of Rachel Brown (shown above) is by C Christodoulou.