British orchestras face the music

Striking the right note? Barry Wordsworth conducts the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

Striking the right note? Barry Wordsworth conducts the Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra

For years the world of classical music has kept itself aloof from the mainstream. That isolationist attitude may prove fatal.

Orchestras in UK are  increasingly dependent on donations for survival, as a demand for cheaper tickets, combined with cuts in public spending, puts pressure on their finances

A survey, by the Association of British Orchestra (ABO), found that public funding is down by 14% in real terms since 2010. The same survey revealed that almost 40% of donations are restricted to educational projects  and new buildings. Orchestra managers are  less able to invest in musical quality and the survival of many fine organizations is on a knife edge.

The Brighton Philharmonic Orchestra  is feeling the pinch. It’s general manager, Judith Clarke, stood down this year and no replacement will be sought.

At performances I attended this year at the Brighton Dome in Church Street the conductor of the orchestra Barry Wordsworth was reduced to pleading with the audience for donations in between the pieces.

I know to my cost how defensive the maestro is about the situation. When I wrote a review of the orchestra for The Argus which drew attention to the impact the crisis was having on the music, he called me to complain bitterly. But it is foolish to pretend that cutbacks do not lead to a drop in standards – for one thing, orchestras will not be able to  maintain the rehearsal schedule needed to deliver outstanding results.

At the final performance of the BPO this season, Barry Wordsworth told the sparse audience that although next season’s programme will go ahead, the situation remains parlous.

The golden age of public subsidy of high art is over. If the gap in funding is to be repaired through bigger audiences, direct intervention is needed to make it happen.

All taste in music is acquired. Teachers should stop trying to be  hip and instil a love of Beethoven instead of pandering to their pupils’ understandable obsession with all things Beyonce.