The Arts Council – an orchestral condemnation

The Arts Council – an orchestral condemnation


norman lebrecht

March 31, 2011

Late yesterday, I received the following analysis of funding cuts from a distinguished and successful orchestral manager who has asked to remain anonymous. His statistics are deadly accurate and mortally revealing.

The question he puts is simple: if the ACE, contrary to its assertions, has merely spread equal misery across all orchestras – who needs an Arts Council at all? The job could be automated.
Here is his report:

Major Orchestras in England


Grants have now been  determined up to


By that
time grants will be:


Philharmonia   £2,131k


LSO                     £2,302k


LPO                     £2,131k


RPO                     £987k


CBSO                   £2,278k


RLPO                   £2,172k


Halle                     £2,174k


Bournemouth     £2,666k


In other
words, all will receive roughly the same (apart from RPO)- irrespective of their
geography or artistic policies.


All represent a cut of around 11% in real
terms – equal misery for all which could actually have been determined by one
person with a calculator.




  1. What’s the point of all the
    form- filling that all these orchestras had to undertake in order to bid
    for development funding or  demonstrate
    plans for innovation and adventure 
    or claim distinction as beacons of excellence which need to be
  2. Where’s the evidence of any
    assessment or judgement behind these grant figures?
  3. Where’s the evidence of any
    real orchestral strategy for the country?


the same thing happened in 1999 when orchestras drowned themselves in paper
setting out their strategies and plans which resulted in no changes whatever.


Important Question


Now that
the Arts Council have set the grants for the next four years, what’s the point
of employing a Music Department?


What’s it
going to  DO?


How many
more years of monitoring and assessing are there to be  without any real change in structure of the
orchestral scene which has been the fundamentally the same for half a century?




whilst everyone in the business breathes a sigh of relief that it “could be
worse”, give some thought to the longer term implications of all this. For how
long will we be able to expect people to devote their careers to playing in
orchestras at the highest level now expected for £28k per annum in a contract
orchestra or £93 per day as a freelance? And in view of the above
across-the-board cuts these musicians can expect these figures to go down in
real terms to something like £25k and £83. 

(NL: Great British orchestras, indeed.)


  • Barry says:

    Seeing the grants listed like that brings it home to me how small they are – even in difficult times like these.
    However, if comments in our newspapers mean anything, and it’s possible that they don’t, a lot of people would be perfectly happy if the whole lot disappeared tomorrow.
    It’s amazing how often Tracey Emin’s name comes up – she seems to have discredited the whole UK arts scene. If the Arts Council really cares about the arts, as opposed to itself, it has a lot of work to do.

  • Tim says:

    Norman – I know that orchestras are your specialism, but they form only a part (albeit an expensive one) of the wider music and arts sector. What has happened over the last couple of spending rounds, since the Stabilisation programme, is that the symphony orchestras have been, broadly speaking, grouped together as one fixed variable. However, that doesn’t mean ACE hasn’t been making strategic choices about how ‘symphony orchestras’ per se fit into the broader arts ecology – a delicate balance between rewarding artistic excellence, preserving geographic provision, and promoting a diversity of artforms (look at the, very welcome in my view, funding boosts for folk music and brass bands yesterday). I agree that now the orchestras have achieved a good level of financial stability it is time to look at the balance of funding within the orchestral world – and that is what seems to be planned.
    Some interesting decisions with regard to chamber orchestras though weren’t there?

  • Gregory says:

    I guess they just expect more musicians begging for food