Another orchestra goes under

Another orchestra goes under


norman lebrecht

April 21, 2011

Wretched news from the English shires. One of the country’s best youth orchestras gave its last concert this week, after a lifeline of local authority funding was cut off.

Bedfordshire, not the north of London, is not a poor part of the country, but the council has to adjust to lower grants from central government and music was the first victim of the new era.

The Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra was the nursery for many outstanding musicians who brought credit to their homeland the world over – among them, the conductors Andrea Quinn, presently head of New York City Ballet and Andrew Manze.

That nursery is no longer.
I present below two testimonies from the funeral.
Dear Mr Lebrecht,

Saturday the 16th April, marked one of the saddest days of my professional life. As an alumni of Beds Youth Orchestra and a professional violinist, I have watched in disbelief at its plight over the last couple of months, a downfall that culminated on Saturday night. The evening concert that took place at the Bedford Corn Exchange was the Swan Song for one of Britain’s finest and oldest youth orchestras. In perspective, this is an orchestra that could not only boast alumni in every professional orchestra, or one that could proudly talk of tours to Russia, The Czech Republic, Budapest, Cyprus, Italy, it was also an orchestra that gave performances of Mahler Symphonies that would please many seasoned bands, and one that was also broadcast on radio 3. In short this was no ordinary Youth Orchestra, this was a gem, a national treasure. 

Beds Youth Orchestra can also boast some fairly successful alumni: I if I could take a moment to name just a few, you will see why the impact of this will be felt through the music world, and will have repercussions on our musical world forever.
Andrew Manze international soloist was there first leader in the early 1970’s. 

David Hesketh principal viola of Opera Bauge 
David Hext
 Principal percussionist with the Halle Orchestra.

Michael Hext Principal Trombone ~ Royal Opera House.

Philip Hesketh is currently Musical Director of the London Children’s Ballet. 
Greg Malcangi
 is now a BAFTA nominated composer/producer of music for TV/Film.
Andrea Quinn
 was until recently Musical Director of The Royal Ballet, and is now Musical Director of the New York City Ballet.
Leslie Pratt
 a producer for BBC Radio 3.
Christopher Yates
 Principal viola with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Sam Walton Young Musician of the year finalist

Judith Templeman Associate concertmaster RPO
Brendan Thomas Horn player BBC
Catherine Templeman
 Orchestral manager ECO
Ben Lane Scottish Chamber Orchestra in Edinburgh.

And this is just a snapshot of perhaps the most high profile former students. You can go into almost any orchestra in the UK and find someone whom used to play in Beds Youth Orchestra. For myself, I can say without hesitation, that without Beds Youth Orchestra I would not have achieved what I have, the opportunities to study at the RNCM, to go to the USA and join a professional quartet would just not of happened.

Its long term conductor and architect Michael Rose O.B.E conducted the last concert and gave a moving speech before the final composition (there were shouts of “we have so much to thank you for”) was performed. Michael who was for while the conductor for the BBC training orchestra helped start the orchestra in 1971, and it was his drive and energy, passion for the 39 years of his life that has made this orchestra into what it was. Actually, ironically a damn good training orchestra.

What does this say for our country, and our present Conservative led Government? That they could allow such a resource to be lost, and lost forever?I have repeatedly written to Michael Gove about this, with no real response, for their part the Government seems to be saying that this is a local decision, by the local council. Which indeed it is, but how can the Government allow this to happen?This is part of wider cuts, in

fact Beds Youth Music has been completely cut from this August, the council want music to this awful phrase “cost neutral”! Again this is a travesty of the highest order, unless we have music services then our music profession stands no chance, and again this was not any ordinary youth service, it was the best one. It embraced the triangle principal, namely that you need to have thousands of children starting an instrument to get maybe a 100 that are any good, and only one or two that go on to do it as a job. Coupled with outstanding teaching and a dedicated team this is what Beds Music did so well for years. Each holiday was packed with courses, 5 orchestras, 3 bands a Jazz Band a Youth Choir a Youth Opera a Chamber Music Course with the Magginni Quartet, all of which is now largely gone.

It is with great sadness that I write this letter, and I am not sure how much I can do, but at the least I think the country deserves to know that this butchery is happening.

Yours in Disbelief

James Dickenson

Dear Mr Lebrecht,
I have been following your blog and the unfortunate events regarding the OSB, as well as the Philadelphia Orchestra, and thought you might be interested in hearing about the disgraceful treatment of the Bedfordshire ensembles.
As many of us know, councils are re-thinking their contributions to their music services, but thus far it seems not many have been affected. Bedfordshire, however, has. Whilst surrounding councils have decided to continue giving money to their music services (Luton and Hertfordshire for example), Bedfordshire have decided to pull the plug on theirs.
On Saturday 16th April, the Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra gave its final performance. This is a youth orchestra that has been running for 40 years, 39 of which have been conducted by the composer and conductor Michael Rose OBE. Their talent through the years has had them performing epic works such as Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, as well as performing concerti with the renowned Tasmin Little. Their capabilities and professionalism are as such, that the second time Ms Little was approached, she reduced her fee by 75% because of how much she had enjoyed working with the orchestra the first time.
Now, after 40 years, this orchestra is to be scrapped. During their final performance, Mr Rose spoke to the audience praising the orchestra, stating how it’s been a pleasure to work with them, and how disgusted he was by the council’s decision to pull the funding to the orchestra. His comments were cheered on by the audience, and everybody seemed to feel the same way.
What was most shocking, I found, was that at the end of the concert the head of the Music Service, Richard Hart, took to the stage (sheepishly I might add) to reel off praise after praise for the orchestra, and to express how saddened he was that the orchestra would no longer exist. These expressions may have won over some of the audience, but what many may not know is that in the letter addressed to the tutors of the orchestra, it was revealed that their services “would no longer be required”, and that, shockingly, their records would be removed from the council database! These tutors, some of who have worked with the orchestra for over 20 years, will not exist on the council’s database. Mr Rose’s 39 years of service to the orchestra, will no longer exist on the database! Mr Hart is so “distraught” about the dissolution of the orchestra that he is making sure that all records of it are wiped; as though it never existed! Furthermore, when a member of staff suggested that they try and get some of the press to attend the concert for exposure, Mr Hart replied with “Oh no, we wouldn’t want to do that”. Better that the orchestra die quietly rather than it be known that the council will no longer fund such a remarkable orchestra.
Michael Rose has stated that he, and the other tutors, are working behind-the-scenes to try and ensure that the orchestra continues, even if it must be under a new name. But with the costs to run the courses and performances projected at £15,000, it will be next to impossible to run unless they get some serious funding or charge each member of the orchestra close to £200 (a 100% increase on the price of the last course).
Surely, when ensembles of such calibre as this are scrapped, it shows that councils are trying too hard to erase music from the lives of today’s youth!

Louis Cross

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  • Derek Warby says:

    About 20 years or so ago, when the rot of not supporting music in schools began to set in, there was a survey among professional musicians asking how many of them were playing professionally because of free lessons at school and experience in youth orchestras. The percentage was staggeringly high (I think it was around 75%). What can we expect for the future if we keep removing, one by one, all the stepping stones that young musicians can take towards a professional career? Richard Hart should be deeply ashamed of his conduct -especially for wiping Bedfordshire County Youth Orchestra from the records (what’s the matter, Mr Hart – too uncomfortable for you to have any reminders of the orchestra’s existence?). He should resign immediately as I find it difficult to imagine what sort of ‘Music Service’ can be left now this fine youth orchestra has been demolished. Shame on everyone involved!

  • RichardB says:

    I’ve been directly involved over the last decade with the dissolution of two independent (non-Local Authority-funded) Youth Orchestras; both excellent groups with long and inspiring histories, both with comfy bank-balances. The issue was falling rolls and the practical difficulty of keepng volunteer-run bodies functioning on a weekly basis. From this experience, I sense the independent YO model doesn’t seem to have much of a future; financial and administrative backing from a larger body with a real commitment to the cultural values that drive (and derive from) classical music – seems to be essential.
    Happily, one of these two YOs was restructured and taken on by a major symphony orchestra, with spectacular results. Indeed, several major symphony orchestras run Youth Orchestras, and where that’s possible, it seems an ideal model, with benefits that operate both ways. The YO gets access to incredible musical expertise and has the backing of an organisation that is genuinely committed to what orchestras represent, along with all those marketing and fundraising resources. And the “parent” orchestra gets a wonderful focus for that all-important (and funding-generating) education work.
    My early experiences in the RLPO-run Merseyside Youth Orchestra shaped my whole career; so I know that it doesn’t only have to be done through LEA support. But equally, it’s hard to see who can take the LEA’s place in areas without access to professional orchestras (ie most shire counties!). I hope Bedfordshire finds an answer; it’s a cruel act of vandalism.

  • Heather Thomas says:

    Shocking, shocking decision. We must all fight to maintain the youth music provision in the U.K.

  • Alexander Prior says:

    Shocking! Really saddening to see something so important to the future of the whole country, as well as these individual youngsters, disappear just like that! I hope that this current government reconsiders!!

  • Nick Bootiman says:

    Here I find myself commenting on your blog again – in entirely different circumstances! I too grew up in Bedfordshire and learnt so many vital things from Michael Rose and the tutors in the Youth Orchestra. I seem to remember joining the orchestra on James Dickenson’s last course. I share his disbelief and mourning. Something which takes so long to build can be cut down in one blow. How long will it take to rebuild something like this? I know I wouldn’t be where I am now without that education. How very very awful.

  • Rosana Martins says:

    Are we living a TSUNAMI in the orchestral world? When will people realize how music helps in every part of life, including encouranging PEACE?
    In Rio, the BRAZILIAN SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA announces it has lots of money! What do they do with it??? The administration backs the music director’s decision, ROBERTO MINCZUK, to sack 37 musicians who refused to re-audition for their own positions in the orchestra!
    Although the musicians have asked on several occasions for Mr. Minczuk’s dismissal, the board of directors continues to impose him. None of them is a musician…
    The worst in the OSB’s tragic story is that all these musicians were fired with no right to receive a pension after all the years of dedication.

  • Tony says:
    Cllr David Sawyer Lib Dem, portfolio holder, children’s services, Bedford borough council has responded ‘robustly’ to the news about Bedfordshire youth music.
    This government has bizarre concepts of how to spend/save taxpayers’ money. In the last four weeks we must have spent close to a billion pounds sponsoring violent regime change in Libya, following the same misguided barbaric model as previously in Iraq and Afghanistan. To pay for these war games in the Middle East and especially to pay for bankers’ failures (more than a trillion pounds’ worth) in their investment arms the UK public is expected to lie back and accept butchery of public services and jobs.
    Bonkers. Truly bonkers. The insane truly are running the lunatic asylum.

  • It is a huge problem in the Youth Music Sector in the UK that many incredible ensembles and activities have to rely on local government funding which can be awarded or withdrawn at very short notice. In Scotland, the 1996 local government reorganisation left some previously successful youth orchestras and choirs stranded without the resources and support to continue, and they either folded or took many years to re-establish themselves.
    Bedfordshire Youth Orchestra should be encouraged to set itself up independently. The listed Alumni who have gone on to make professional careers are the visible success stories, but alongside that there will be 1000s of Alumni for whom the musical and social experiences have created memories and friendships for life.
    I met Michael many years ago when the NFMS was running a conducting competition and the Beds Orchestra was the “interview”. Having set up the National Youth Choir of Scotland 15 year ago, and seeing just how life changing these activities can be, I can totally relate to the sense of frustration and despair of the staff and musicians associated with the Orchestra at the loss of this support. So go it alone. Contact your alumni, set up a board, start fundraising. You have already suggested that Beds could be in a comfortable position to source funding. Make Michael Rose an Honorary President, Patron, seek a new generation of staff.
    The most alarming thing about this would be the loss of records for the orchestra over its lifetime – that loses you the names and possible ways of contacting supporters. Its also the loss of a piece of social history. That action is worrying….. Why is it necessary?
    Use this as a springboard to the next chapter in the life of the Orchestra. Don’t let a good thing die……
    Christopher Bell
    Artistic Director, National Youth Choir of Scotland