Glastonbury orchestra goes begging for cash

Glastonbury orchestra goes begging for cash


norman lebrecht

June 03, 2014

The London Sinfonietta have made a big song and dance about being invited to play Steve Reich at the Glastonbury rock festival.

Turns out, they can’t afford the trip and have gone online to raise cash.

So far, without much success. Just £270 has trickled in out of a required £3,000.

Crowd funding is, in our long-established view, the wrong way for an orchestra or opera house to do business. It smacks of desperation – as it did with New York City Opera – and it encroaches on a device that exists to help individuals, not organisations.

The Sinfonietta have done themselves no favours, not least by appearing to fail.

Maybe they should just ring Metallica and ask for spare change.


Steve Reich


  • Peter says:

    More fool the Sinfonietta for failing to negotiate a fee that covers their needs, especially when in the Glastonbury scheme of things they probably need financial peanuts.

  • ElizaF says:

    Can’t they get temporary work at the BBC? The BBC usually send several hundred employees for a Glastonbury knees up.

    Courtesy of the “license fee”, of course. (For readers in non-UK countries, the license fee is a compulsory, flat-rate entertainment tax levied by the BBC on penalty of prison and/or substantial fines.)

    • Alexander says:

      That’s something of a misrepresentation. The UK is one of 22 countries in Europe (as well as several non-European countries including Israel, Japan, and the Republic of Korea) which require people watching or recording live television transmission within their jurisdiction to hold a licence to do so. In fact, the UK TV licence is cheaper than licences issued in Switzerland, Norway, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, and Belgium (Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions only). Four countries in Europe (Austria, the Walloon and Brussels-Capital regions of Belgium, Germany, and Poland) have also retained radio licensing, which was abolished in the UK in 1971. Finland only recently abolished its TV licence, and its public broadcaster, Yleisradio, is now funded through a tariff levied on individuals, rather than on households or devices. Furthermore, many countries which do not have TV licensing nonetheless maintain a public broadcasting service which is funded wholly or partly through taxation or through specific charges levied on electricity usage and/or equipment purchase. The UK is therefore by no means unusual in requiring its citizens to pay for public broadcasting. In fact, we are not even required to pay, as one can choose not to watch television. The BBC is the finest broadcasting service in the world, and in particular makes a huge contribution to classical music in this country, and I for one feel very grateful that such a service exists.

    • Will Duffay says:

      Oh give it a break. How to turn an interesting piece about funding into a silly rant about the BBC. (For readers in non-UK countries, there is right-wing pressure to scrap the licence fee for political and spurious commercial reasons.)

      But on the story: this does seem extraordinarily naive of the Sinfonietta. Did they feel so honoured by the gig that they felt they should do it regardless of the lack of a decent fee?

  • ElizaF says:

    I never said that the system of unique to the UK, Alexander, so I am not sure why needed to provide so many examples to show that it isn’t. You are arguing against thin air – or a “straw man”, as we say.

    My principal objection to the BBC is simply the fact that we have no choice when it comes to paying for it. Even if you never, ever tune into the BBC, you have to send it money every month to make programmes you don’t want and never watch. Doesn’t this seem absurd to you? We aren’t talking about the provision of hospitals and schools and the justice system and so on – all of which are rightly funded from general taxation – but the provision of entertainment. Soap operas, pop music, news, sport, house make-overs………Does the government (in the form of a state broadcaster) really have a role to play here when the market can do it instead, while also allowing people choice?

    The great bulk of the BBC budget is, of course, spent on products that are no different to those provided by the market. BBC news is not superior to any other news. Nor are the great, great majority of its television programmes. The BBC does provide some products that are not usually provided by the market – particularly classical music radio – but this represents only a miniscule fraction of its budget. If we agree that these are so important, culturally and otherwise, that we simply must have them, even if most people don’t want them, then the sensible thing would be to provide them from general taxation at a fraction of the cost. Instead, we have a license fee which finances an enormous range and volume of programmes and services which are qualitatively indistinguishable from those provided by private companies in competition with one another. It is hard to see how such a system can be justified, especially when we consider the likely impact of such protectionism on the BBC’s management and on those households which can ill afford yet another regressive tax.

  • Leah says:

    I’m not surprised the packages aren’t flying off the shelf – unless I’m missing something, the only difference between the £250 and £500 packages is a pair of tickets retailing at max. £25 each, so that’s £200 just for the pleasure. Bold. And a bit of a shambles for an ACE national portfolio organisation with a development team and fêted fundraising consultant.

  • Matt says:

    Hi Norman and all,

    Seems like quite a normal thing to do. This kind of opportunity might be one that a) doesn’t come around often, and b) is perceivably (to the orchestra) worth doing.
    I have serious respect for London Sinfonietta for doing everything that they can to try and make this possible, whilst not diverting hard fund-raised ‘core funds’ from ACE and other trusts and foundations.
    It’s difficult, but it’s great that London Sinfonietta have been able to respond to an opportunity, take it up, will hopefully play to an audience that might not usually engage with classical music, and that London Sinfonietta have been willing to seize this opportunity and make it work.
    As for festival fees; they’re often segmented out, so each stage will be curated and each curator have a budget which will probably be soaked up (mostly) by a few big name artists, with a lot of others going for free tickets or whatever fee can be offered.
    Would you prefer that LS offers lower fees and asks their musicians to do this for free, or they make the effort to fundraise?
    Or are you just bothered that there aren’t enough rich patrons of the orchestra to prevent them from trying a public fundraising method?


  • SVM says:

    I would urge the London Sinfonietta to renegotiate their contract, so as to cover all of their travel expenses (in addition to receiving an adequate fee). Failing that, they should cancel the appearance; it is not right that the financial burden be shifted from a festival that can eminently afford it to individual members of the public (who may or may not have already spent a considerable sum of money on a ticket for the relevant festival). If Glastonbury can get away with passing the buck with a leading professional ensemble, I fear that other festivals would use this as a pretext for making invitees fundraise expenses that should properly be covered by the festival. This must not be allowed to happen (although it is probably already happening), and I hope that the ISM and the MU will be lobbying Glastonbury on this matter, in the strongest terms.

  • SVM says:

    I have no idea why Matt thinks it is “quite a normal thing to do” (it may be so in the amateur pop-music scene, but we have standards in classical music, which should include paying expenses as well as a fee to professionals), but, in any case, the London Sinfonietta *is* a “big name” artist. If they cannot command expenses as well as a fee commensurate with their professional standing, who can? How big a name will you have to be, before you can expect to simply not be out of pocket, let alone earn a decent living? Is it right that, according to Matt’s comment, so much money is concentrated in a small number of people, leaving many on slave pay?

    I fear that, if such practices become tolerated by the leading ensembles, it will do a gross disservice to the rest of us, resulting in artists who do not have the means to pay/fundraise their expenses being precluded from participating in the profession. This is likely to result in a homogenisation of the scene, favouring those who take fewer artistic risks. To answer Matt’s question directly, I would rather the London Sinfonietta go back to the festival promoters and demand that their expenses be paid? If that failed, they should neither lower their players’ fees nor fundraise, but rather they should cancel, to be honest, and not be complicit in passing the buck away from those who stand to profit from their appearance (be under no illusion: Glastonbury makes a lot of money).