Two symphony orchestras are presently facing reduction. The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra has locked out its players with a view to getting their agreement to shrink the ensemble to Mozart dimensions, 45-55. The numbers have not been specified but these are the intentions that are reaching us from the company’s upper echelons. If they can’t force through a full reduction now, they aim to squeeze it in two years’ time.
The other orchestra under pressure is the Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There, recent management has been calamitous, with chief executives changing every other year. A consultant has recommended reducing the orchestra to 45. The board have rejected his report and hired a second consultant with a brief to maintain the orch at its present size.
Here are five reasons why downsizing orchestras will not work, either in Belfast or in Atlanta.
1 A shrunken orchestra never grows again. The decommissioned players leave town, going where the work is.
2 When it needs to play Brahms, the nearest trumpet will be a medium-haul flight away. The extra players will arrive late due to airport delays, with or without instruments and luggage. The rehearsals will be clouded by haste and resentment.
3 The extra strings required for a Mahler symphony will not be up to the standard of regular players. The concert will feel like a pro-am contest.
4 Any element of prestige, let alone ‘world-class’ designation, can be forgotten.
5 A downsized orchestra is one that is heading for the skids. In a few years, it will be abolished altogether.
Atlanta and Belfast have to face up to tough choices. Either they want an orchestra or they don’t. There is no middle way.