What’s the point of touring orchestras? asks UK culture chief

At a time when UK orchestras face the loss of their valuable European markets, Graham Sheffield of the British Council questions the value of turning up, giving a concert and moving on.

The model needs to change, says Graham:

Who now wants a touring orchestra that’s just going to turn up, play, and go? Not many! So, if you are running an orchestra with shrinking public subsidy and are looking to tour, look around you, take account of the best practice from across the world including the UK, and mark your score with an accelerando. The tempo is increasing and the great conductor in the skies won’t hang around for you!

Read the full article here.

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  • Ah, excellent, more abstract thinking from one of the brains on stalks at our top arts quangos, apparently under the impression that orchestras generally promote their own overseas gigs. Funny (or is it?) how often such senior people seem to have such a sketchy understanding of how arts organisations actually operate.

    Concerts cost money. Orchestras cost money. Education and community work takes time and costs money. If someone wants to pay for all that, then an orchestra will do it. Want a fully-integrated community residency complete with extensive educational programme? Pay for it, and orchestras will do it. Want ’em to jet in for one night to the far side of the world to play Star Wars after dinner to a bunch of businessman? Pay what it costs and they’ll do that too. (I get the impression that’s a bit more of a growth area, to be honest).

    The British Council feels that better results for the UK at large could be generated by more sustainable. deep-rooted overseas work? No doubt. So let them pay for it, or find someone who’s willing to do so. Orchestras are ready and willing. He’s talking to the wrong people.

  • “Who now wants a touring orchestra that’s just going to turn up, play, and go?” What a bizarre and pretty stupid question from someone who ought to know better! There are vast numbers of people around the world who never get the opportunity to hear good orchestras, and given the costs of touring are probably thrilled that even one concert is possible. How would the Edinburgh Festival and the Proms fare without visiting orchestras – the good and not just the great? What about the huge number of other Festivals around the world? Sheffield mentions the NYPO and the rather pointless concert in Pyongyang. Yes, it seems pointless now, but did it then? Was it not orchestras who helped bridge the gulf between Mao’s China and the West after the door had been opened a little through ping-pong diplomacy? I seem to recall that the London Philharmonic was the first major western orchestra to visit communist China with John Pritchard conducting. There is a story that at the reception after the opening concert the Chinese dignitary making the welcome speech proposed a toast to the members of the London Philharmonic and “its distinguished conductor Sir John Pritchard – Bottoms Up!”

    And look where China is now in the world of music?

    • “There are vast numbers of people around the world who never get the opportunity to hear good orchestras, and given the costs of touring are probably thrilled that even one concert is possible.”

      Good orchestras don’t play in places like this.

      Your optimism when talking about “opening doors” between east and west, north and south and so on with music is a little naive. Trade and money first. Then; perhaps, orchestras.

      • I think you’ll find the good orchestras do play in these places, particularly from Britain, but perhaps you don’t think they’re any good!!! 🙂 Yes, John Pritchard did go out there with the LPO.

    • To believe your nonsense is to believe the moon is of green cheese .
      Traveling orchestras are just window dressing for the countries sending
      out their “best “, having very little to do with music as much as a ritual to show
      off that the country has some sort of” cultural” heritage . All nations
      play the game. To believe orchestras have any bearing on world politics is to be naive. And just where is China now in the world of so called classical music ,
      the dreadful butterfly violin concerto ?

      • No, Milka, there is a great musical life out there and young audiences as well, and not just in Hong Kong where I was touring myself in 2012. And our music colleges here are full of Chinese and Koreans and Japanese, who have the money to come here and pay the full whack, go home where there is work and say, I studied at the Royal Northern College of Music … ‘ or whichever one.

        • Depends on what you view as a great musical life . It is a well known
          fact that many western conservatories and music colleges would be out
          of business if they didn’t pander to the Asian market and if the net result
          of this costly education is the butterfly violin concerto and similar works then
          the great musical life is indeed suspect .

    • To believe your comment is to believe the moon is of green cheese .
      Traveling orchestras are just window dressing for the countries sending
      out their “best “, having very little to do with music as much as a ritual to show
      off that the country has some sort of” cultural” heritage . All nations
      play the game. To believe orchestras have any bearing on world politics is to be naive. And just where is China now in the world of so called classical music ,
      the dreadful butterfly violin concerto ?

  • Idiocracy has arrived.
    What can we expect when our politicians -even those who are in charge of it-are non cultural vote hunters and they go where ever more votes comes from. We see them visiting factories, health clubs or pubs but never in a concert hall.

  • Some of them here in England do go but only on private visits. You never see them on the television as being to see Wagner’s Ring or even Opera North’s Ring, but you’ll see Angela Merkel there, never David Cameron or Theresa May or whoever!!

  • I thought this was a pretty good piece, and the headline a little misleading; I was expecting some philistine to say that orchestras are interchangeable and why does a city need to hear an orchestra from somewhere else?

    I think he makes a lot of sense: orchestras should go play elsewhere and establish relationships – with the audience, with students, with other performers. Orchestras tour for a lot of reasons: to earn money, to promote their brand, to burnish their reputation at home, etc.. What I want to see with touring orchestras is that they present something unique to them; Gergiev and the Maryinsky touring with concert productions of their operas or Shostakovich/Prokofiev cycles is one good example. And more multiple-concert residencies, which helps create more impact and surely must be more cost-effective than one-night stands.

    The worst – and seemingly the most prevalent – is some good but unheralded orchestra doing a token local piece/concerto with brand-name soloists with no particular connection to the orchestra/standard symphony.

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