Breaking: Mirga’s CBSO suffers 25 percent cut

Breaking: Mirga’s CBSO suffers 25 percent cut


norman lebrecht

December 15, 2016

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has lost a quarter of its local government subsidy in a round of pre-Christmas cuts. The orchestra had just begun to smile again under new music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

The CBSO is launching a public appeal for funds to help it cover the missing £228,000.

This press statement has just landed:

photo (c) Chris Christodoulou/LebrechtMusic&Arts

CBSO funding from Birmingham City Council falls to 1980s levels after latest cuts

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra recognises that Birmingham City Council faces significant financial challenges.  The orchestra is nevertheless disappointed that its funding from the City Council will be cut by 25% from April 2017.

A cut of this scale equates to a reduction of £228,000 from the current year’s level.  Coming on top of the £1.47 million real-terms public funding cuts which the orchestra has already absorbed since 2010, it means the CBSO’s public funding will drop below that currently received by any other regional symphony orchestra in the country, with its Birmingham City Council grant falling to levels last seen in the 1980s.

The CBSO has done all it can to maintain the world-class excellence and breadth of its concert-giving, educational, outreach and choral programmes in spite of previous cuts.  It has consistently achieved the highest ticket income of any orchestra in the UK, annual fundraised income has increased from £450,000 to around £1.2 million thanks to the generosity of the orchestra’s many donors and funders, and it has raised a £2 million Endowment fund.

As a result, the orchestra is still recognised internationally among the best in the world, bringing cultural, educational and economic benefits to people in the Midlands and flying the flag for the region worldwide.  This year it has won global acclaim for performances with its newly-appointed Music Director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

CBSO chair Bridget Blow said: ‘We are concerned and disappointed that, in the face of financial pressures, Birmingham City Council has felt it necessary to cut funding for arts and culture so much faster than local authorities in other major cities.  There is global excitement about the CBSO’s future with one of the world’s most exciting young conductors, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla, at the helm – but this latest cut will require us to work harder than ever to maintain the world-class concerts and Learning & Engagement activities which the people of Birmingham have come to expect.  We are grateful for the generosity of our many supporters at this time.’

The CBSO has been working with Birmingham’s other arts organisations over the last year to establish Culture Central, a development organisation and collective voice for culture in the city-region. Culture Central is now calling for a complete review of the way that the sector and the City Council work together in the future.

Gary Topp, Director of Culture Central said: ‘We have been making it clear for many months now that a radical new proposition for cultural investment in the city needs to be established and we are disappointed that the City Council has not shown more appetite for this innovative approach to date. The many exceptional cultural organisations in the city have extended their own level of commercial and entrepreneurial activity considerably in recent years and we are asking the City Council to reciprocate. In effect we are seeking the full backing of the Council to create the necessary freedoms and flexibilities for the sector to thrive and to move to a more dynamic and contemporary approach. The sector has prepared itself for this approach through the creation of Culture Central as a collaborative leadership vehicle and we need to work in a radically reframed partnership with the Council to bring these opportunities to fruition.’

Anyone wishing to make a donation to support the CBSO’s future can do so by contacting Eve Vines on or by visiting



  • Will Duffay says:

    The Tories’ toxic austerity cuts strike again. Local councils might have priorities we disagree with, but essentially they’re being starved of money by government.

    What’s a particular shame in this case is that Birmingham is internationally known probably only for the CBSO and for a couple of football clubs. And the CBSO is a much better cultural export. I hope Brummies rally round and support their orchestra.

  • David Osborne says:

    So that’s three stories on serious cuts to orchestras just on page 1 of Slipped Disc. I think we have a problem.

  • MacroV says:

    Reading the numbers, what really stuns me as an American is how little the orchestra raises from private donors and the size of its endowment. Much as many (including people on this blog) like to deride vulgar, Philistine Americans at times, a number of U.S. orchestras have endowments over $100 million, and raise millions in private donations each year (tax deductible so implicitly a government contribution, too). The upside is you have the community invested in the well-being of the orchestra.

    • Brummie says:

      The orchestra’s ramped up it’s fundraising massively recently but donors will clearly need to do even more in the future

    • Halldor says:

      Valid observation, but for a range of cultural and political reasons stretching back decades, there is no culture in the UK of high-level arts donations and endowment-building comparable to that in the US. The CBSO is actually ahead of most comparable organisations in the UK in that regard. I suspect it’d dearly like to be free of reliance on public subsidy, but the UK arts-funding climate has historically worked against private fundraising – continual firefighting isn’t conducive to long term financial planning. And of course, the relatively small handful of US orchestras that do have these mega-endowments have spent the best part of a century building their funds.

    • Maria says:

      Not an expert, but I don’t believe that the tax rules in the UK have encouraged a culture of private funding to the same extent.

      • Simon Fairclough says:

        In fact the government offers very generous tax reliefs to charity donors in the UK.

        If a UK taxpayer wanted to, he or she could give away his or her entire income tax free through the Gift Aid scheme. The charity reclaims the basic rate of tax and the donor reclaims any higher rate tax. For example, if a 40% taxpayer donated £800 it would be worth £1000 after basic rate tax had been reclaimed by the charity, while costing the donor only £600 after they had reclaimed their higher rate tax.

        There is an even greater benefit offered to donors who make gifts of shares or other assets to charity: no income tax or capital gains tax are payable.

        • Maria says:

          Yes, but I believe the scheme is relatively recent, 1990s from memory, and consequently the culture of making donations is not as deeply entrenched as it is in the US.

          That’s why I used the present perfect “have encouraged” instead of “encourage”.

  • Gerald says:

    There are many CBSO concerts where Symphony Hall is mostly empty. The core audience are charged high ticket prices. It might be a better long term strategy if the prices were lower and the audience expanded to include younger people that provide sustainability.

    • Halldor says:

      Odd comments. The CBSO has the highest ticket income of any UK orchestra, and most of the concerts I’ve been to these last few seasons have been well-filled (though take it from a venue manager: attempting to judge the size of an audience on your own perception if a few empty seats in the vicinity of your own is often misleading – and trying to judge its profitability without access to the balance sheet is pretty much impossible). And the “we need more young people” fallacy hardly needs dismantling at this point – though again, the CBSO runs one of the largest youth programmes of any UK orchestra.

    • Halldor says:

      Odd comments. The CBSO has the highest ticket income of any UK orchestra, and most of the concerts I’ve been to these last few seasons have been well-filled (though take it from a venue manager: attempting to judge the size of an audience on your own perception if a few empty seats in the vicinity of your own is often misleading – and trying to judge a concert’s profitability without access to the balance sheet is pretty much impossible). And the “we need more young people” fallacy hardly needs dismantling at this point – though again, the CBSO runs one of the largest youth programmes of any UK orchestra.

      • Gerald says:

        If you sit in the choir you can clearly see the number of empty seats. I wish they would do more concerts in the also excellent Town Hall which they would fill and also give a more intimate atmosphere.

        • Halldor says:

          They did, for a couple of seasons after the refurbishment, and the concerts didn’t sell. So they stopped. Unlike at Symphony Hall, it genuinely is rare to see the Town Hall full. Also, it’s impossible to fit anything larger than a Brahms-sized orchestra (with reduced strings) on the Town Hall platform, which is now substantially smaller than it was when the CBSO last played there regularly in 1991. So no Mahler, Shostakovich, large-scale Strauss and Stravinsky, etc.

          Although amateur and student orchestras have performed large-scale works in the Town Hall (eg Turangalila), they do so only by breaching good health and safety practice (relating to hearing protection). A professional orchestra does not (and should not) have that freedom.

  • mattheos says:

    What about some real music making and honest approach to audiences instead of highly charged emoting on podium? Woman or man – no matter, Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla does not differ from the most media backed conductor prodigies. Do not expect full house and generous donors.

    • Halldor says:

      So, clearly you were at one of her concerts in Birmingham this year. Come on, give us nuts and bolts – which interpretations failed to convince you, and why? The Abrahamsen? Sibelius? Haydn? Mahler? This is your considered judgment, right, based on your response to particular performances – and not just a kneejerk piece of ageism/sexism (delete as appropriate)? So go on, please – enlighten us.

      • Max Grimm says:

        “…just a kneejerk piece of ageism/sexism…”
        Bit of a kneejerk piece of presumptuousness given the rather general nature of Mattheos’ comment.
        Regarding conductors’ interpretations and whether someone (in their personal opinion) found them convincing or not, I see about as great a need for justification and enlightening others as with the question of why one might prefer fusilli over rigatoni or penne.

        • Halldor says:

          Incorrect. These aren’t questions of personal taste, they’re value judgments, and belittling ones at that. He referred to her as “media-backed”, implying that her work lacks genuine artistic substance. Let him justify that with reference to actual artistic work that he’s experienced live. And he calls her a “prodigy” – a derogatory term in this context, implying immaturity (infantilising women is a classic sexist strategy). She’s an experienced, mature and highly capable artist, whether or not you personally like the uses to which she puts her artistry. My comment stands.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    I dont envy Birmingham council trying to balance their books.
    With regard to donors they dont get the tax breaks in Britain that American donors get.

    • Robin Bloxsidge says:

      I don’t envy local authorities trying to balance their books either and so far many of them have done wonderfully in continuing their arts funding in the face of severe government cuts to their budgets – making a choice between providing social care and funding an orchestra is an unenviable job. But in a relatively wealthy city this is the biggest YET cut to a ‘home’ orchestra seen and so far more hard pressed local administrations have not gone this far, so this action in Birmingham doesn’t seem very impressive.

    • Maria says:

      Sorry, I posted my comment on tax differences before I’d seen yours.

  • Robin Bloxsidge says:

    Why are so many comments about whether the CBS is any good? Surely we can accept that the CBSO is an excellent orchestra; does excellent work in education and other areas; tries hard to raise independent income etc.; that Mirga is an excellent conductor. These are not the issues that arise from Birmingham City Council’s decision, which are surely about how long other local authorities can hold out against making similar funding decisions and about he continuation of public support for the arts in Britain.

  • Halldor says:

    Worth saying here that the headline is somewhat melodramatic. This is a 25% cut to the CBSO’s Local Authority Grant, not to its entire income. The Grant being cut constitutes roughly 14% of the orchestra’s annual income (ticket sales and tours, recordings etc contribute just under 50%).

    So this represents an actual cut of around 2.5% to the CBSO’s annual income. Not ideal, but hardly doomsday (and certainly not remotely comparable to the existential threat faced by say, the Ulster Orchestra in recent seasons). It’s more significant for its symbolism – the UK’s largest city outside of London reducing its historic commitment to arts funding. But given the city’s state of financial crisis, this can’t really come as a surprise.

    The relevant figures are all publicly available in the organisation’s 2015-16 Report and Accounts, which can be downloaded on the orchestra’s website.

    • Robin Bloxsidge says:

      Thanks for putting this in context, but it’s still worrying as even that level of cut can make a lot of difference and if ACE starts cutting too at some stage there might be real problems.

  • Dave says:

    Where’s Simon Rattle when you need him?

    • Robin Bloxsidge says:

      Nothing against him at all, but they’ve been doing fine with out him for some time, but they simply can’t do their absolute finest without the dosh!

  • zen says:

    This is well deserved. The CBSO is narrowly interested in only UK applicants. In auditions they fail internationals in the first round even they are generally better performers than applicants with “right” nationality. Yes, sure with few exceptions in some groups, but the most you get there as an international is few months trial and then you are thrown out. Clearly it is internationally advertised racism. They do not wanna give good jobs away. The funnier side is that they advertise auditions as fair according to the EU non discrimination law. Somebody mentioned that this is a world class orchestra. Forget it. With discriminating attitude they are far from it. Learn from UK football clubs. They take the best without any discrimination, faith or colour.

    • Brummie says:

      I went to a recent CBSO concert where there were about 15 nationalities on stage

      • Halldor says:

        Exactly – this is demonstrably untrue. The CBSO contains players from Romania, Hungary (2), New Zealand, South Africa, Germany (at least 3), Sweden, France, Argentina, the Czech Republic and Ireland, just for starters – including section principals of several decades’ standing.

        Zen clearly failed an audition lately, and might perhaps more usefully employ their spare time practising their instrument, rather than indulging in xenophobic sour grapes. It’s not a great look.