After Brexit, UK orchs will head to US, says RPO

After Brexit, UK orchs will head to US, says RPO


norman lebrecht

January 19, 2020

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra has issued another of its small-sample surveys.

New research from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) reveals that 75% of music enthusiasts believe there are exciting opportunities for the UK’s leading ensembles to expand beyond the EU and to act as cultural ambassadors for Britain on the world stage.

Fact, or wishful thinking?

75% of music enthusiasts believe there are exciting opportunities for the UK’s leading ensembles to expand beyond the EU and to act as cultural ambassadors for Britain on the world stage.

With Britain’s exit from the EU weeks away, the RPO asked a nationally representative sample of 1,462 classical music lovers how they thought British orchestral music would fare once the UK left the EU.

Asked to predict where UK orchestras would tour in the future, the top 10 locations included:

Australia/ New Zealand 40%
Other Commonwealth countries 34%
Non-EU European countries 30%
China 29%
Far East 21%
The Middle East 17%
South Africa 13%
Latin America 13%
North Africa 6%
The USA was the top choice for music enthusiasts of all age groups. The top choices for young people (aged under 25) comprised of the USA (47%), non-EU European countries (23%) and Australia/ New Zealand (22%). Whilst the USA also came top among older people (those over 55), they were also more likely to see opportunities for UK ensembles in China (48%), Commonwealth countries (38%) and the Far East (26%).

James Williams, Managing Director at Royal Philharmonic Orchestra said: “There is no question that Brexit uncertainty has affected British brands across all industry sectors, including the arts. That said, music is one of Britain’s greatest exports to the world in cultural and economic terms – and the UK has some of the finest orchestras in the world. At the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, we seeking new markets, looking for opportunities wherever they exist.’

So the future for British orchestras is an unending Greyhound bus trawl through Howard Johnson motels? And that’s going to attract the best young musicians?

More here.

Your thoughts, please.



  • Cubs Fan says:

    Well I’m sure as heck looking forward to the RPO playing in Tucson this week. I have one reservation: the old, tired repertoire. A Mozart violin concerto. A Tchaikovsky symphony? We get that all the time. Should have programmed at least something from a great British composer, say Vaughan Williams, Bax, Bridge, Rubbra…even Elgar!

  • Cubs Fan says:

    I forgot: Howard Johnsons are long gone.

    • NYMike says:

      The restaurants are gone except for one in NY State. The hotels exist under the Wyndham brand.

      • Sceptical and non-impressed says:

        What a shame ‘HoJo’ are gone. I remember having a peach shortcake sundae there. It was delicious. I can still taste it in my mind’s memory!

  • Robert King says:

    Presumably most of those respondents suggesting destinations to which orchestras such as the RPO might tour in the future may have incomplete information and experience regarding the economics, opportunities, scheduling and market forces available for/to orchestras touring abroad.

    The UK leaving the EU presumably won’t make it any easier, or any more difficult, to create a viable USA tour than it currently is. Anyone who sets up such tours will know that creating a US tour, or one to the Far East, Australia and NZ, “other commonwealth countries”, Japan or wherever else is a mighty task on many fronts: sales, administration, scheduling and (most of all) the massive expense which engagement fees rarely cover. Orchestras can nip over to Munich or Paris, Madrid or Prague for a day and the engagement fee should hopefully cover most of the travel, hotels, transport and performer fees. But travel to Manila or Perth (AUS), and the costs, travel times, and everything else multiplies (e.g. whereas that trip to Munich takes just one day of an orchestra’s time, including the actual concert, travelling to and from Australia will take up four days of an orchestra’s time – that time has to be amortised into the costs of a tour, as do the more pricy airfares and extra hotels, per diems and suchlike. So even a six concert tour to AUS – with no days off – still has four extra days to be absorbed into the overall costing).

    All orchestras presumably already want to tour to all these destinations, but the extra cost which touring to far-off countries naturally brings always has been, and will remain, the dominant limiting factor. Or we’d all be doing it already.

    • Andreas B. says:

      Do you have any substantive arguments concerning the actual topic of this discussion, ie touring orchestras after Brexit?

      Do you know what an ‘ad hominem fallacy’ is?

      • Andreas B. says:

        my comment is directed NOT at Robert King’s post, but at a response to it that seems to have been removed.

  • Brian says:

    “an unending Greyhund bus trawl through Howard Johnson motels”

    I forgot about old HoJo’s. I think it was acquired by Wyndham. Maybe the British orchestras will get an upgrade to a Comfort Inn or a La Quinta if they’re lucky.

  • Bone says:

    Welcome to America!

  • Enquiring Mind says:

    I’ve heard the LSO and the Philharmonia in the US. They should attract audiences touring in the US whether by air, bus, or with their thumbs out. Why would there be unending touring?

  • Jan says:

    The current US administration does not make it easy for musicians or arts organizations to get work permits to come perform here. That, plus this administration doesn’t value art of any type. So sad for folks on both sides of the potential transaction.

    • Bone says:

      I guarantee this administration values arts and culture more than the folks who claim art music fosters white privilege. You should read some of the woke literature in music education these days – absolutely chilling.

  • Byrwec Ellison says:

    I would enthusiastically welcome UK orchestras to US shores — with one big cautionary ask: namely, that they not restrict their itineraries to just the “shores,” i.e., to New York/East Coast & West Coast venues. There’s a lot of heartland (and big city cultural centers) in America’s middle.

  • fflambeau says:

    I think much of this is wishful thinking and a failure to understand how big the USA is. Yes, tours likely would be successful but it’s a long way to San Jose and miles can eat up money.

    Also, most of the large and even medium-sized cities have their own, very popular orchestras, some of which are world-class (Chicago; Philadelphia; New York; Boston; Detroit; Atlanta; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Seattle; Minneapolis-St. Paul; Houston; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; and more). Smaller towns tend to have their university and conservatory orchestras (Oberlinin Ohio; New England; Interlochen etc.).

    Quick test: how far is it between New York City and the Twin Cities (home of the Minnesota Orchestra)?

    Answer: 1,200 miles or 1,930 kilometers.

    Quick Test two: The Conductor/Music director of the Minnesota Orchestra is from:

    A. Minneapolis, Minnesota;
    B. St. Paul, Minnesota;
    C. New York City;
    D. Sääminki, Finland

    Answer: D is correct.

    Canada presents much of the same situation but distances are perhaps even farther between main cities. Harry and Meghan will be there, though.

  • Schwalde Hochküst says:

    “So the future for British orchestras is an unending Greyhund bus trawl through Howard Johnson motels?”

    Good point by Norman. In fact, there are no airports in the U.S.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    ==Australia/ New Zealand 40%

    What ? That is SO expensive getting an orchestra and crew over there. It’s something for special occasions

    • Marg says:

      Wishful thinking and daydreaming by survey respondents. We’d love to see some of the top UK ensembles DownUnder but its a very expensive and time consuming exercise as others have pointed out.

  • Andreas B. says:

    Strange survey – “music enthusiasts believe …” ?

    Why would Brexit be necessary to be able to tour to those “markets”?

    No British ensemble has been to the US yet?

    British orchestras have been forced to perform exclusively inside the EU until now?

    Also, no other European orchestras have been doing tour after tour of China and the Far East because …?

  • Nick says:

    Looks like a great future for UK orchestras and musicians!!

  • Brian Long says:

    I can’t remember the last time a UK orchestra visited Australia. Perhaps once or twice in the last five years. I’m not sure why that should suddenly change after Brexit. Is it going to get cheaper all of a sudden? A smarter survey might be of all these destination countries. Suggested question: “will Brexit have any impact on your desire to attend a concert by a UK orchestra?”

  • Tony says:

    Brexit changes business for recording teams too. A three day booking in Berlin, Paris or Vienna does not look so viable when we’ll have to get an ATA carnet for temporary export/import of technical equipment. For a company like ours, the costs for documentation and bond guarantee for duty/VAT will typically add about £700 to our charges.

    An orchestral van with a whole orchestra’s worth of valuable instruments will have a lot more to pay out, and it will take time to go through inspections at borders.

    Another problem for orchestras touring in the U.S. is that of obtaining working visas. Let us hope these can be avoided for the EU, but the hostile anti-EU rhetoric from Johnson and Javid does not bode well.

  • IC225 says:

    Most UK orchestras already have their touring plans fixed for the next few years. And while I know of one that is indeed planning a major US tour, it’s also playing the Salzburg and Lucerne festivals as well as prestige gigs in Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Vienna. With a big Far East tour planned for 2021 because – like most orchestras – it’s actively seeking opportunities in that particular growth market and travels there whenever it can.

    In other words, I’m sorry to report that (unsurprisingly) it appears to be business as usual. “Despite Brexit”, as the BBC habitually puts it. But yeah, sure, the sky is falling. Whatever.

    • Saxon Broken says:

      Actually, the “leaving the EU this month” isn’t completely correct. Britain and the EU have agreed to “carry on as before” until next year while they try to come to a deal.

      Britain appears to want to maintain the open border without being bound by the EU rules. Britain argues that that this can be agreed since Britain’s rules are “equivalent”. The problem with this is that: (a) if Britain changes its rules then their rules will no longer be “equivalent”; (b) if the EU changes its rules, then Britain will be required to change too or its rules will no longer be “equivalent”.

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    In the last year we held auditions in my orchestra to cover three seats in the string section, and one in the woodwinds. I sat in the panel of two of them, and there has been a significant increase of people from the UK auditioning. At least I’d say twice as many people from the UK as we had in the previous audition I sat in the panel two years ago, including people performing in some of the UK’s top orchestras. We also had more people who are not from the UK but working in orchestras in the UK. I don’t know where the orchestras are going to tour, but it seems like many are trying to leave the ship ASAP.

    Honestly, I think touring is going to be reduced. One thing is taking 110 people to Belgium and Germany and a different one is taking them to Australia or China.

    • IC225 says:

      Well, UK conservatoires are thriving and one result is an oversupply of superb musicians needing work, with auditions for UK orchestral jobs regularly attracting (literally) hundreds of applicants from all around the world (often far beyond the narrow confines of the EU). But it’s no secret that pay in (eg) German orchestras is better, and that there are many more orchestras – often with much lighter and less challenging workloads than the UK.

      So essentially, if what you say is true, it sounds like the success story continues. As for touring – we all have our opinions but we’ll shortly have hard evidence. The evidence so far suggests no significant change.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        “The evidence suggests no significant change”

        It will take many years for the change to be noticeable. Things will change slowly but imperceptively all the time.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It has become very difficult to have thoughts related to the thing which has been called ‘brexit’, given the multitudinous meanings and complications ‘covered’ by the word. In the USA the interest in classical music, and thus in the symphony orchestra as a medium, has been eroding already for a long time, so if UK orchestras can shake-up something at the other side that would give them some future, but it is to be hoped they would carefully think-through their intentions.

    The Future Symphony Institute in Baltimore has been set-up specifically to address some of the problems the orchestral predicament faces in the USA, but by extension also in Europe and elsewhere:

  • m l says:

    greyhound&HoJo?What are the UK equivalents?

  • Gustavo says:

    Disgusting “morale-boosting” survey. Why Brexit in the first place? Good for UK music? Which music?

    European music!

  • Tamino says:

    What pointless and stupid exercise. (but so is the whole Brexit momentum, so no surprise there.)
    What stops them now, to tour non-EU countries?
    Why should that be different after Brexit?

  • Anonymous says:

    It’s a hassle for British musicians to get a visa for the USA. That’s why many of us don’t wish to go there – treated like a criminal at the embassy in London. No thank you. We can concentrate on the rest of the world who appreciate the arts!

    • John Kelly says:

      ………….then treated like a criminal at Passport Control at JFK after waiting in line for 90 minutes following your 7 hour plane ride. Oh wait, that’s everybody including US citizens coming in………….

      • Tamino says:

        It was horrific after the US turned proto-fascist after the Patriot Act and Orwellian ‚Homeland Security‘ and all that fascist shit whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed.
        But recently US immigration got quite speedy again, according to my anecdotal experiences.
        But the visa application processes are nothing but a painful joke and it‘s getting worse.

  • Giovanni says:

    I doubt that orchestras with highly paid musicians can make money by touring the USA by bus. If they could, then of course the orchestras of Boston, New York, Philadelphia etc. would be touring the USA by bus. I don’t think they are. At one time, a few decades ago, touring the USA by bus was lucrative for orchestras from the Communist countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia whose musicians were not highly paid.

    • NYMike says:

      When Boston and Philadelphia regularly play Carnegie Hall, they come by bus. It’s the fastest and most convenient way.

  • PaulD says:

    The RPO is appearing this week at a concert hall in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I think they performed there a year or two ago, as well. So, it seems they are not challenged by so-called U.S. barriers to entry.

  • Larry Ferrari, Jr says:

    There are no more Howard Johnson’s.

  • Kolb Slaw says:

    While I think we would welcome visits from touring orchestras, Philadelphia has NO presenter for such orchestras. NONE. And this is supposed to be a major music city. How many cities will present them? Good luck.

  • Michel says:

    OMG !! The USA have VERY good Orchestras on their own and really don’t need the british orchestras. Perhaps the brits think they will be the new greeks of these poor and uncultured americans … Always the same arrogance !

  • Rudiger says:

    Seven concerts in seven nights in seven different cities on this U.S. tour…Brutal!