Germans debate future of radio orchestras

Germans debate future of radio orchestras


norman lebrecht

May 25, 2023

There are 19 orchestras that are financed by public broadcasting in Germany and their future is being called into question.

The orchestra lobby group, Unisono, has flung down a gauntlet to open a public debate.

It says: ‘It’s not acceptable that public radio or ARD only maintains a single orchestra, a single choir or a single big band and which is supposed to play everything nationwide. That won’t work. Instead, we say: The regional positioning of the broadcasters and the regional positioning of their orchestras are a unique selling point for the impact and also for the cultural production of public broadcasting in this cultural and music area. Public broadcasting stands out precisely because it has been a cultural producer with his own orchestra for 100 years and, in our opinion, should remain so in order to justify the receipt of public license fees.’

Responses are keenly awaited.

Read here.


  • Broemske says:

    ARD does not have 19 orchestras, but 19 ensembles:
    Seven regional broadcaststaions of ARD (NDR, MDR, WDR, HR, SWR, SR und BR) run in total ten orchestras, five choirs and four bigbands.

  • Stefan Wieske says:

    Don’t even understand what this lobby group is trying to argue, but these radio orchestras are alive and well and aren’t going away. At least not the top ones (BR, NDR, SWR, HR..)

    • JB says:

      There is an intensifying debate in Germany about the role of the radio orchestra, and a growing resistance to the use of the radio tax to support them.
      “Unisono” is essential the orchestra musician Union, formerly DOV

      • Tamino says:

        There is not really a debate much in my perception.
        But there is always Springer Press and their corporate fascism blood hounds (basically private capital, but Springer are the most vicious outlet), who have the long term agenda to eliminate public service broadcast. And starting with their „nice“ things, the cultural outlets, is a good tactic to shoot the ship „sturmreif“.

        All that doesn‘t relief the orchestras and choirs to understand their role in their economic and cultural context better, instead of resting on old false securities.

  • Tamino says:

    Radio orchestras only exist, because originally they were founded with the only purpose to play music in live broadcasts. In a time where technology was not good enough to use already existing recordings for music in the radio.
    Later they amended their activities into performing also in concerts, that were also primarily broadcasts, but with a live audience as well.
    But always was the justification of their expensive funding through the radio the primary objective of producing content for the mother house. Broadcasts, recordings.
    Radio orchestras undoubtedly have become also cultural aggregators and get recognised city wide, state wide, in some cases also internationally, beyond their radio house constitution. But still the radio fees pay for most of it, ticket sales are a minor source of income.
    As long as these orchestras don’t forget their primary objective, broadcasting and recording, they are justified in their existence.
    But I have yet to meet a musician in e.g. BRSO or any other of the Radio Symphony Orchestras, who would subscribe to that as their main professional objective. Not even talking about chief conductors…

    The whole thing is today built on deception, a lie basically.
    They have to make up their minds what they want to be. And in the case they want to be primarily outside of their radio duties, they need to find the financing for it themselves.

    • Zimzer Soyjack says:

      Guess they’ll have to find that funding through the state like the other German orchestras, via taxation or some similar mechanism. Oh wait…

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        If the German people can afford to take in over a million refugees, feed and house them then it stands to reason they can afford these orchestras. Simples.

  • Had Enough says:

    Large ensembles are both expensive and redundant. There is a large awakening coming forth that will (re) embrace the solo recital and chamber music in small to medium size, yet acoustically provocative venues. Just wait for it a bit longer because the financial shake out hasn’t fully hit the classical music scene just yet.

    • Tamino says:

      What financial shakeout?
      Just because we have a massive unfair distribution-of-produced-wealth problem, the few getting richer, the many not keeping up, that doesn‘t mean there is a „shakeout“.
      We are just going back to the middle ages. A plutocracy being the new aristocracy. They need to cough up more.
      One way or the other. Otherwise: burning villas and rich folks dangling from lampposts.

  • Tim says:

    “It’s not acceptable”?

    What’s not acceptable is the imposition of TV and radio “licence fees” under penalty of law and the redistribution of those fees to the creators of programming the fee payers have no interest in. If German audiences want 19 broadcast orchestras/ensembles, they’ll happily pay for them.

  • MMcGrath says:

    As they should. It’s a healthy debate. And it is the tax payers’ euro financing this extravagance.

    Personally, as Broemske defined it below, tax payers probably CANNOT afford all these ensembles while they are still paying for extravagant corona bailouts, the hike in energy prices coming from the idiotic powering down of atomic power plants, paying for the 598 members in the Bundestag and on and on.
    Broemske’s listing does not include the tax-payer-subsidized opera houses all over Germany, each with an orchestra…

    Such riches.

  • Margaret Koscielny says:

    All those regional orchestras are the reason why Germany has produced so many excellent musicians, providing venues for contemporary composers and highlighting soloists from Germany. What entities want to kill the culture which Germany has such a big claim to?

    These orchestras provided, after the war, occupation and inspiration for audiences and musicians, knitting the country back together into a healthier atmosphere, using the best of German spirit and artistry.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Bravo. And a country which spends two thirds of every year indoors because of very cold weather needs all the culture it can get!! In fact, there’s a nexus between that and European culture in toto. Warm or hot countries; not so much.

    • Tamino says:

      This is true without a doubt.
      But nevertheless you can’t expect them to be paid exclusively by radio fees, which in a democracy are justified with creating specifically media/radio/tv content free of commercial and political influence, while these orchestras and choirs these days primarily want to be concert orchestras, competing with orchestras like Berlin Phil or Gewandhaus Leipzig.

      It’s a paradoxon that needs a solution. One solution could be the creation of holdings, where both state broadcaster and the state hold 50% and thus share the financing of the hybrid function of these orchestras fairly. Half Media creator. Half concert orchestra.

      We want to keep these orchestras by all means. But in the current status quo they are very vulnerable for attack, because they deceive the public about what they are.