Rhinegold Photo credit: Nancy Horowitz
Ambitious: the CBSO hopes to realise big things under Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s leadership

Katy Wright

Deputy Editor, Classical Music

Balancing spreadsheets

9:00, 18th March 2017

British orchestras have a reputation for having full schedules, but the latest report commissioned by the Association of British Orchestras has revealed that a high level of activity does not necessarily mean that they are in a strong financial position. Despite increasing their reach and the number of performances, income dropped by 5% between 2013 and 2016.

Orchestras are caught in a bind: in order to receive funding, they must show that they can make it go a long way; and yet the further they make it go, the greater the pressure to surpass this level of activity in future. Although UK orchestras have been increasing their reach and number of performances over the past few years, there will come a point where their income simply will not allow them to stretch any further. Unless things change, this breaking point is inevitable.

ABO director Mark Pemberton’s proposed solution was for national and local government to restore funding to previous levels, ensuring that orchestras’ work receives sufficient support. He also cautioned that larger audiences do not necessarily equal more money, with initiatives such as discounted tickets, free concerts and fixed fee performances helping to attract larger numbers, but increasing ensembles’ losses. However, extra money is unlikely, and trimming back outreach work would be a controversial move.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra recently received a gift of £250,000 towards its education programme over the next five years, but the orchestra still has a significant gap to fill following Birmingham City Council’s decision to cut its budget by £228,000 from the current year’s level. Chief executive Stephen Maddock is turning to the private sector to make up the financial shortfall and then some, aiming to raise a total of £8m over the next five years to fulfil the orchestra’s ambitions.

The CBSO’s vision is admirable, but the challenges it faces are considerable. Sooner or later, orchestras will need to make significant changes to ensure their survival; what the sector will look like in another three years is anyone’s guess.

The results of the Incorporated Society of Musicians’ most recent annual survey have revealed that music teachers are also feeling the pinch, with music tuition fees failing to increase in line with the cost of living. Nearly two thirds of self-employed music teachers who visit schools have not seen a pay rise since September 2015, and more than two thirds of private music teachers have not increased their rates since this date.

The survey highlighted a significant difference between fees paid in independent schools, in state-funded schools and music services and hubs. In 2015, visiting music teachers working in music services and hubs received £25-£29.50 per hour, and those teaching in independent schools received £32-£40. The disparity between the two types of institutions is no surprise, but comparing these figures with the ISM’s recommended fee ranges for visiting music teachers might offer more of a shock. For example, 80% of those teaching at music services and hubs in London receive £25-£31 per hour, as opposed to the recommended £29-£34. The financial implications are huge, and the infrequency of pay rises means that things are unlikely to change any time soon.

Unless music teachers’ salaries increase line with the cost of living, the career will inevitably lose its appeal. The value of music must be reflected financially in order to ensure that its worth can be conveyed to the next generation.

The collapse of Naxos Classics Online is as clear a sign as any of the problems which digital poses for classical music. Although Naxos owner Klaus Heymann attributed its failure to its delayed launch and the close competition, the underlying issue is that classical music sits uncomfortably with conventional streaming models. It is crucial that the genre doesn’t abandon hope, but seeks solutions: although streaming may not be the most profitable means of distributing music, the cost of avoiding it would surely be great.

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