Simon Tait looks back at the developments made by some of the UK’s arts organisations over the past 12 months and finds out how things are shaping up for the New Year.
Last year was a fantasy year for the arts, with the Jubilee, the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival giving an exuberance that might have shielded arts organisations from the realities of recession – less subsidy, scarcer sponsorship, and audiences with less to spend. Arts Council England chief executive Alan Davey, though, thinks that what was underlying the euphoria was a positivity that could bode well for 2013.
‘It’s been a year of going for it,’ says Davey. ‘There was a worry that the arts would be left behind by the Olympics, but artistically it was really good, people were going for it all over the country with a lot of free outdoor events everywhere, and core programming was good as well with people stepping up to the mark.’
But the wide government cuts will start to be felt more in 2013, he warns. A lot may have ‘gone for it’ in the Olympic year, but the danger is that they will have to rein in hard this year.
Here is a select roundup of how our arts organisations did in 2012 and how they are squaring up to the challenges of 2013.
Kasper Holten, director of opera, the Royal Opera House, saw the ‘core forces’ of the orchestra and chorus at Covent Garden in good shape in 2012, with an ambitious Ring cycle for him confirming their confidence and professional competence. The chief architect of the successful London 2012 Festival was Tony Hall who goes back to the BBC as director-general in the New Year.
‘There are big challenges ahead: Replacing Tony Hall, who has been such an inspiration to us all at ROH; continuing to deliver quality and do more work for less money, as public investment has shrunk; but most importantly of all, to communicate our passion for opera in ways that make more people recognise that opera is much more than what their prejudice tells them.’
The main artistic challenge in 2013 will be the celebrations of Verdi, Wagner and Britten, with Nabucco, Don Carlo, Simone Boccanegra and Gloriana.
For David Pickard, general director of the unsubsidised Glyndebourne Festival, 2012 was a satisfactory year in which the festival managed a takeup of 96%. ‘We have to make at least 93% and that’s very stressful. You can’t take your eye off the ball. Large corporations are now only providing about 5% of what we need and we couldn’t do it without individuals. And in 2013, with public subsidy going down, there are going to be more fishing rods in the sponsorship pond.’
Vladimir Jurowksi, music director for 13 years, will have his last Glyndebourne season in 2013, and the highlight of the season for Pickard will be the new Ariadne auf Naxos. ‘Vladimir has never conducted Strauss on stage before,’ says Pickard, ‘so it’s typical of him that he should choose this for his last festival.’
Cathy Graham’s six years as the British Council’s head of music have seen the development of work across all genres of music, supporting UK musicians and talented artists from developing countries. Last year saw involvement in collaborative projects including BT River of Music and bringing ‘the world’s bravest orchestra’, the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, to play in the UK. The British Council also made a big impact in China in 2012.
One of her favourite projects for 2013 is to help extend the reach of the Britten centenary celebrations, mainly in territories where help makes the difference for various reasons. ‘My hopes for 2013? That we will continue to help develop the international life of UK music and musicians, and foster long-term international relationships for the benefit of musicians globally. My fears? I don’t even want to contemplate those.’
For Ian Ritchie, director of the City of London Festival, its golden anniversary year of 2012 was ‘better than one might have feared’, with ticket sales actually beating the budget target by 20%, 50% more than the year before, but no new business came forward to support the budget. ‘It’s simply not there, but we stuck to our style of doing beautiful things in beautiful places, and the people came despite the lost sponsorship.
‘It meant for the first time in seven years we only ran a deficit of £20,000, which is not bad in a budget of £1m at this time. Audiences didn’t let us down, but there’s a fear sitting within the business community.’
Ritchie has decided to stand down after the 2013 festival, having served eight years, helped on his way by the pressure of fundraising in an increasingly obdurate market. And although the City corporates are not engaged, he sees encouraging signs from property developers in the square mile supporting free outdoor events for 2013. ‘I firmly believe that there is an exciting role for the arts in reviving the business sector, and it can start with their own festival, in the City’.
Anthony Sargent is chief executive of the Sage Gateshead – described by the conductor Lorin Maazel as ‘in the top five best concert halls in the world’ – which has taken a £1m direct grant funding hit in 2012 and will have the same in 2013, to that the public improvements to the building made since 2010 – new shop, catering, concourse embellishments, digital expansions – have allowed it to stand still financially rather than grow, but he believes that has made the Sage ride the 2012 recession storm. If, after the autumn statement, there are to be new arts cuts in 2013, ‘I hope the Arts Council will look at proportionate economic performances here in what is one of the countries most economically deprived areas.’
Kathryn McDowell, managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra, looks back on a unique year for the orchestras which saw the first in a series of free open air concerts in Trafalgar Square, sponsored by BMW, which attracted more than 10,000 people and will happen again in 2013.
The LSO had a key role in the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games when 80 young East London musicians from the LSO On Track scheme performed Elgar’s Nimrod to millions worldwide, with the LSO principal trumpet, Philip Cobb, playing the solo from Dances with Wolves at the dramatic climax to the games when the Olympic Flame was extinguished.
New works will be an important in 2013. ‘Mark-Anthony Turnage is our Composer Focus in February,’ says McDowell, ‘and the LSO conducted by Daniel Harding will perform his trumpet concerto with soloist Håkan Hardenberger and the world premiere of his work Speranza, commissioned by the LSO. LSO Futures Week will offer concertgoers new works by Colin Matthews and a world premiere by Jason Yarde.’
Economic tightness is not going to interfere with the LSO’s commitment to education, based on its St Luke’s centre which celebrates
its tenth anniversary in March with a 12-day festival showcasing the orchestra’s community programme.
For Jonathan Reekie, chief executive of Aldeburgh music, the surprise success of 2012 was the Helmut Lachenmann series in the Snape festival, not the kind of adventure usually suited to hard times. It’s difficult, he says, and not very well known, but it was very well received by audiences and seemed to fit very well. ‘But the highlight has got to be the Aldeburgh World Youth Orchestra, for which we brought musicians from all over the world as part of the Cultural Olympiad, with their first performance together coming just 14 days after they first met.’ They were brought together through the Britten-Pears Orchestra, the spine of the Snape festival, with the musicians coming from more than 30 different counties and four continents.
‘But we were preparing all the time for the Britten centenary to which we’re giving three focuses: commissions; Britten in Suffolk – a highlight is going to be Peter Grimes on a beach at Aldeburgh followed by a performance by Punchdrunk through the town; and the local community, which meant so much to him.’
Peter Millican is the property developer who built his own concert hall, Kings Place, and then decided to programme it himself, a proposition fraught with danger but which has been remarkably successful. Audiences, he says, have been on a steady rise since he opened four years ago, largely because, he modestly admits, they started from the low point of the credit crunch year of 2008. In 2012, Kings Place was sold with the charitable foundation he set up retaining a 90-year lease for a peppercorn. ‘It means the place is secure for the future, long after my time, and I don’t have any of the risk of running the building,’ says Millican.
But another gamble he took two years ago was to institute an in-depth, year-long exploration of a single composer, the Uncovered
seasons. It was Mozart for the first one, a nailed down success, and then Brahms in 2012 which was less so. ‘Twenty-thirteen is Bach and it has already sold more tickets than Brahms did in the whole year. It’s easily the biggest venture, 70 events compared with 55 or Mozart. ‘We’ve learned and got better at what we do’.
And finally, Alan Davey’s own view: 2012 was uncertain as it dawned but it has been ‘bloody marvelous’. Things happened, like the Aldeburgh World Youth Orchestra – ‘My God, an orchestra that came together through YouTube playing like that!’ – the National Youth Orchestra doing one of the really good gigs of the summer, and a lot of Bruckner, his favourite, with the highlight being Haitink and the Concertgebouw at the Barbican.
But for 2013, the year in which his own organisation sees itself halved, Davey is cautiously upbeat. There will be an extra interim comprehensive spending review with the DCMS losing £34m, but its impact on the arts is as yet unclear. ‘The problem is going to be local government. We’ve got Newcastle (planning a 100% arts cut) and other councils cutting less than 100% but still making quite big cuts. There are the organisations we fund jointly with local authorities and we’ve spent the last few years building up those partner-
ships. For that to start wobbling now could be really serious for the country, and that’s worrying.
‘But we’re in good heart, we know why it matters and people are working with us, people want to make the arts work and everyone is being very ingenious.’