British orchestras are in danger of losing top billing despite rising ticket sales

Funding reductions mean our leading ensembles may have to cut back on the things that give them world status

The nation’s orchestras are poised to “slip out of the top tier” of the world’s best ensembles, senior figures in the industry believe. Despite a year in which audiences flocked to concert halls and with figures showing that attendances rose by more than 10 per cent, there are mounting fears that orchestras may be forced to cut performances, rehearsals and new commissions, and thus jeopardise their global status.

A survey by the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) has found attendances at concerts and performances between 2012 and 2013 were up 16 per cent on those  three years earlier. More than 4.5 million people a year now see orchestras play live in the UK. Mark Pemberton, director of the ABO, said: “There is a hunger for what we do. There are certain assumptions made that classical music is a dying art form. This does show that, in fact, we’re a lot more popular than people give us credit for.”

Yet news of growth in attendance has not translated into huge returns at the box office, as income from ticket sales and contract hires has fallen 11 per cent over the same period, according to the survey. And added to this a 14 per cent decline, in real terms, in public funding.

The stark figures will be presented at the ABO annual conference in London this week. “We will hear from American orchestras where things are pretty calamitous. There have been closures, strikes and lock-outs,” Mr Pemberton said.

“The key message we’re drawing is we have to make sure we avoid those sorts of difficulties. That’s where public investment remains crucial. We don’t want to be alarmist but it will be tough.”

Timothy Walker, chief executive and artistic director at the London Philharmonic Orchestra, said: “How much longer orchestras can be squeezed is a real issue. Many are managing now but may not be able to survive a further round of cuts.

“We will begin to worry if we have to cut rehearsals or can no longer commission new work,” he added. “The very things that push our art form forward and keep us at the highest international level are then under threat. We would worry about slipping from the top tier, which is a real possibility if it carries on like this.”

The arts have been “very accepting of the country’s need to balance its books”, Mr Walker said, but added that they “can’t cope for ever”. The seeming discrepancy between a rise in attendances yet a decline in ticket revenue is explained by orchestras discounting to fill the houses.

“We’ve got a wonderfully young audience,” Mr Walker said. “But many tickets are at student prices that start around £4, which doesn’t help our yield.” Promenaders at the Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms have for many years paid only £5.

Many orchestras have been forced to change how they operate to boost income, including more foreign tours, recording abroad and a rise in commercial projects such as film soundtracks. “Everyone has now done that .... What do you do next time? Are you cutting staff, rehearsals or new work? Any further cuts would be detrimental. This has all changed in the past three years,” Mr Walker said.

Many are looking abroad, where they can earn more, and cutting the number of domestic performances. British orchestras toured to 35 countries outside the UK last year, including China, Russia and the United States, playing more than 400 concerts, the survey found.

The squeeze on budgets “leaves orchestras ever more vulnerable”, according to Michael Eakin, chief executive of the Liverpool Philharmonic and chair of the ABO. Donations and sponsorship have risen over the same period by almost a third in real terms, yet almost 40 per cent of donations are for education and new buildings.

The survey found that the increase in contributed  income was not at a  sufficient level to offset the falls in public funding.  Mr Pemberton said: “It’s helping, but it is not replacing public funding. We are very good at raising money. The narrative we’re not good  at asking is wrong.”

Mr Pemberton fears orchestras will take fewer risks as budgets come under pressure: “Orchestras are meant to be vibrant contemporary arts organisations. We have to keep up the  contemporary alongside  the heritage.”

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
Arts and Entertainment
Blue singer Simon Webbe will be confirmed for Strictly Come Dancing

tv
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

    Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

    So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

    Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
    What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

    What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

    Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

    The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
    Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

    Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

    Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
    Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

    Radio 1’s new top ten

    The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

    A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
    Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

    Florence Knight's perfect picnic

    Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
    Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

    Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

    The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
    Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

    Mark Hix's summery soups

    Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
    Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

    Tim Sherwood column

    I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

    Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

    The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
    Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

    Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

    The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition