Production Notes: How much does it cost to run an orchestra? More than they've got, says the CBSO. This is why . . .

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The Independent Culture
THE City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra has a big problem: pounds 241,055 to be exact, the size of its overspend for 1993. Last week, the Arts Council turned down a request to meet the Birmingham City Council halfway in covering the shortfall. The CBSO is angered by this decision: its Arts Council grant for 1994 has been frozen, which the CBSO - taking inflation into account - equates to a cut of roughly pounds 34,000 and, to add insult to injury, the orchestra points out it receives significantly less public funding than it did 10 years ago (39 per cent of its income this year as opposed to 51 per cent in 1983).

So, what does it cost to run an orchestra the size of the CBSO? In 1993, this much:

Orchestra pounds 2,877,404

Administration pounds 704,183

Guest Artists pounds 649,712

Expenditure Abroad pounds 503,311

Travel pounds 231,012

Rehearsals pounds 213,193

Others pounds 588,616

Total pounds 5,767,431

So, if no further funding becomes available, how will the CBSO balance the books? This is one of many questions now being contemplated by Ed Smith, the CBSO's chief executive: 'Seventy per cent of our outgoings are on people, we have a contract strength of 101 players,' he answers. 'It would be in people that we would have to start making significant adjustments. If we have to make cuts, we have to reduce the quality of the artists we work with, or alternatively start looking at staff cuts.'

But wouldn't this threaten the very nature of the orchestra? 'If you're talking about orchestras not being able to do Mahler or Strauss or big works of that nature, then yes, you change the nature of a symphony orchestra. It's part of the fundamental repertoire of any symphony orchestra.'

What about cutting rehearsals? 'This is a very dangerous road to go down because audiences now are very sophisticated, they're used to the quality of CDs. Less than well-prepared programmes would start a descending spiral: people will choose not to come and you will lose your audience as well. That would be a false economy.' Or cutting the annual free performance in Cannon Hill Park? 'That's very important. Last time we had about 40,000 people.'

Smith says he will continue to fight the Arts Council for the money; Simon Rattle, the music director, says he 'will not lead my orchestra into decline'. Something has got to give before the full cost can be counted.

(Photograph omitted)