"We would not have achieved anything with a local solution to an international problem," says Mr McLaren. "Masterprize was designed from the ground up to have impact on a truly global basis."
So the Masterprize team includes, for the broadcasters, the BBC, and for the record industry, EMI. At the final concert at the Barbican on 7 April another partner, the London Symphony Orchestra, will premiere six works selected from 1,000 entries from all over the world. Global broadcasting will reach 100 million people. Daniel Harding will conduct. The international jury includes star names. But Masterprize will equally be decided by public vote, using CD recordings and the Internet.
There is no public money in the project, except for a welcome Government scheme backing business sponsorship. Much of the enabling investment comes from sponsors: the Musicians Livery Company, hi-fi manufacturers Audio Note, and most of all, from Coutts, the international private banking group. "Masterprize is a perfect reflection of where we stand," the bank says.
So what does this say about Coutts' clients, immortalised by W S Gilbert as "the aristocrat who banks with Coutts, the aristocrat who hunts and shoots"? The bank explains: "Our clients today are as likely to have made as to have inherited money. Many work in the new professions - media, film, music and publishing." In other words, Masterprize strikes the right business note.
In 1997 business sponsorship of the arts leapt by 20 per cent. It now has pounds 100m firmly in its sights: 20 years ago the figure was less than pounds 1m. Sports sponsorship has grown to pounds 330m a year. Add the fledgling sponsorship sectors of programme broadcasting, education, environment and community relations, and an economic sector of increasing power and weight emerges. The value of sponsorship in Britain is now estimated to be at least pounds 500m a year.
To compare, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport has a budget this year for the arts, museums, libraries, media and heritage interests of about pounds 730m excluding tourism and European funding receipts. Local government spends perhaps as much again. Central and local government spending on sport in 1997/98 was about pounds 950m. A further pounds 1.7bn for arts and sports came from the National Lottery.
Why is sponsorship so popular? A business sponsor gets something extra: Cadbury's shares the national affection for Coronation Street. Sponsorship is said to prove what advertising can only claim. In the 1970s the leading national arts companies expected two-thirds of income from public subsidy and the rest from earnings: now these proportions are reversed. Income comes not only from box office and sponsorship, but from other commercial activities: leading museums aim to make up to pounds 1m from shops.
The role of the state is in retreat across the world. It made sense to John McLaren to build a new alliance outside government in order to get Masterprize off the ground.
q Masterprize, the Final, sponsored by Coutts Group, 7 April, the Barbican Centre, London. Tel: 0171-638 8891.Reuse content