London 'super-orchestra' merger collapses

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Arts Correspondent

The London Philharmonic Orchestra is to bring in two Americans to run its affairs after deciding not to merge with its rival, the Royal Philharmonic.

The merger would have been the biggest upheaval in London's orchestral scene for decades. Its abandonment is a slap in the face for the former Cabinet minister Lord Young of Graffham, chairman of the London Philharmonic Trust, and his vision of a London-based super-orchestra

Lord Young said it would bring big financial savings. But a study by management consultants KMPG, commissioned by the orchestra, rejected the financial projections of the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and concluded that the savings would not be enough to warrant the artistic turmoil a merger might bring.

The LPO has decided to bring in Ernest Fleischmann, manager of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to advise on artistic matters. He will work with Karen-Eve Pfotzer, another American, currently a senior executive with Cable and Wireless, whose chairman is Lord Young. She will be general manager of the LPO.

The orchestra's musician chairman, the first violinist Bob St John Wright, said last night: "We are having a complete rethink about the way the LPO operates. The savings from a merger simply weren't going to be as high as was first thought."

The scrapping of the merger was denounced yesterday by a former managing director of the LPO, John Willan. He said: "It's a great shame that David Young's initiative hasn't worked ... The fact remains that there are too many orchestras chasing the same audiences, sponsors and resources in London."

When the decision to merge the two orchestras' administrations was made earlier this summer, it was vigorously opposed by the LPO's then managing director, Christopher Lawrence. He left after making it clear he could never support the idea. But Lord Young said the impetus for an administrative merger was unstoppable, and hinted that an amalgamation of players could follow later. Indeed he advocated the orchestras forming a London based "super-orchestra".

Earlier this year Lord Young wrote to his opposite number at the RPO, Sir John Morgan, "If we continue as we are, it is difficult to see the future... We can join together for the big Royal Festival Hall showpiece concerts and the recording contracts maybe, perhaps under a grand new title, the Royal London Philharmonic Orchestra."

The idea of a superorchestra is not new. The idea has been mooted in attempts to guarantee the survival of the ensembles and staunch losses. The RPO and LPO have lost pounds 1.5m between them recently. Musicians work harder than ever for wages as low as pounds 17,000.

It was seen as relatively simple to bring the principals of both ensembles together - the RPO has 85 players, the LPO 78 - for six to 10 concerts a year at the Albert Hall, where the RPO is to establish residency next year. Both the RPO and LPO are self-governing orchestras. Both were set up by Sir Thomas Beecham, who believed that in the economic climate which prevailed 50 years ago, as now, musicians could run them better themselves.

Lord Young was not available for comment yesterday.