Manchester's debt-ridden Halle Orchestra loses star performer

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THE HALLE Orchestra has confirmed that it will part company with the American musical director who was sharply criticised during a financial crisis last year.

Kent Nagano was censured by the Manchester-based orchestra for a failure to communicate and for "the costs associated with his artistic direction" as the Halle accumulated debts of around pounds 1.8m and faced bankruptcy. He will leave after the 1999/2000 season when his contract expires.

In six years, Nagano's celebrity status and his imaginative, experimental work have done much to enhance the Halle's standing, although for an orchestra struggling financially his like do not come cheap.

"We've been through so much together," the conductor said yesterday. "We achieved great success and faced very challenging situations."

Nagano said he would be working with the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

"It's been likely for the last few months that Kent would leave," said a spokesman for the Halle. "He has a new appointment and we will part on the best of terms."

Nagano has helped the orchestra through its difficult move from Manchester's Free Trade Hall to the new Bridgewater Hall venue. Confirmation of his departure came as the Bridgewater Hall recorded 1998 losses of pounds 115,000. The hall, which the Halle co-runs, attributed the losses to extra expenditure on major events such as visits by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, plus wayward operational costs.

The Halle has attributed some of its financial ills to the costs of using the hall and now uses other venues for rehearsals. Tensions surrounding the musical director were evident as musicians took a pay freeze last year and jobs were lost.

"During the uncertainty that followed the announcements about the size of the Halle's problems came a period of murky communication and misunderstanding," said Nagano at the time.

The orchestra's numbers have been cut from 98 to 80 and its management reduced from 30 to 22. A public appeal to raise pounds 3m in four years has so far banked pounds 1m.

Despite leaving the city, Nagano said he still felt he was a Mancunian. "I shouted as loudly and raucously as anyone when Manchester United won the Premiership," he said.