Music board gives Beethoven a Grade C

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The Independent Online
CONCERT promoters in eastern England will offer Brahms, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky at their peril. They have been told they are not artistically correct.

In fact the Eastern Orchestral Board, acting on a recommendation from the Arts Council, which funds it, has labelled them Grade C composers and will give a minimal grant to any promoter audacious enough to feature their music.

Mahler does a little better. He is Grade B. But for the big money, promoters and orchestras must choose from the Grade A material, all contemporary composers such as Harrison Birtwhistle and Peter Maxwell Davies.

Michael Blackledge, an independent concert promoter, is threatening to end the series of sell-out classical concerts he stages with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Corn Exchange in Bedford.

The BBC orchestra sold all 750 seats there last week, but featured the artistically incorrect Elgar and Delius. Mr Blackledge says that a London Sinfonietta concert featuring modern composers attracted 25 people.

At present Mr Blackledge receives an annual Arts Council grant of pounds 7,000. From April he will receive cash for each concert: pounds 2,000 for a Grade A contemporary, pounds 1,000 for Mahler and other Grade Bs and pounds 450 for audience pleasers like Beethoven. For Grade D, a Strauss concert, he gets nothing.

He said: 'In a place like Bedford people just won't stand for the modern stuff. The grading system is totally unworkable. If I do the concerts I usually do I will lose pounds 3,000 for the season. But it's the principle rather than the money I'm objecting to. It's artistic interference with people on the ground who know their audience.'

Kenneth Baird, music director of the Arts Council, said: 'The Eastern Orchestral Board are in a sense implementing Arts Council policy, but it is they who have devised this system. We are happy with these categories though. It is our duty to support the new and most adventurous, given that that is the least likely to appeal to audiences and sponsors.'

However, Bill Relton, general manager of the Eastern Orchestral Board, said: 'Mr Baird is evading the issue. The Arts Council has behaved disgracefully in forcing upon the EOB a set of conditions it is happy not to see fulfilled elsewhere because we don't fit in to one of its neat patterns. The categories have come from us but they are in response to Arts Council recommendations. It has caused us a lot of problems.'

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