Philistines: That's how Sir Colin Davis views the Cabinet

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The Independent Online
Tonight's Promenade concert at the Royal Albert Hall is unique. It will undoubtedly be the only time during the whole promenade season that the orchestra is in tears at the end of the concert.

The teenagers of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain will be releasing pent-up emotion at the climax of their year as they perform Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Tippett.

But their conductor tonight, the illustrious Sir Colin Davis, has tears of genuine rage over the fact that Britain's premier youth orchestra is in perpetual financial instability.

In an interview with The Independent, Sir Colin denounced the Government as "philistine" for refusing to invest in youthful talent. It is the first time this term of cultural abuse has been aimed at the new Labour administration. Coming from one of the world's most renowned conductors it is likely to sting both the Prime Minister and his Culture Secretary Chris Smith.

The NYO, founded in 1948, has produced numerous famous musicians and conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle and Mark Elder. It costs pounds 550,000 a year to run and receives only pounds 25,000 from the Arts Council and pounds 800 from the Department of Education. The Arts Council cannot give more as it does not give major revenue funding grants to amateur organisations.

Michael de Grey, chief executive of the orchestra, said: "Our future is insecure. We are dependent on private sponsorship and it only needs one sponsor to pull out and we're under threat. It's been a battle to raise sponsorship every year.

"Yet being in this orchestra changes people's lives, even if they don't become musicians," he says. "It provides them with discipline, teamwork, friendship and the pursuit of excellence."

The NYO has a lottery application for pounds 500,000 with the Arts Council, but even if they receive this sum, it could not go towards their core funding which takes 150 talented youngsters on three residential tuition courses a year, culminating in the Proms.

Sir Colin Davis is now publicly advocating that what is really needed is a rethink of how public money is channelled to the arts.

At present it goes to the arts institutions which reach the biggest audiences or provide ground-breaking radical new work. But there should be a third strand for funding. Namely, highly talented, amateur outfits which bring young people into creating and performing.

Sir Colin, who has just led the NYO in three days of lengthy rehearsals, for tonight's Prom, forfeiting his own fee, said: "It's disgraceful that the NYO hardly gets any public money. The government advocates improving the quality of life. But I fear the worst. I fear it's government by philistines for the rest of my life. After the War, when I was a boy, there were all kinds of intellectuals in the government - cultivated people. We need a bit more of that vision now.

"All the NYO needs is pounds 50,000 a year. Think what it does for these kids. They are welcome everywhere they go. Mr Blair cannot talk about `Education, education, and education' while grants for the arts concentrate on the big institutions and leave this young people's orchestra searching for money."

He added: "Without sounding pretentious, those of us who are older ought to work with the young - give them a taste of what it costs to play this kind of music, the emotional cost, the mental cost, the technical cost."

Sir Colin, former music director at the Royal Opera House, said: "We [top conductors] get paid a lot, probably too much. You've got to plough something back."

Clare Duckworth, 17, from Bolton, leader of the orchestra, said: "Tonight is the peak for the NYO. It's very sad as well. We've been together for an intense time and got to know each other so well. We all tend to cry a lot at the end of the Prom, or actually in it."