U-turn over orchestra funding: Arts Council drops plan to axe grants as second panel member resigns

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A SECOND Arts Council music panel member resigned last night over the shake-up of London's musical life as surprising new details emerged of what lies in store for the city's symphony orchestras.

The composer Priti Paintal has written a furious letter of resignation to Bryan Magee, the panel chairman. It came after its Friday meeting endorsed the surprise choice of the Philharmonia as London's 'super-orchestra', beating the hot favourites, the London Philharmonic, and the Royal Philharmonic. The percussionist Evelyn Glennie had resigned from the panel on Friday.

It was acting on the report of a six- strong committee, headed by Sir Leonard Hoffmann, a High Court judge, which had taken evidence on artistic policy from the orchestras after the Arts Council's summer decision to stop funding two of them and to create a super-orchestra for the Royal Festival Hall to rival the Barbican's London Symphony Orchestra.

However, it emerged last night that the Council, shocked by the controversy over the axing of two world-class orchestras, plans to backtrack. Instead of ending funding for the two losers, it intends to swap the grants of the Philharmonia and the LPO. The Philharmonia will now get the larger grant of pounds 1.2m and the LPO will see its money cut by almost half to pounds 700,000. The RPO's grant is likely to be halved from pounds 400,000 to pounds 200,000.

It also emerged that the Hoffmann committee did not give an outright recommendation, three committee members having abstained and two choosing the Philharmonia. The music panel chose the Philharmonia as the gist of the committee report pointed towards it.

Last night Ms Paintal said the panel was being used as a 'PR exercise for the Arts Council'. The strategy over the past six months, she said, was that money taken from the losing orchestras would be ploughed into underfunded areas such as music education and jazz, Asian and Caribbean music. Because of that she had supported cutting two orchestras' funds.

Now it was clear education and the rest would not benefit and the long exercise had been pointless. In her resignation letter she writes: 'At Friday's meeting we were presented with a fait accompli . . . the members are mere puppets on a string to be pulled this way and that to satisfy the Government. The Arts Council has only a veneer of independence. A panel that emerges from a meeting feeling like a body of whipped dogs is hardly a panel that can give direction to the nation's music.'

The sudden reversal in status and wealth between the Philharmonia and LPO will have repercussions for the orchestral residency at the South Bank Centre's Royal Festival Hall. The LPO is the resident orchestra, having beaten the Philharmonia for the post two years ago. It is unlikely it can remain so if it loses half its public funding and the Philharmonia is given more status.

The South Bank's artistic director, Nicholas Snowman, came out unequivocally for the LPO in his evidence to Hoffmann, giving the Philharmonia only five marks out of 10 for artistic policy. The Philharmonia has made it clear that if it takes over the residency it will not permit Mr Snowman to plan programming, and will not always be prepared to play in his themed festivals as the LPO has done, not always with happy box office results.