Arts Council backtracks over orchestra funding: Anger at Philharmonia as music panel's advice is ignored

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THE MONTHS of controversy over the future of London's orchestras descended into farce last night as the Arts Council ignored its own music panel and came up with a funding formula which barely changes the present situation.

The decision taken by the full council yesterday has enraged the Philharmonia orchestra, which the music panel recommended should take the London Philharmonic's pounds 1.2m funding rather than its own pounds 700,000, following an investigation by a committee under Lord Justice Hoffmann.

Instead, the council, which said at the start of the exercise it wanted to find a new super orchestra for London, fund it properly and deprive two others of all public funding, has decided to fund the Philharmonia and the London Philharmonic at the same level, pounds 700,000, but to give a further pounds 400,000 to the South Bank Centre for the residency at present held by the London Philharmonic.

In other words, the LPO's funding will stay pretty much at its present level and the Philharmonia, which was judged by the Arts Council's music panel to have won the contest, will not have its funding increased. The third orchestra involved, the Royal Philharmonic, will have its funding reduced from pounds 400,000 to a minimum of pounds 300,000 and encouraged to be a regional touring orchestra.

Last night David Whelton, managing director of the Philharmonia, said the decision was the result of 'bully boy tactics by the South Bank Centre', which houses the Royal Festival Hall where all three orchestras play.

Christopher Lawrence, managing director of the London Philharmonic, welcomed the Arts Council decision, acknowledging that it represented a complete change from the original objectives. He said: 'This has been a long and difficult period for the musicians in all the orchestras. We are happy that no player's job is now at risk.'

The Arts Council issued a statement after its meeting yesterday which said that the Hoffmann committee had found it impossible to make a recommendation between the Philharmonia and London Philharmonic on the basis of superior merit. It therefore concluded that parity of funding between the two orchestras was the correct course with a further pounds 400,000 for the South Bank residency.

However, two members of the five-man Hoffmann committee did recommend the Philharmonia, saying that 'those respects in which the Philharmonia is superior are those which carry the greatest weight'. The council's own music panel recommended the Philharmonia.

The Hoffmann report, made public only last night by the Arts Council, was also sharply critical of both the council and the South Bank Centre. It revealed that a section of the South Bank submission to Hoffmann 'was devoted to explaining in somewhat dramatic terms how the selection of any orchestra other than the London Philharmonic would 'destabilise the centre's finances', 'undermine the national and international reputation of the Royal Festival Hall' and cause it to lose audiences 'for all time'. '

Nicholas Snowman, the South Bank Centre chief executive and artistic director, said last night that the Arts Council decision was 'welcome news'. He looked forward to the London Philharmonic's continuing residency, adding: 'We will continue to welcome all the London orchestras to the South Bank.'