Judge to decide fate of orchestras: The arts face their most severe cuts for years. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
TWO London symphony orchestras will definitely lose their public funding and up to 10 theatre companies could go to the wall in the most severe cuts the arts have seen for years.

Part of the cuts is due to reduced government spending, but most is a result of the Arts Council deciding to fund fewer companies and only those it deems to be top quality. But it is the orchestras which have the most bizarre fate.

The London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia orchestras have been ordered by the Arts Council to appear before a Court of Appeal judge and prove they deserve public money. The judge will decide by the end of the summer which two of the three world-famous names should lose funding and which remaining one should then have its money increased. The consequence could well be a merger and the loss of at least one.

Anthony Everitt, secretary general of the Arts Council, said: 'There's a bit of a crowd in London as far as orchestras are concerned. Is there a sufficient audience? Are there sufficient recording opportunities?'

Audiences for classical music in London are 25 per cent down on the 1960s. The Arts Council decision means the council has accepted something it has denied for years - that London may have too many orchestras, though the decision to have a committee headed by Lord Justice Sir Leonard Hoffmann rather than the council's own officers decide on artistic quality is an odd twist.

The London Symphony Orchestra, based at the Barbican, will not have to enter the competition as the council is convinced of its artistic strength.

Ken Baird, the Arts Council's music director, said they would have to appear before Lord Justice Hoffman, who as well as being a Lord Justice of Appeal is a board member of the English National Opera, and give a submission to convince him of their artistic quality, track record and 'future commitment to new work and adventurous programming', a phrase that could cause shudders in the populist Royal Philharmonic.

Yesterday the RPO acted quickly, rechristening itself, with a new logo, the Royal Philharmonic, Britain's National Orchestra.

At present the LSO receives pounds 1,128,500 from the Arts Council, as does the LPO. The Philharmonia gets pounds 711,500 and the RPO pounds 400,000. The grants account for up to 20 per cent of the orchestras' income.

Celebrated regional theatres such as the Belgrade, Coventry; the Theatre Royal, Plymouth; the Bristol Old Vic; Bolton Octagon; London venues such as the Lyric, Hammersmith and Watford and Greenwich theatres are understood to have been discussed by the Arts Council as likely grant losers.

The pounds 40m that the Arts Council spends on drama funds about 70 companies ranging from the National Theatre and RSC through regional centres such as the Manchester Royal Exchange and Sheffield Crucible to small companies such as the Black Theatre Co-operative.

However, cuts of pounds 1.4m in the drama budget could be reduced if the Government rescinds its threat to cut pounds 5m from the Arts Council's grant next year. However, even if it does the council will cut six companies for artistic reasons.

THE seven regional theatres known to have been targeted by the Arts Council are:

The Belgrade, Coventry; Theatre Royal, Plymouth; Bristol Old Vic; Bolton Octagon; and London local venues such as the Lyric, Hammersmith; Watford; and Greenwich.