London orchestras are forced into 'dirty war'

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A BIZARRE 'courtroom' drama will be acted out before an Appeal Court judge today in the increasingly dirty war over funding between London's symphony orchestras.

Lord Justice Hoffmann will be told that the Philharmonia, one of the orchestras least fancied to receive the available funding, has 'poached' an internationally renowned musician from its main rival, and in a cloak-and-dagger scene the judge will be handed a piece of paper containing the name of the leading international music director who has pledged to take over the baton if the orchestra keeps its money.

The managing directors of three symphony orchestras will give evidence in private before Lord Justice Hoffmann at a London office - each in the hope of proving themselves more worthy than their rivals to retain their public funding.

The situation has been forced on the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic and the Royal Philharmonic orchestras by the Arts Council in one of its most criticised initiatives.

The Council, anxious to have fewer and better orchestras in London, has ordered the three to give evidence before a special committee headed by a neutral outsider, Lord Justice Hoffmann. This will decide which should have its funding enhanced. The other two will lose all their public money.

The London Symphony Orchestra, judged by the Council already to be of the necessary quality, and resident at the Barbican Centre, has been excused.

The London Philharmonic currently receives pounds 1.2m in public money, the Philharmonia pounds 800,000 and the Royal Philharmonic pounds 400,000.

The LPO and Philharmonia have already slugged it out for residency at the Royal Festival Hall. The LPO won and is favourite to win the new contest. If it does, the Philharmonia will almost certainly go out of business and cease to exist, while the RPO might just survive, buttressed by its earnings from playing the more popular classics.

However, the Philharmonia has, within the last month, signed the LPO's former principal oboist, Gordon Hunt; and the LPO's current principal flautist, Jonathan Snowden, will shortly announce that he is switching sides.

The Philharmonia already has the LPO's former leader, David Nolan, and former principal cellist, Matthias Feile. Hunt and Snowden were described by Klaus Tennstedt, the LPO's conductor emeritus, as 'the greatest wind players in the world'.

While Nolan and Feile joined more than a year ago, Snowden and Hunt have both been head-hunted by the Philharmonia since the Hoffmann committee was set up.

The LPO pointed out that Hunt had already left the orchestra. But David Whelton, managing director of the Philharmonia, retorted in footballing metaphor: 'Getting Snowden from the LPO and bringing in Hunt gives us a redoubtable strike force.'

Though the Arts Council has said that evidence to Hoffmann should be published, the judge will be handed a number of documents that are for his eyes only. One will be from Nicholas Snowman, head of the South Bank Centre, which includes the Royal Festival Hall and has the LPO as resident orchestra. In it he endorses the LPO's claim and gives the orchestras marks out of 10. He only gives the Philharmonia five, telling Lord Justice Hoffmann in the confidential document that 'the orchestra pursues a reactive policy of star player buying at disproportionately high cost'.

In fact, it is unlikely that the Philharmonia's new signings are earning any more with their new employers than they did with the LPO. A top musician with a London symphony orchestra is paid about pounds 35,000 for work with the orchestra. The more important part of a musician's contract is the promise of plenty of time off for more lucrative recording and solo work, and an input into artistic decision-making.

Whelton has promised exactly this in his approaches to poach the LPO players. Snowden said: 'They had private talks with me and promised that I could be involved in artistic decisions. This has all been very difficult. The Arts Council decision has caused ill feeling, at least on the surface, among musicians, setting us against one another.

'The Government's attitude appals me. It should treasure the musicians it has. This has had a very bad effect on morale in all the orchestras. It's a very small world, music. We meet each other all the time. I was at the LPO for more than eight years, but now I desperately want the Philharmonia to win.'

To add to the cloak-and- dagger atmosphere today, David Whelton of the Philharmonia is expected to hand to Lord Justice Hoffmann a piece of paper with the name of a top international music director who has promised to join the orchestra if it wins the contest. This again will not be made public, though it is of the utmost importance, as in the end the battle may be decided on Hoffmann's view of opposing music directors - Franz Welser-Most, the LPO's Austrian-born music director, and the Philharmonia's Mr X.

It has all proved too much for some. Last week Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the composer who is also associate conductor with the Royal Philharmonic, threatened to renounce his knighthood and leave the country if the Arts Council continues with the contest. He pointed out that all three orchestras combined receive less public money than the Vienna or Berlin Philharmonic, which the Arts Council wants the new super-orchestra to emulate.

Turning on the Arts Council, he accused it of appointing 'anonymous spies, slinking into concerts to report back on their fellows, thus setting musician against musician and orchestra against orchestra, as each struggles for life'.

An Arts Council spokeswoman said yesterday: 'This is off-the-wall paranoia. We have always had a system of 'show reports' by which members of the music panel and its advisers report back on performances.'

More manoeuvres, page 24

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