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Music chief quits over U-turn on orchestras: Move confirms Arts Council split

THE debacle over the future of London's orchestras claimed its biggest scalp yesterday when the Arts Council's music officer, Ken Baird, resigned.

Mr Baird, music director since 1988, was a prime mover behind the policy of reducing London's publicly funded symphony orchestras from four to two. After a six-month exercise and a report from a committee headed by an Appeal Court judge, the Arts Council bowed to a national outcry and did a U-turn on that policy.

It said last week that it would continue to fund four orchestras, enraging the Philharmonia which the Arts Council's own music panel had recommended be the new 'super orchestra'.

It emerged yesterday that Mr Baird, 42, a former scholar from the Royal College of Music and former general manager of the Aldeburgh Foundation, tendered his resignation from the pounds 40,000-a-year job last Wednesday. Yet the following day the Arts Council's secretary general, Anthony Everitt, told a press conference which raised the possibility of Mr Baird going that there was no need for anyone to resign over the orchestra saga.

The resignation is clear evidence of a split in the Arts Council over the future direction of national music policy.

Mr Baird has been a controversial figure in music circles for his urging that subsidised orchestras play more contemporary music, although audiences have not always been keen to come to hear it.

But his belief that London has too many symphony orchestras and should concentrate resources on two well funded super-orchestras does have some support. Audience figures for classical music at the Royal Festival Hall have declined by 25 per cent since the Sixties. The eventual Arts Council decision can only be seen as a snub to its music advisers and to him.

Mr Baird said in a statement yesterday: 'It is with great regret I decided to resign when it became clear that the policy for supporting London orchestras the council had pursued since earlier this year would not be implemented.

'It is my firm belief that in the long term this much criticised approach is the right way to improve orchestral standards in London, and to halt the decline in audiences. At the same time it would provide some savings to support other types of high quality work, including orchestras both in London and elsewhere in England.'

Mr Everitt said: 'I am much saddened by Kenneth Baird's resignation. Taking the present circumstances into account, he has chosen an honourable course of action. I am extremely grateful for the excellent work he has done for the Arts Council over five years of service.'

Judy Grahame, spokeswoman for the Philharmonia, said last night: 'Ken Baird has shown great integrity. The Arts Council has ignored his policy and left London's orchestras leaderless.'