Orchestras clash in battle of the South Bank

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The Independent Online
A DISPUTE between two London orchestras is causing confusion over plans for a resident orchestra at the Royal Festival Hall, London, and embarrassment to David Mellor, the Minister for National Heritage.

The dispute, with threatened litigation, follows the London Philharmonic becoming the first resident orchestra at the South Bank Centre. Mr Mellor, formerly vice-chairman of the London Philharmonic Trust, presided at the press conference to announce this and cut a cake in celebration.

However, the orchestra has now received solicitors' letters from its rival, the Philharmonia, over a brochure, 200 copies of which it has circulated since the press conference entitled 'The London Philharmonic: What Makes It Unique'. The dispute threatens the much vaunted plan to create a 'super orchestra' at the Royal Festival Hall with first choice of concert dates, rehearsal time and special privileges right down to personal lockers for musicians.

The South Bank's statement about the residency said: 'From September 1992, music making in London will never be the same again. The London Philharmonic's residency at the Royal Festival Hall marks a historic step towards the creation of a world class orchestra to challenge Vienna, Berlin and Chicago.'

But yesterday David Whelton, managing director of the Philharmonia, said: 'That statement was sheer nonsense. The key thing about any orchestra is the relationship between the conductor and the players. You can give an orchestra as many rehearsals as you want and it will not make a jot of difference.' He added that he understood the LPO was issuing a replacement brochure.

He also put the whole residency agreement into confusion by saying that the Philharmonia had been able to get all the rehearsals it wanted in the Royal Festival Hall. The only difference between his orchestra and The London Philharmonic, he concluded, was that the LPO had to work out its artistic programme with the South Bank, whereas the Philharmonia could plan its artistic programme independently. But a South Bank spokeswoman said yesterday: 'There are differences between what the two orchestras get beyond the artistic programme. The main thing is that the LPO has priority on what dates it wants and on choice of repertoire.'

Judy Grahame, spokeswoman for the London Philharmonic, said: 'We have certainly not removed the things of which David Whelton complained from our brochure. I think the main point about the residency is that it has to mean something from the public's point of view. They have to see a difference between the orchestra that is resident and the orchestra that is not resident. I'm confident that with the goodwill that exists between the South Bank and the LPO that this will develop.'

Mr Whelton said last night he was stunned to learn that the LPO had not amended its brochure. 'Legal proceedings with the LPO will be continuing,' he said.