Orchestras in turmoil as RPO moves home: Royal Philharmonic is set for a high profile of live broadcasts and partnership with the Albert Hall. David Lister reports

Click to follow
LONDON'S classical music scene is to be shaken up after the announcement yesterday that the Royal Albert Hall is for the first time to have a resident symphony orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic.

With concerts broadcast live on radio, and in many cases on television, and with pop-style big-screen presentations, the RPO's residency in the west London hall with 40 concerts a year could bring even greater competition to a city that is already overprovided with classical music.

As part of the agreement, the orchestra - until now housed in the South Bank Centre - and the hall plan a combined 'dial a concert' scheme, by which cable television viewers can pay to watch live concerts in their living rooms.

The RPO is planning a similar scheme for its residency in Nottingham which begins next month. The orchestra will divide its time between Nottingham and the Royal Albert Hall.

With 5,000 seats, the RAH will be Britain's largest venue for a resident symphony orchestra, heightening the RPO's profile, while carrying the risk of large losses if ticket sales are disappointing.

The deal has a number of implications. The RAH will be a unique example of a private centre, with no public funding, taking on and funding a symphony orchestra.

The RPO has decided to leave the South Bank Centre, where there is a strong insistence on orchestras playing a considerable amount of contemporary and challenging work. There are also four symphony orchestras competing for audiences there. The RPO has vigorously defended a repertoire which includes popular classics that attract large audiences as well as contemporary composers.

Most of all, though, the announcement yesterday demonstrates the astonishing resurgence and initiative at the RPO after a year in which it came near to closure. The inquiry headed by Sir Leonard Hoffmann into London's orchestras gave it scant praise; its funding has been cut by the Arts Council.

The orchestra has negotiated to become Classic FM's house orchestra at pounds 500,000 a year; a record deal to produce top quality, cheap compact discs with Tring records, worth pounds 2.5m over two years, and the residency in Nottingham. It can now argue convincingly for more money from the Arts Council on the grounds that other orchestras are subsidised twice (public money going to both the orchestra and the venue) whereas its venue is privately run.

RPO concerts at the Royal Albert Hall will include pop-style presentations for classical concerts, with big screens showing close-ups of musicians and conductor. Concerts will be broadcast live on Classic FM radio.

The residency starts properly in 1996, with a series of pilot concerts next year. It reflects the vision of Patrick Deuchar, chief executive of the Royal Albert Hall, to revive the hall's reputation as a premier cultural centre. He is seeking lottery funds to build a pedestrian bridge with cafes and sculptures between the hall and Hyde Park. The RAH is already home to the Proms and numerous one-off classical and pop concerts.

Mr Deuchar said yesterday that the scheme would cost pounds 500,000 a year, and he was confident that the orchestra would raise private sponsorship and public funds. The hall would look after marketing and the box office.

(Photograph omitted)