Prince 'meddled to aid orchestra'

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The Independent Online
THE PRINCE of Wales tried to influence the board of the South Bank Centre in London to ensure that his favourite orchestra shared the residency at the Royal Festival Hall, according to a book to be published this week.

The allegation may help to explain why the residency has ended up as something of a hotchpotch. The resident orchestra, the London Philharmonic, has few real privileges over the one that failed to win, the Philharmonia, whose patron is Prince Charles.

The LPO residency, which has been publicly applauded by David Mellor, Secretary of State for National Heritage, who was on the orchestra's board until recently, starts officially later this month.

The idea was that London should have an orchestra identified closely with the city, as the Berlin Philharmonic is with Berlin. The LPO was chosen by a committee headed by the former general director of the Royal Opera House, Sir John Tooley, although the then chairman of the South Bank Centre, Ronald Grierson, wanted a dual residency involving the Philharmonia.

The resident orchestra was to have first choice of concert dates and rehearsal times. While the LPO does have first choice, it has ended up with only a handful more dates than the Philharmonia and so few special privileges that the South Bank has to stress that LPO players will have their own lockers.

In the book Music In London, Norman Lebrecht, a specialist on classical music, writes: 'As patron of the Philharmonia and English Chamber Orchestra, he (Prince Charles) does not hesitate to interfere when their interests are threatened. When the Philharmonia failed to win residency at the South Bank concert halls, Charles summoned the officials responsible in an attempt to secure a deal that would give his orchestra a larger slice of the cake. Given that the decision was the result of a proper democratic procedure, his action was irresponsible.

'This kind of dilettantish meddling has encouraged every orchestra in London to get itself a royal protector, in the hope of impressing government ministers and business sponsors.'

However, a different gloss was put on the meeting yesterday by the chairman of the Philharmonia Trust, Daniel Salem, who is also chairman of Conde Nast magazines. He was present at the meeting - a lunch with Prince Charles at Sandringham two years ago - as were Mr Grierson and the two current general directors of the South Bank Centre, Nicholas Snowman and Richard Pulford. The meeting was urged by Mr Salem when he learned that the South Bank was planning to award the residency to the LPO.

According to Mr Salem, Prince Charles felt after the meeting that no announcement about the residency would be made while the two orchestras met to reach some agreement. But the South Bank announced it the next day.

Mr Salem said yesterday: 'The Prince of Wales was not very pleased. It was against all expectations that the LPO be awarded sole residency. We had been led to believe that there would be a dual residency.'

David Whelton, managing director of the Philharmonia, said: 'We haven't lost out because of the residency in any way. We have pretty well as many concerts as the LPO and all our first choice of dates. Also, conditions for the orchestra have improved. But this has nothing at all to do with the Prince Charles meeting.'

Mr Lebrecht said yesterday: 'It may be that the sort of pressure the Prince was applying may have helped swing things back to the Philharmonia, giving them certain benefits. It is without precedent in the musical world for a member of the Royal Family to roll his sleeves up and get involved in a domestic row of this kind.'

Judy Grahame, spokeswoman for the London Philharmonic, said: 'I believe there was a last-ditch attempt by the Prince of Wales. But I don't believe it had any effect.'

A South Bank Centre spokeswoman would only say: 'The selection of the resident orchestra was based on merit.'

The book is also critical of politicians who have dabbled in patronage. It says: 'Edward Heath took the title of president of the London Symphony Orchestra without doing anything noticeable to justify his name on the notepaper. He liked to be asked to conduct . . . Margaret Thatcher reserved her praise for foreign musical institutions that took no money from her privy purse . . . John Major, married to the biographer of Joan Sutherland, regards free tickets to Covent Garden as one of the perks of office.'

'Music in London' by Norman Lebrecht is published by Aurum Press at pounds 9.95.