Musical Notes: Worrying Times

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Worrying Times

"Here is the news. The BBC has announced that three of its symphony orchestras, plus the BBC Concert Orchestra and the BBC Symphony Chorus are to be disbanded."

If that was a real announcement, shock waves would ripple through the entire fabric of British classical music culture. Well it hasn't happened quite yet, but if similar news from the Netherlands sets the pattern for spending cuts in other European countries, then something similar here in Britain may only be a matter of time.

The coalition government in the Hague has announced that the Muziekcentrum van de Omroep (MCO) – the Netherlands Broadcasting Music Centre – is to close completely. This will mean the disappearance of three full-time professional orchestras - the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, the Radio Chamber Philharmonic and the Metropole Orchestra - together with the Netherlands Radio Choir, the MCO's library and its music educational programme.

Is this a life-threatening wound in the side of classical music broadcasting specifically and public service broadcasting in general? If so, these are worrying times indeed. Cuts like these, once made, are never restored; there is no realistic prospect of restoration when financial conditions improve – when it's gone, it's gone! These musicians are not struggling for audiences – they regularly play to capacity houses.

News from the other side of the pond in the USA is similarly gloomy. The Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) is currently in dispute with its management and has been on strike since 4 October. The DSO's management are trying to impose a 30% salary for existing players and a 40% reduction for new players, as well as a reduced concert schedule and an end to the orchestra's system of tenure. The DSO players have counter-offered a package that include acceptance of a 22% cut, but this has been rejected.

The dispute at Detroit is a bitter one and does not readily compare with a strike by the Cleveland Orchestra at the beginning of this year which lasted only just over a day. The package presented to the Cleveland Orchestra would have been a 3-year deal with a 5% salary reduction in year one. The final settlement was for a 2-year wage freeze followed thereafter by two 6-monthly increases of 3% and 2% respectively. Orchestra managements across America are watching the outcome of the situation at Detroit with interest and perhaps trepidation. Detroit may the first (long) dispute; it may not be the last.

Support your local orchestra lest you lose it. Till next time, (hopefully) happier listening.

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