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Exclusive: English orchestra to be abolished in savage local cuts

We’ve been leaked a report, going out tomorrow, which confirms that the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra is ti be abolished under local authority cutbacks. The orchestra, which achieved national (and a measure of international) fame under the long leadership of the late Vernon Handley,

has been recommended for closure in a report that the council executive is expected to approve.

The council, in one of England’s wealthiest commuter belts, will save £190,000 a year ($300,000) from the closure. That may well be justified in these tough times. But the cost to the town is immeasurable. By killing the orchestra it will also lose any pretence to be more than a dormitory town, a place where people go to sleep but not to belong or engage. A proposal to spend £60,000 on other musical activities will not compensate for the loss of an orchestra. It will, we think, be the first orchestra to die under the Cameron-Clegg government.

It is not too late for Guildford to step back from the brink. Write to leading councillor jen.powell@guildford.gov.uk to express a view.

Here, as promised, is the leaked doc:

Recommendation to Executive
That the Executive approves:
1. The closure of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra service (GPO), currently
directly provided by the Council, with effect from 31 March 2013
2. The commissioning of classical music in the borough to an external
organisation(s) on a four year grant funding agreement supported by grant aid of
up to £60,000 per annum from the Council and authorises the appropriate
strategic director to finalise the terms of the agreement in consultation with the
Lead Councillor for Sport, Leisure and Culture
3. The proposal to broaden the provision to include the lunchtime recitals and to
engage young people and children and include world music in addition to western
art music.
4. The proposal to establish a panel comprising the lead councillor, Interim Strategic
Director, the external consultants (DCA) and two councillors nominated by the
Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee (Councillors Tony Phillips and Nikki
Nelson-Smith) to evaluate the bids for grant funding.
Reasons for Recommendation:
The reasons for recommending the closure of the service and the provision of classical
music via grant aid are that -
1. The current provision is neither efficient nor effective in offering value for money
2. The proposed model is the most advantageous means of securing this provision.

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Comments

  1. Ian Partridge says:

    I love classical music and live about an hour’s drive from Guildford, but I had no idea they even had a professional orchestra. That says a lot, and is probably part of the problem.

  2. This BBC website report appeared in September.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-surrey-19662039

    And I have never lived in Guildford (South Wales, Yorkshire and London), yet have known about the GPO for 30 years or more. That also says a lot.

  3. But aren’t most of the players in the “Guildford Philharmonic” basically freelancers, many of whom are regulars in the main London bands, anyway?
    The GP seem to perform an average of less than one concert per month, so hardly a thriving orchestra…
    In all but name, GP concerts are bringing a fairly London-centric band to Guildford to perform, So why waste money on a separate set of branding, administration costs, staffing to run a fairly non-existent orchestra, which you could bring in the LPO, Philharmonia, LSO, BSO, whoever, who already have all the back-office stuff sewn up?

    • I am Music Director of the City of Rochester Symphony Orchestra, which enjoys very good local audience support, much better than our London rivals, the RPO and CLS, who it seems have been forced to abandon their Medway towns presence. I’m sure that this audience phenomenon will be true of the Guildford Philharmonic too, so it may be the suggestion that concerts formerly given by the Guildford orchestra could be replaced by London orchestras may prove unsuccessful. Perhaps the Guildford players should form a co-operative, like their London counterparts, in which case Guildford Council might continue to be supportive ‘in-kind’ – reduced hall hire fees and advertising. Were Tod Handley to still be with us he would find this decision heart-breaking.

  4. I suspect that a promoter will be found to bring in third rate foreign orchestras, as has happened in so many cities in the UK. No prizes for guessing which promoter/agent that will be then.

  5. “The reasons for recommending the closure of the service and the provision of classical
    music via grant aid are that -
    1. The current provision is neither efficient nor effective in offering value for money
    2. The proposed model is the most advantageous means of securing this provision”

    Classic local authority dalek-speak – tells us nothing of any usefulness at all.
    Poor Guildford

  6. Oh dear – why do I feel that history is repeating itself now that I’m back here in Britain ?

    Having lived through the scrapping of two orchestras that I once conducted (The State Theatre Orchestra Pretoria and National Chamber Orchestra of South Africa) I wonder if the City Fathers in Guildford have analysed the actual cost savings of this piece of potential cultural vandalism ?

    Deduct the 60,000 that is to be spent on “The commissioning of classical music in the borough to an external organisation(s)”.

    Then add in the additional cost of “interim Strategic Director, the external consultants (DCA) and two councillors nominated by the Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee” I’m sure these bureaucrats will need resources – support staff – attendance fees for meetings – and so on and so on. What will that cost. ? The BBC report states that it will be 41,000.

    In the final analysis and according to the figures given there may be a saving of 98,500 as stated – or possibly (probably) less.

    Who knows and will we ever know the real amount saved ?

    Have they then factored into their equation the income generated by the work of the orchestra ? I tried this with the South African government when they scrapped the orchestra at the State Theatre in Pretoria.

    Unfortunately I was unable to persuade the authorities that the tax revenue generated by our events plus the employment opportunities created by the work of the orchestra, and the support staff needed for the presentation of concerts, were in fact income for the funders – the government or in this case the council.

    I tried to calculate the revenue from VAT on ticket sales, PAYE on musicians and support staff salaries, rental on venues etc., ancillary sales such as refreshments, bar sales, programmes – but it all fell on deaf ears. No wonder they didn’t appreciate the work of an orchestra.

    As readers are aware from reports on your blog we face a similar problem with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra but by changing the business model I believe that the JPO can be saved, this is being formulated by management at the present time.

    Please give the GPO the opportunity to address this issue before taking the radical step of closing it down. It takes a few minutes of council debate to close an orchestra, but years to build a new one.

    Michael Hankinson
    Conductor Laureate – Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra
    Formerly Resident Conductor – State Theatre – Pretoria & Conductor – National Chamber Orchestra
    Conductor – Cape Town City Ballet

  7. With many of the worlds best orchestra a short train ride away, playing at the Southbank, there is probably little need for this orchestra.

  8. Dominy Clements says:

    Interesting to see that the CD illustrated is from the defunct ‘Concert Artists’ label – the front for the Joyce Hatto faked CDs scandal a few years back.

    I’m not sure that this helps the cause….

  9. Mark Mortimer says:

    What about another depressing tale lamenting the demise of a venerable cultural institution just to cheer us all up.

    The Guildford Philharmonic has been a jewel in the crown of orchestral music making in the South East for many years now.

    Norman reveals all in his leaking of the doc from Guildford Council. Are we to be in the least surprised when reading paragraph 4, so redolent of modern misguided multiculturalism by deranged local government officials – ‘To make provision for world music in addition to western art music’?!

    Do we honestly believe that the type of people who live in/around Guildford, namely white and affluent professional middle class want to hear a lot of African drummers and Indian Sitar players- I shouldn’t think so for one minute.

    Lets hope the orchestra can survive somehow.

  10. Ian Partridge says:

    “Do we honestly believe that the type of people who live in/around Guildford, namely white and affluent professional middle class want to hear a lot of African drummers and Indian Sitar players- I shouldn’t think so for one minute.”

    In Southampton, the most popular arts event is the annual “Mela” festival of world music and dance. The city centre is packed.

    So yes, I’m sure they would find an audience for world music in Guildford too.

  11. I have lived close to Guildford for 20 years, and, like the man above, had never heard of the orchestra. If this area is indeed a ‘dormitory town’ (it isn’t, incidentally – there are theatres, concerts, and all the rest of it going on if you care for it), so what – we are a 45 min train journey from London, where we can see the best orchestras and musicians in the world. To people who live here and like music, I expect this barely registers.

  12. I grew up with the Guildford Philharmonic and went to all their fortnightly concerts in the 70s. Usually they were conducted by Vernon Handley and I had my first experiences of so many works under his baton. We so often associate Handley with English music but I chiefly remember an amazing Shostakovitch 8, Tchaikoksky Francesca da Rimini and much else.

    In recent years I took a look at their programmes online and noticed it had been reduced to ‘pops’ concerts and far less frequent performances. The bold programming of the 70s had gone. The standard of the orchestra was extremely high and they created an intimacy in Guildford Civic Hall that led me to prefer them to the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Most of the players were drawn from London orchestras and they played their hearts out for Todd Handley.

    Shame on this local authority.

  13. Mike Adams says:

    I live in Guildford and play in local amateur orchestras, so have a particular interest in Guildford’s premier orchestra. A problem is that the running of the new council owned concert venue ( G-Live) has been contracted out to a company who want to maximise profits by staging comedians and pop music acts instead. One reason the council subsidy has been needed is because the venue is now so expensive to hire. The only other large venue in Guildford is the Cathedral which has poor orchestral accoustics and visibility.

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