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Tuesday, February 3, 1998 Published at 23:17 GMT


Wrong note for Halle Orchestra
image: [ Unless a rescue package is found, the Halle is likely to close in days ]
Unless a rescue package is found, the Halle is likely to close in days

Britain's oldest orchestra, the Halle in Manchester, is waiting to be told by its accountant whether it has a future.

[ image: The Halle in its prime]
The Halle in its prime
The report by KPMG accountants is expected to be presented to the orchestra's board in the next couple of days

It will detail chaotic management, huge debts and a funding crisis, which began when the orchestra admitted losses of £600,000 in the last financial year.

The Halle's annual Arts Council grant has been frozen at £1,251,000 and no extra money is being made available because of its difficulties.

But the Halle's predicament is far from unique, provincial orchestras throughout Britain are in a similar situation.

Renowned cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber said: "If we lose an institution like the Halle we're in a very serious situation.

"I think there'd be a knock-on effect with other orchestras and classical music has got to fight for its survival now."

Music aficionados are suggesting the result could be so drastic that all regional opera companies may close by the summer.

Edward Smith of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra explains how funding cuts have left classical music so vulnerable.

"After three or four years of government cuts or local authorities cuts, we've cut ourselves to the bone in terms of the activity we promote and cutting it any further is going to change the animal very substantially," he said.

[ image: Julian Lloyd-Webber: critical moment for classical music]
Julian Lloyd-Webber: critical moment for classical music
A last-minute rescue package could still save the Halle, which rose to international fame throughout the 1950s and '60s for the quality of its performances.

But Mr Lloyd-Webber is convinced only a radical and aggressive approach can stem the drift away from orchestras by music-lovers and concertgoers.

"We have to fight our corner otherwise there's simply not going to be classical music in the West," he said.

"I think the problem is the media only seems to be interest in classical music when there's a gimmick involved, if you have semi-naked bimbo violinists.

Julian Lloyd-Webber: The collapse of the Halle would hit other orchestras (1'47")
"We're being starved to the brink of extinction and maybe beyond the brink of extinction by lack of media coverage."

But others are more optimistic about the future of classical music even if orchestras cannot rely on the state for subsidy.

Ann Kingsley, concert promotion officer for Bournemouth orchestra, says orchestras can survive by "getting more bums on seats."

"Consequently we are looking for ways of making money with popular concerts which, although we enjoy doing them, limit our artistic style as it were.

"Certainly promotion of new music tends to leave a lot less music in the concert hall.

"We are having to find more and more ways to keep a balanced budget, and we're looking at every area," she said.

The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is also developing sponsorship deals with banks and other organisations.

"It's a fine line between being market-led and artistic-led," Ms Kingsley said. "But I would defy you to find any arts organisation in the country that isn't in this situation."

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