Page last updated at 14:44 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Downturn costing orchestra brass

Ulster Orcestra - ex Ulster Orchestra website
Orchestra members are facing a pay freeze

A staple of Northern Ireland's arts scene is feeling the chill wind of the global downturn, with a pay freeze for the Ulster Orchestra's musicians.

The news emerged at a meeting of the Stormont Culture, Art and Leisure committee on Thursday.

Chief Executive David Byers said a collapse in corporate sponsorship has hit the orchestra's coffers.

"Sadly the reality check is very much now upon us, in that we are not immune to the credit crunch," he said.

Mr Byers said his team of 63 musicians, plus support staff, brought classical music to a huge number of venues, reaching children in deprived areas and widening their repertoire to include popular concerts.

But he warned that, as the economic downturn hit the performing arts, his organisation had to work hard to make ends meet.

"We do punch above our weight and I do believe we provide excellent value for money," he said.

"We have enjoyed huge success in terms of increasing our box office revenue, in terms of increasing our sponsorship and philanthropic giving from individuals."

However, he said that they had lost 150,000 this year because they are reliant on the bank and the financial institutions.

"Our bank interest, which we relied on to top us up, was earning us about 30,000 a year. That's gone as you can imagine," he said.


We do believe with a passion that a modern, forward-looking society needs an orchestra

David Byers

"So I am afraid next season we are going to have to cut back in what we offer.

"And at the very least we are implementing a pay freeze from the beginning of the financial year, until we work out where the economy is going."

He appealed for additional public funding saying that it was "more than doubled" in terms of the economic return.

The Ulster Orchestra has to bring in 4m each year to do its work.

It receives 2m from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, 750,000 from the BBC for playing a series of concerts, and 143,000 from Belfast City Council.

The orchestra's annual box office earnings are about 400,000.

"We are non-confrontational in terms of the events we put on, there is no sense of it being for one side of the community and not the other," he said.

"We do believe with a passion that a modern, forward-looking society needs an orchestra."

In a statement the orchestra said the recession had hit other orchestras.

"The Sage, Gateshead, home of the Northern Sinfonia, has a "pay standstill" in operation at the moment," it said.

"At the weekend, the London Philharmonic Orchestra announced a reduction in its London concert-giving because of seriously reduced sponsorship."

The statement said they had "pruned" their programme for next season, cancelled their Dublin series and were looking at salaries.

"A pay freeze looks most likely," the statement said.



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