Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra to close after council withdraws funding

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By mattcollison | Friday, November 09, 2012, 17:16

THE final curtain is coming down on decades of classical music events by Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra after councillors last night decided to withdraw its funding.

Musicians for Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra will play out their last notes in March 2013 when the orchestra will close for good.

In what has been described as a major blow to classical music making in the south east, Guildford Borough Council's Executive committee last night decided the authority will no longer fund the orchestra, which it has managed since 1945.

Instead it will give £60,000 a year in grant aid to a preferred bidder who will manage classical music events in the borough from April 2013.

Cllr Jen Powell, lead councillor for sport, leisure and culture, said: "Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra is the only orchestra directly funded by a borough council in the country. The cost of providing the orchestra is currently £190,000 a year - equivalent to two per cent of our council tax income. The average subsidy for all concerts held by them is £46 per ticket.

"In order to make savings and still support and encourage the arts in the borough, we must provide classical music in a different way."

But the decision has been met with a mix of anger and sadness by classical music enthusiasts in the region.

Keith Motson of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), which campaigned to keep GPO running, said: "It is a huge loss to the area. It is a huge loss to the community it has served since 1945.

"If you look at it as just a big orchestra that misrepresents what they do. They work in very small chamber groups, they work as a big orchestra and as an accompanying force for local amateur groups like Guildford Choral Society. It is a huge loss and I think it will be felt keenly."

ABO had tried to persuade the council to adopt a model whereby GPO became an independent trust financed via private and public funding.

But Mr Motson said: "We are incredibly disappointed they didn't see fit to explore any other options.

"There was a proposal from one of the councillors, which was the option that we were also proposing, for a two year transitional level of funding which could see it through to becoming a managed independent organisation like every other local orchestra. It is very disappointing that they discounted that, put a line through the orchestra and looked at it purely in terms of money.

"No one is quibbling that money needs to be spent wisely at the moment, but this is short sighted, it's an immediate financial decision."

A decision on who will now provide a classical music service in the borough is expected to be made in the New Year. A tender process will take place and bidders will have six weeks to apply, with bids for grant aid to be evaluated by a council panel. 

The panel will look at previous experience, the variety of music to be performed, the appeal to a wide age audience and professional standing of musicians and directors.



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