Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra future in doubt
By mattcollison | Thursday, September 20, 2012, 13:50
THE future of Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra (GPO) has been thrown into doubt with Guildford Borough Council set to pull the plug on its funding.
Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra performing a 'beach party' concert. Guildford Borough Council Image.
The orchestra, described as "the heart of music-making in the south east", has been funded and managed by the council since 1945.
But the authority is expected to announce tonight (September 20) its plans to push forward with a cost-cutting drive that could spell the end of GPO.
It wants to cease its funding and instead provide a grant to bidders for "classical musical provision" from April 2013.
The proposal, if approved at an Executive meeting later in November, will save the council £100,000 and lead to the loss of two jobs, the GPOs general manager and marketing manager.
The plans were set out after the council enlisted DCA Consultants to review its options.
A report to councillors released ahead of tonight's corporate improvement scrutiny committee states: "Officers have explored a series of options, with the help of specialist consultants (DCA Consultants), and propose that the way forward which offers best value for the council is to cease providing the service and instead support and encourage the performance of classical music in the borough via a grant (of up to £50,000 per annum) to an external organisation."
The council has said concert attendance figures have slumped in recent months. It said the running cost of the orchestra was the equivalent of two per cent of its council tax income.
But the move is being vigorously opposed by GPO supporters, with messages appearing on Twitter by objectors.
Julian Lyon tweeted: "Today could be the beginning of the end for the Guildford Philharmonic - such a bad day for @GuildfordBC - three year secret plan uncovered."
The orchestra's concert season runs from October to July but fears for its future have been heightened by an empty calendar from April 2013 when the council proposes to axe funding.
Keith Motson, of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO), said: "It would be a very big loss.
"The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra has worked with significant figures in the musical world - some big conducting names.
"It is not just an average amateur orchestra, this is a major UK orchestra with some big history behind it."
ABO said the orchestra could continue if a new business model was adopted whereby it became an independent trust financed via private and public funding.
Mr Motson said: "Just suddenly saying let's shut it down and then pay somebody £50,000, who doesn't really care about the area or the heritage, to bring back a few music concerts is not the same thing as retaining an interest for a concert series in Guildford and allowing the orchestra and its management to manage the change into being an independent trust. "
The council first announced its plan in April but it was hoped it would look into securing the future of the orchestra through managing its change of ownership.
But Mr Motson said: "The briefing for tonight's meeting makes absolutely no mention of that and it seems to imply that the only option on the table is shutting it down and maintaining a random classical music presence by buying it in off the shelf.
"I appreciate it's a small but sizeable chunk of council money and it needs to be spent wisely but I absolutely urge them to manage the change through because it looks to me, having read the papers for tonight, that they seem to have counted that out without really looking at it.
"That seems a shame because it is an orchestra with some great heritage."
The orchestra's repertoire extends from the 17th century to the present day and past principal conductors include Crossley Clitheroe, Vernon Handley, Sir Charles Groves, Sir Alexander Gibson and En Shao.