Scandals, Sense and Statistics…

…in other words, a round-up of the latest caboodles in the music world, to brighten your weekend. Here are my top five.

1. Nick Daniel, oboist extraordinaire, is in Moscow judging an oboe competition at the Tchaikovsky Conservatoire. He’s blogging the trip and it’s jolly illuminating…for instance, why are other jury members being put up at their national embassies in Moscow, but, as Nick describes it, the British embassy “didn’t want to know” and he has ended up staying courtesy of, er, Azerbaijan? Follow the fun and games here. 

2. Welcome back – or not – Ivo Pogorelich, who appeared at the RFH the other day playing the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1. The existence of this concert eluded the attention of even the hardest of my hardcore pianophile friends, but perhaps that was just as well. “For God’s sake, just play the damn thing!” begs blogger RecitativeThe Classical Source echoes this frustration and frankly a sense of outrage at the perversity of Pogorelich’s pianism. One star out of five from The Guardian.

3. David Nice at The Arts Desk links to some absolutely amazing home video of Jean Sibelius from 1927 and 1945. Fabulous. Made my day!

4. The Royal Philharmonic Society and the Association of British Orchestras are founding The Salomon Prize for a professional orchestral musician in the UK who has been “an inspiration to their colleagues and engendered a greater spirit of teamwork within the orchestra”. Tom Service has more on this here. In the light of Nick’s comments on attitudes in Moscow, this initiative is needed: we don’t want a situation in which talented children are pushed to become the next Lang Lang…but there’ll be no orchestra to accompany them. A little recognition won’t go amiss.

5. Speaking of which, Norman Lebrecht’s brutal attack on the ACE is taking “most read” pride of place on the Standpoint site at present and is well worth a peek. He’s given the whole history considerable punch. But if this piece is to be taken as advice for remodelling the funding of arts organisations, there is one major inaccuracy which could throw the whole argument off kilter and it needs pointing out. 

Norman says: “…Symphony orchestras, hitherto judged on merit, were now awarded equal amounts. Three London orchestras seethed as a fourth, notoriously lax in rehearsal and safe in programming, received identical subsidy. The all-shall-have-prizes policy amounted to an abdication of the ACE’s responsibility to reward merit and discourage mediocrity.”

But hang on: the four London orchestras he refers to in fact do not receive identical ACE funding. The figures for the latest review of Regularly Funded Organisations are readily available and make the hierachy very clear.

The London Symphony Orchestra receives the biggest amount among London orchestras from the ACE. And add to this its extra chunk from the City of London and sponsorship that is attracted to success, you have a healthy and wealthy orchestra that can employ the best (if most controversial) principal conductor on the planet.

In second place, the London Philharmonic and the Philharmonia, both based at the Royal Festival Hall, both receive from the ACE a lower sum than the LSO, identical to each other. They are doing fine, with a solid spread of sponsorship to bolster them; their principal conductors, respectively Vladimir Jurowski and Esa-Pekka Salonen, are popular, charismatic, dynamic musicians of international renown who both take very considerable risks with their programming.

And the fourth orchestra? It can only be the Royal Philharmonic, which 30 years ago was one of the country’s finest. It was a concert by the RPO which turned me on to orchestral music when I was 12, in Strauss’s Don Juan. But today this orchestra — its home base is now the modest Cadogan Hall in Chelsea — does not receive anything remotely approaching the same subsidy as its siblings at the RFH. Indeed, its ACE award is less than half of that accorded to the LSO. Identical schmidentical.

Now, if you starvation-fund an organisation it is bound to fall back on commercial engagements and safe programming for bums-on-seats… If morale there is as low as it can sometimes sound, it’s little wonder.

I’m not saying the RPO should have the same subsidy as the LSO; I’m just saying please get the figures right before basing an entire policy revision on them.

The exact figures, as I said, are readily and freely available. You can see them for yourself by following the download links on the ACE site, here.

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