Wednesday, October 12, 2011
What price the Simon Bolivar roadshow?
It is bittersweet that BBC Radio 3's Philippa Schuyler profile, with its connections to this blog, is being broadcast on Friday (Oct 14) in the interval of a concert by the Ulster Orchestra. Sweet because this is a notable orchestra, its first principal conductor Maurice Miles was profiled here in 2007 and JoAnn Falletta, seen above, has recently been appointed its first woman principal conductor. Bitter because buried in the small print of Radio 3 controller Roger Wright's statement about last week's BBC budget cuts is the news that "The volume of output broadcast from the Ulster Orchestra will be reduced."
Founded in 1966 with funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and based in Belfast, the Ulster Orchestra was increased in size when the BBC Northern Ireland Orchestra was disbanded in 1981 as a result of BBC budget cuts - is this story starting to sound familiar? Past principal conductors have included Vernon Handley, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, and Thierry Fischer. Because of its broadcast and Proms appearance the Ulster Orchestra is sometimes mistakenly thought to be a BBC house orchestra. But its £3.5 million income comes from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, Belfast City council, and the box office as well as the BBC. However the orchestra receives, and I quote, "significant payments for a specified number of (BBC) broadcast recordings (an essential and vital part of the funding equation)".
No mention was been made in the BBC's national press statements about the reduction in broadcasts from the Ulster Orchestra, so I offer the following food for thought. The BBC's classical music output is already too London-centric; yet there will be, and I quote "additional funding for the Proms". This is due, I suggest, to the political value of the prestigious Proms to the beleaguered BBC in the 2016 charter negotiations. As the only full-time professional orchestra in Northern Ireland the Ulster Orchestra employs 63 musicians and 18 administrative staff. It has a full programme of education and outreach work aimed at improving access and participation. This includes working with education and library boards, schools, universities and individual students, and its initiatives with young people in deprived areas of Belfast date back to 2005.
I have no other information on the impact on the Ulster Orchestra of the reduction in its broadcast output. But I do wonder just how much money is being saved in total in Northern Ireland compared with the cost of just one visit of the Simón Bolívar road show to orchestra-saturated London.
* Here are details of the Festival of the Americas concert at 7.45pm on October 14th. The concert is being broadcast live by BBC Radio 3 from Belfast Waterfront with the Colour of Genius programme aired during the interval. I am sure Philippa Schuyler, wherever she may be, will approve of the conductor and soloist, while in a neat piece of synchronicity three of the featured composer appear in my original Philippa post:
Ulster Orchestra with JoAnn Falletta conductor and Joanna MacGregor piano
Bernstein - On the Town: Three Dance Episodes
Copland - Three Latin American Sketches
Gershwin - Rhapsody in Blue
Gershwin - 'I Got Rhythm’ Variations
Piazzolla - Tangazo
Marquez - Danzon No.2
Copland - El salón México
Note that this repertoire list is the correct version - the Radio 3 website omits (or rather buries) Copland's popular El salón México
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