The Belfast-based Ulster Orchestra has become the latest UK ensemble to face closure due to financial dire straits. Its public funding cuts amount to a reduction of 28 per cent (about £1m), which threaten to bleed it to death by the middle of next month.
This orchestra has a long and distinguished history; since its founding in 1966 it has released around 100 recordings and a new principal conductor, the dynamic Rafael Payare (aka Mr Alisa Weilerstein) has just started with them. There's a Facebook group, Save the Ulster Orchestra - please join it here.
The UK has already lost the Guildford Philharmonic and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta; last year the Brighton Philharmonic was saved at the last moment with the help of its fans. As you'll note, these organisations serve(d) good-sized towns rather than the country's biggest cities and brought live orchestral music to places where it was otherwise in short supply. The London Mozart Players, based in Croydon, has managed to restructure itself rather than close down, and carries on with a new modus operandi. Not all have been able to follow suit.
But the end of the Ulster - which receives a chunk of BBC money every year, btw - would be catastrophic since it would mean essentially the end of live orchestral music in Northern Ireland. It is the city's biggest arts institution and only full-time professional orchestra. As Tom Service says here, its demise would mean the "instant and irreversible" annihilation of orchestral culture in the country.
Musicians on the Facebook page point out, furthermore, that if it goes it will take with it large quantities of Belfast's instrumental tuition for children, concerts in schools and other school music programmes.
The pianist Peter Donohoe writes:
"The...increasing financial pressure on the arts is in danger of ridding many communities of institutions like this without any possibility of them being started up again, whatever state the economy ends up in. Look at what happened to the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, and observe how many small communities that were served by that excellent chamber orchestra - including the mounting of education projects - and that are now not served at all.It is short-termist thinking on a vast scale, stupid to the point of lunacy, and not only will it put so many great musicians out of a job, but will be a tragedy for Northern Ireland."
Another musician on the Facebook page declares:
"There are so many of us from Belfast and Northern Ireland who through the darkest days of the troubles were inspired by the Ulster Orchestra.We were taught and encouraged by its members and my career is a result of that. This orchestra is a beacon in the cultural life of Northern Ireland and needs to be cherished by all the community."And brass player Andrew Tovey adds that the closure of the UO would make Northern Ireland "the only developed nation without an orchestra".
In this piece from the US's WQXR, Oliver Condy, editor of BBC Music Magazine, reminisces about the way the Ulster Orchestra played on through the Troubles even though its offices were threatened daily with terrorist bombs.
More info from BBC News here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-29637894
You can make a donation to the orchestra here, via Paypal. Please do.
A statement from the orchestra is expected towards the end of the week ahead.