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GBC Executive Confirms Closure of Guildford Philharmonic within Six Months

Published on: 14 Nov, 2012
Updated on: 14 Nov, 2012

The Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra – Photo Will Unwin – Click on image to enlarge

By Gill Perkins

After much heated debate, Guildford Borough Council has confirmed the decision to end its direct provision of Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra from March 2013. It’s a move that has been widely anticipated – and criticised – over the course of this year.

The Executive made the decision at a meeting on November 8th and have announced that a private partner will be appointed to run the GPO instead of the Council, although the orchestra will continue to receive up to £60,000 per year in Council grants until 2016. This represents a reduction of around £130,000 per year.

Potential partners will have six weeks to apply for the role through a tender process and will be expected to manage the orchestra from April 2013. Bids will be evaluated by a Council panel which will take into consideration the bidders’ previous experience, variety of programming, audience appeal and the quality of musicians and directors.

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.

“The Council is facing a challenging financial future. We must ensure we can maintain the high quality services our residents need at a cost we can afford. In order to make savings and still support and encourage the arts in the borough, we must provide classical music in a different way.

“By making this change, we also aim to broaden the music on offer to local people. We want to build on the current high standard of classical music by engaging with children and young people, adding world music and lunchtime recitals.”

The orchestra, which was founded in 1945 as the Guildford Municipal Orchestra and which has been funded by the Council ever since, uses freelance professional musicians, many of whom rely on orchestral work in order to make a living. It has worked with leading conductors and is one of the major orchestras in the South East. At a Special Meeting of the Council’s Corporate Improvement Scrutiny Committee, freelance violinist Dale Chambers spoke in favour of the orchestra, noting that G Live had found it difficult to market classical concerts, but that support of classical music should be preserved for cultural reasons.

And, closing the same meeting, Tony Phillips said: “… this will be the end of the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra as we know it. It is the end of an era. Guildford Borough Council has funded and managed the orchestra as part of its arts provision for the borough since its inception in 1945. They have been an integral part of the Guildford music scene and their high quality performances will be missed.”

Classical music is notoriously expensive to run at even break-even point. The cost of paying a large number of professional musicians, alongside booking venues large enough to accommodate orchestra and audience and all the associated marketing and publicity means that most professional orchestras are funded in some way. Whilst the successful bidder will not be announced until the New Year, it remains to be seen whether the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, which has a good reputation and a loyal following, will continue to exist in some form.

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