Monday, 9 June 2014

Lancashire Sinfonietta closes its doors after 17 years after funding slashed

Orchestra image: Tim Cross (tmcross.com)
Lancashire Sinfonietta, the county's only professional chamber orchestra, has announced the closure of the company after seventeen successful years of performance for the people of Lancashire.

The closure comes after Lancashire County Council - looking to save some £300 million form its budget as a result of government funding cuts slashed its funding by 80 per cent, a reduction of its grant to a point which means keeping the orchestra going is no longer sustainable.

Lancashire Sinfonietta was established by Lancashire County Council in 1996  to deliver great music to local communities in the county and has been funded largely by a grant from the County Council since. Many of the players were homegrown and recruited from national orchestras such as the Hallé orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.

Among the top international artists who have performed with the orchestra are Alfie Boe, Kathryn Stott, Aled Jones and Amanda Roocroft. The Sinfonietta also recorded CDs and pioneered highly acclaimed education programmes for families and young children which were performed in schools and childrens’ centres.

For many years a County Council managed operation, recently, at the County Council’s request, it was formed into a private company with charitable status. But upon the formation of the company in 2013 the County Council then announced an 80 per cent cut in grant with an expectation that the orchestra should find funding from other sources. The council gave £144,000 to the orchestra in 2012 but after it applied for £96,500 in 2013 it was given £28,591.

Given the short notice the new board of the orchestra found this to be impossible.

“This is a very sad time for the orchestra, its fine players and the many enthusiastic fans who have made up its audiences over the years," commented Malcolm Brown, the Chair of the orchestra. "In particular it will be a huge loss to the schools, families and children who are increasingly denied exposure to music by the erosion of government support for the arts."

Defending its decision to reduce the orchestra's funding, the County Council told the BBC it had "supported the orchestra for a long time" and worked with them "over an extended period" to help it establish itself as a private company.

"This allowed Sinfonietta to bid for funding from a range of bodies, including ourselves and the Arts Council, on an equal footing with other arts organisations," a spokesperson claimed.
"Had we been given more time by the County Council we might have been able to plan for other ways of funding the orchestra," counters Mr Brown. "As it is, we have no choice but to close the orchestra. 
"This will leave a big hole in the cultural and educational landscape of Lancashire.”

The orchestra, which is a member of the Association of British Orchestras has performed to critical acclaim and produced high quality recordings. It is particularly proud of its Sound Playground and Mini-Mozart programmes which it developed for families and under 5s with Arts Council support. As part of its legacy the Sinfonietta has enabled the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Society to continue and sustain its Young Composer of the North West Competition.

Since its creation the orchestra has performed to thousands of people in libraries, churches, community centres and town halls and performed for the Queen on her visit to Preston and in front of Princess Alexandra at a Princes Trust gala. The orchestra was Orchestra in Residence at Lancaster University where they established a young composer of the North West competition which has proved to be hugely successful in launching young artists careers.

"Whilst we continue to support the arts, the County Council is facing unprecedented cuts from central government," said a Council spokesperson, "and has taken more than £200 million from its budget from 2011 to 2014 and has to save a further £300 million over the next four years."
• Lancashire Sinfionetta: www.lancs-sinf.com


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