Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Orchestra remains on song despite a drop in funding

By John Simpson

The Ulster Orchestra is an important continuing contributor to audiences for serious music across Northern Ireland and occasionally elsewhere, sometime as a contributor to the BBC Proms, as well as to Proms in the Park. In the Christmas and New Year seasons, it is attracting diverse audiences.

The quality of the musicianship is acknowledged to be high.

The Ulster Orchestra adds to the enjoyment of many audiences: it also has an obligation to manage its affairs in a business-like way in support of musical education and within the constraints of the available finance.

After considerable efforts to secure the orchestra's financial position, in the last three years the orchestra has maintained a stable level of overall income and managed to add slightly to its reserve funds. A combination of the impact of the recession, affecting revenue from box office takings, and reduced support from the BBC and district councils is reflected in the annual report from the orchestra trustees.

The orchestra currently faces continuing and possibly increasing financial pressure as external funding falls. The Arts Council has informed the Ulster Orchestra that, with its own financial strains, the annual grant in 2013-14 will fall to £2,032,000, a fall of £165,000. The expectation is that a further similar reduction will apply in 2014-15. Increased levels of commercial sponsorship have been secured but personal donations have recently fallen.

An indication of the complex financial network emerges from a comparison of the degree to which box office revenue compares to overall operating costs. In 2012-13, box office revenue of £414,000 represented the equivalent of just under 11% of overall costs.

Reflecting the substantial audience for the performances of the orchestra, the annual report shows that, combining events in the Ulster and Waterfront halls, an average of 73% of the seating capacity was used.

A less conspicuous but important part of the role of the orchestra has been the education and outreach programmes which included school's concerts, music workshops, an annual pro-am performance opportunity and some large-scale community projects.

Sir George Bain, chairman, reports that "the pace of change will accelerate as we develop and implement our new business plan ... put in place our ambitious income generation strategy, and seek to enhance our artistic standing on the world stage".

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