Company Report: Ulster Orchestra
The annual report from the chairman of the Ulster Orchestra Society outlines the serious financial pressures faced by the orchestra but ends with a degree of reassurance. Sir George Bain is "more than a little optimistic". That optimism is, however, tempered by evidence of the reduction in funding from two sources of financial assistance - the Arts Council and the BBC.
Arts Council financial support in 2014-15 fell by 7% to just under £1.9m. Engagement fees from the BBC fell by 5% to nearly £640,000. These two sources of financial support together provided just over 62% of the total revenue from all sources, including sales of tickets for concerts etc.
During the year 2014-15, an extra £500,000 was made available from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and Belfast City Council supplemented its annual grant with a one-off cash injection of £100,000, as well as rent-free use of the Ulster and Waterfront halls for five years.
Concert-goers do, of course, pay to attend events. In another smaller contribution to the emerging financial difficulties, the orchestra accounts point to the small and decreasing support from private donations to its activities.
The Ulster Orchestra is a continuing contributor to audiences for serious music across Northern Ireland and occasionally elsewhere, including as a contributor to the BBC Proms, as well as Proms in the Park. The quality of the musicianship qualifies the orchestra for national recognition.
The Ulster Orchestra acknowledges that it 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.
In 2012-13, box office revenue of £414,000 represented the equivalent of just under 11% of overall costs. In 2014-15, this contribution from box office takings was down to nearly 8% of costs.
An important part of the role of the orchestra has been the education and outreach programmes which included schools concerts, music workshops, an annual pro-am performance opportunity and some large-scale events round Northern Ireland.
The orchestra provides employment for 72 people and the salary bill contributes over £2.5m to the local economy.