Belfast Telegraph

Deal to save Ulster Orchestra 'close' after a new business model is revealed to backers

By Joanne Sweeney

A deal to save the Ulster Orchestra from insolvency is close to being agreed, it was claimed last night.

The orchestra's board adjourned its annual general meeting on Monday evening following "intense negotiations" over the weekend in a final bid to secure its future financially.

Last night the orchestra's spokeswoman said it was "business as usual" as the company waited on a funding decision from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) and the Arts Council of Northern Ireland on its new "sustainable business model".

The board issued a statement yesterday following the adjournment of its meeting which said: "The board's representatives are still engaged in discussions with senior officials from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and the Arts Council to consider a sustainable operating model for the future and have made progress.

"These discussions are continuing, therefore a decision was taken by the board to adjourn the AGM to allow these negotiations to come to a satisfactory conclusion and to enable the directors to make an informed decision on the accounts."

A threat of potential closure has been hanging over the Ulster Orchestra since the autumn when it became known that it faced insolvency by the end of this year due to a funding shortfall of up to £500,000.

The Musicians Union organised a petition to save the ensemble in late October.

It received more than 10,000 signatures in support.

Belfast City Council agreed on December 1 that it would hand over £100,000 in funding, but this was dependent on other funders also coming forward.

However, the spokeswoman stressed that the board was feeling more optimistic that it had been in recent weeks and that the new business model had the full support of the 63 musicians.

"There is progress being made and we do believe that there's a deal yet to be done," she said.

"We hope to hear this side of Christmas or early in the new year. It would give us a five-year window of opportunity to really create an orchestra that will service people in Northern Ireland."

She added: "In the new business model there would be an increased emphasis on community and educational outreach."

She stressed that the company was still playing its 2015/16 programme of events and was selling out events, such as its weekend Messiah concerts.

Background

World-famous flautist Sir James Galway was one of the high-profile musicians who lent their support to the campaign to save the Ulster Orchestra, even promising to play for free. Pianist and conductor Barry Douglas was another of the prominent supporters from Northern Ireland. Some of the ensemble's members gave a flash mob performance to shoppers in St George's Market, Belfast, in October to raise public awareness. However, Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin had been quoted in the Press saying that it was not her job to drum up cash support for the orchestra.

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