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Losing our Ulster Orchestra would be massive blow

THE Ulster Orchestra does not receive £4.5m of subsidy which could be given to other arts organisations. It currently receives around £1.9m from the Northern Ireland Arts Council, but this figure is set to be cut by 15% to £1.6m. The balance of the orchestra's income comes mainly from broadcast work for the BBC, box office, Belfast City Council and sponsorship.

I was a member of the orchestra's board for over 25 years, and I can assure you that it has always been run on a shoestring compared to other orchestras. The players and staff have not had a pay rise in more than five years, and they are paid less than any of their counterparts in British or Irish orchestras. The orchestra has been unable to tour abroad for 10 years. The size of 63 players is the minimum workable number for a symphony orchestra to perform the most popular orchestral pieces and the full range of contemporary and film music.

The function of a symphony orchestra in today's society is to recreate masterpieces from hundreds of years of European and world culture, to provide a platform for local and international performers and composers, and to provide instrumental tuition to our children. Do we want to lose all orchestral music, and also undermine the whole structure of youth orchestras and musical education? Do we want to have the dubious distinction of being the only region in the Western world without a professional symphony orchestra?

We only have days to save our orchestra. Can Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, the BBC and Belfast City Council not work together to agree some emergency funding to provide time for our orchestra to restructure and reinvent itself for the whole community so that long-term future can be assured?

Once it is gone, Northern Ireland will be a much less attractive place for both its own citizens and for potential investors.

HAROLD WILKIN

Bangor

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