Report on Australian Orchestras Suggests Downsizing and Pay Cuts

Classic Arts News   Report on Australian Orchestras Suggests Downsizing and Pay Cuts
A report released today to the Australian government on the country's six state orchestras suggests separating the orchestras from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and downsizing three of them, the Queensland Courier-Mail reports.

The report, written by former Qantas executive James Strong, is a proposal to bail out the orchestras from their accumulated debt. Some details of the plan were leaked last week.

In addition to making the orchestras public companies, Strong recommends cutting the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra, the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, and the Queensland Orchestra by a total of more than 40 musicians. Tasmania's orchestra would effectively become a chamber orchestra, with a reduction from 47 players to 38. In return the government would wipe out a debt of A$4.5 million.

In addition, Strong proposes eliminating a 33 percent "salary loading" for musicians asked to play in an ensemble of fewer than eight musicians, and reducing the 77 weeks' pay for early retirement to 48 weeks. Such measures, he concluded, would help the orchestras toward financial viability.

"For longer-term sustainability and looking at what's happening with orchestras all around the world," Strong said, "we believed it was better to take that tough decision and to tie the financial relief to making those tough decisions about the sizing of orchestras."

According to the Melbourne Age, the government is being urged by musicians, musicians' organizations, and arts advocates not to accept Strong's proposal.

Howard Manley, an officer for the Symphony Orchestra Musicians Association, noted the repercussions of cutting musicians from the orchestras beyond the performance aspect. "Once you cut those ensembles," he said, "many of those musicians will leave places like Adelaide and Hobart and will move to the larger cities if not overseas. It's not just the concerts they put on, those musicians are the high-level teachers in any city for music students from that community. So you also begin to diminish the strength of music culture in that city."

Arts minister Rod Kemp said that however the government responds to Strong's report, there would be no cuts to orchestra funding.

"There'll be no cuts to the amount of money that the commonwealth government pays to orchestras as a result of this report," he said. "In fact, there'll be further money the commonwealth government will be committing to orchestras."

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