RTÉ tunes up independent review of orchestras

Broadcaster wants to ‘extend the reach’ of its orchestral music amid ‘challenging’ finances

A review of RTÉ's orchestral services is to be carried out by former senior BBC executive Helen Boaden and consulting firm Mediatique, RTÉ has announced.

“The independent review will look at the best way of providing high quality and sustainable orchestral services to the Irish public, and will cover both the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra,” RTÉ said in a statement.

RTÉ said it wanted to “safeguard” the activities of the two orchestras despite the “challenging” financial circumstances faced by the organisation.

The broadcaster said the orchestras formed a key part of its commitment to arts and culture under the five-year strategy it recently submitted to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI).

“Through this strategy, RTÉ wishes to extend the reach of its orchestral music, by performing to a wider range of audiences, right across the country, and enhancing broadcast opportunities.”

As director of BBC Radio, Ms Boaden was responsible for the performance of the BBC orchestras, performing groups and musical festivals as well as its network of radio stations. She resigned from the BBC last year.

Licence fee

According to the RTÉ annual report for 2016, 7.1 per cent of the licence fee money received by the broadcaster, almost €12.7 million, is allocated to the orchestras, with some €9.41 out of every licence fee used for this purpose. This was up from €11.9 million in 2015 or €8.88 from every €160 licence fee.

The orchestra division employed 211 people in 2016, a year in which RTÉ’s orchestras, quartet and choirs performed to more than 184,000 people, the annual report states.

This includes the RTÉ Concert Orchestra's collaborations with 2fm DJ Jenny Greene at the Electric Picnic festival and 3Arena venue in Dublin, which were heavily promoted by 2fm.

RTÉ has a statutory requirement to “establish and maintain orchestras, choirs and other cultural performing groups”.

In recent years, however, some posts within the two orchestras have not been filled as they are vacated, while it has previously been speculated that the National Symphony Orchestra could be transferred out of RTÉ to another cultural body.

Aodán Ó Dubhghaill, head of RTÉ Orchestras, noted that orchestras across Europe were suffering cuts to their funding as public service media organisations come under financial pressure.

Funding position

“RTÉ’s overall funding position is well known and it is incumbent on RTÉ to consider and assess its role in the provision of orchestral music as it plans for the future.”

The orchestras have “a singular place in Irish musical heritage” and have nurtured “generations of world class musicians,” he added.

“It is my view that a modern European democracy should protect its classical musicians and artists as a key part of the fabric of our societies and the culture that binds us.”

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics