Cash-strapped RTÉ can no longer afford two orchestras, says report

Broadcaster ‘should only fund National Concert Orchestra’

John Wilson, principal of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, during rehearsals at the National Concert Hall in 2015. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

John Wilson, principal of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, during rehearsals at the National Concert Hall in 2015. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

RTÉ is so financially straitened that it cannot restructure its finances and fund two orchestras at the same time, a report has concluded.

The review, conducted by an outside agency funded by the broadcaster, looked at the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and recommends that the symphony orchestra be separated from the national broadcaster.

It has concluded that RTÉ, which has seen a 24 per cent drop in revenue since 2007, can no longer fund both.

The two orchestras cost €17.2 million a year, of which 82 per cent comes from either the licence fee or RTÉ commercial revenue.

In a worst-case scenario, if funding was not made available, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra would close, the report, by former BBC radio executive Helen Boaden, concludes.

At present both orchestras are funded exclusively by RTÉ. Ms Boaden recommends the symphony orchestra be funded directly by the Government at the cost of €4 million and the redeveloped National Concert Hall should be its home from 2022.

RTÉ would still make a contribution for broadcast rights.

Major diminution

Ms Boaden warned that if the symphony orchestra had to close it would constitute “a major diminution in the nation’s cultural and artistic life”.

She added: “Given its importance, we recommend that the country’s only symphony orchestra should become the responsibility of the nation, not the public service broadcaster.”

The report recommends that the concert orchestra should continue to be run by RTÉ, but it should seek to maximise commercial revenue.

Minister for Culture Josepha Madigan said she concurred with the report’s findings in relation to the symphony orchestra.

“I believe it is important that there is strong provision of orchestral music in Ireland and this report allows us to chart a way forward for both orchestras,” she said.

The report was also welcomed by Minister for Communications Denis Naughten who has responsibility for RTÉ.

Both Ministers have requested that officials from their departments should engage with RTÉ with a view to implementing the findings of the report.

Financial woes

The report was commissioned by RTÉ as a result of its financial woes with private and public funding down substantially since the crash in 2008.

The report concludes that even if RTÉ’s financial situation improves, there will be many demands for funding.

There have been cuts in funding too to both orchestras leaving them currently understaffed by historical standards. Neither orchestra has a principal conductor and both have had to curtail their regional touring and educational outreach.

The two orchestras employ 130 full-time musicians – the symphony orchestra has 68 musicians and the concert orchestra 40.

RTÉ head of orchestras Aodán Ó Dubhghaill welcomed the report, saying it offered a solution that protects and supports both orchestras while also “recognising the balance between RTÉ’s financial constraints and our public service role in promoting music, arts and culture.”

However, the Trade Union Group in RTÉ said both orchestras should be retained within the national broadcaster.

‘Regrettable decision’

TUG chairperson Shirley Bradshaw maintained the proposed removal of the symphony orchestra from RTÉ is a cut to services that undermines the role of the national broadcaster and its contribution to culture.

“Already RTÉ made a very regrettable decision to cut jobs in its young people’s department; the outsourcing of jobs to the private sector has undermined RTÉ already; handing over responsibility for the Symphony Orchestra is another step in that direction and it should be a huge concern to fans of music and supporters of a strong public service broadcaster,” she said.