Some sound advice on making the NZSO profitable: shorten the programmes and fire some fiddlers

Let’s start by trimming the string section.

Gotta wonder about Chris Finlayson, sometimes.

Yep, he’s a Nat sure enough. But he just doesn’t seem to get it, when it comes to doing what must be done to restore the Budget balance to surplus as we’ve promised.

Someone at the Ministry of Culture and Heritage has been taking a hard look at orchestras and produced a discussion paper on the not-unimportant matter of their running costs.

The discussion paper (here) tells us those running costs burn up a few bucks.

Central government is the primary public funder of New Zealand’s professional orchestra sector. Its total funding
to the sector in 2010 was $17.1m, accounting for 56% of all
of the sector’s revenue. This represents an increase from
$10.9m (51%) in 2000.


Of all its support for any area of the performing arts
– the government’s most substantial investment is
in the NZSO. In 2000 the NZSO received $8.8m from
government. Since 2008/09 funding from this source
has been $13.4m p.a. Over the past three years
this has represented between 71% and 77% of the
NZSO’s total annual revenue, depending on its other
income. For 2011, $13.4m also amounted to 79% of
government funding to the orchestra sector.

Ah, but maybe there are lots of jobs in the orchestra biz.

Some jobs, yes, but $13.4m worth?

The NZSO has 90 full-time salaried players and 27
FTE management staff, all state employees.

Enough is enough.

It’s time to take a hard look at these expenses.

The discussion paper tosses up four options.

Under one suggested model there would be no government-owned, national touring orchestra.

Instead we would have city-based orchestras which undertake some regional touring.

Each would retain its own governance, management and brand identity.

This – obviously – calls for disestablishing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Poor old Chris seems mortified.

He is reported at Stuff (here) as saying disestablishing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is unthinkable.

The Stuff report gives us a bit of background.

The idea has been put up for discussion, among others, in a review of the country’s orchestras by the Culture and Heritage Ministry.

The review highlights a need for change, amid concerns that rising funding and falling ticket sales are making the sector unsustainable.

So maybe the orchestras give Kiwi audiences a big musical buzz.

Then again, maybe they are giving a diminishing number of Kiwi audiences a diminishing buzz.

As Stuff points out, audience numbers for orchestral performances dropped from 645,746 in 2007 to 434,811 in 2010.

The industry needs to change the way it works in order to save money and be more efficient.

The paper suggests the sharing of players and headline performers.

Ministry deputy chief executive Katherine Baxter said the scenarios were meant to spark debate, but how they would work in practice was unknown.

Not having a government-funded national orchestra could either mean the NZSO becoming independent, or “an extreme option” of disestablishing it in favour of building up one of the regional orchestras.

Not on Chris’s watch. He has reduced the four options to three by ruling out the NZSO’s abolition.

“The NZSO is a jewel in the cultural crown. There is no question of its survival under this Government.”

But to say getting rid of the NZSO is unthinkable is silly, because if nobody thought of it, the option would not have been thrown into the discussion paper.

Alf’s only opinion is that nobody seems to have come up with the option of reducing the size of the orchestras, national and regional.

He went to a concert once and before falling into a deep slumber during a number written by a bloke called Brahms, he observed that a bunch of fiddlers seemed to be doing much the same thing and making much the same noise.

There seemed to be a replication of effort from the cello department, too.

Obviously there is scope here for reviewing personnel numbers.

Oh, and someone should think about doing an editing job on the Brahms symphony, to lop back its length and reduce the obvious risk of having the orchestra run into overtime, thus increasing the wage bill.

Alf accordingly will be emailing the Minister with a bit of sage advice: cut the crap, Chris, and pull a few strings.

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