Minister rules out axing NZSO

Last updated 05:00 24/07/2012

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Arts, Culture and Heritage Ministry Chris Finlayson says disestablishing the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is unthinkable.

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.

The four regional orchestras - in Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch and Dunedin - along with the NZSO, receive about $17 million a year from the Government.

The ministry released the discussion paper yesterday and invited feedback on four scenarios, saying 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 suggested the sharing of players and headline performers.

"If orchestras were to work as an integrated system, it could improve the sector's overall viability and productivity, but would require players to work flexibly in a variety of settings, sometimes at relatively short notice," it says.

It includes four "change options" for a new management structure. This includes switching to a "city and community orchestra network", with no government-owned, national touring orchestra. There would be at least one orchestra of international standard.

Other options include creating one company to manage all the orchestras, replacing individual boards with all funding from the ministry; the ministry and Creative New Zealand retaining their funding roles, but appointing a "funding assessment panel"; and Creative New Zealand becoming the sole funder, but with an industry body to help assign funding.

For the city and community network option, the report says "increased risk to international orchestra standards" is a weakness of the scenario.

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.

The most likely outcome was expected to be somewhere in the middle, she said. "They're kind of all a wee bit out on the edge to get people to say what they think."

Finlayson has already ruled out getting rid of the NZSO.

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

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NZSO chief executive Christopher Blake said, "We were particularly pleased to see the ministry's commitment to retaining an international-quality orchestra for the whole country to enjoy, and the acknowledgement of the importance of a touring orchestra . . ."

Vector Wellington Orchestra general manager Adan Tijerina labelled a couple of the options "potentially rather disruptive to the sector".

Submissions can be made until August 20.

- Fairfax Media

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