The Festival of British Youth Orchestras is usually held in the cities every summer and involves up to 2000 musicians.
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However, a cash crisis at its organising body, the National Association of Youth Orchestras (NAYO), the effects of the recession and the need to find £50,000 to stage this year’s event, has led to its cancellation.
Professor George Caird, chairman of NAYO, which boasts Sir Simon Rattle as its president, said he was “apologetic and sad” about the cancellation, but the organisation, had no alternative if it was to guarantee its own financial future.
Nearly 30 youth choirs and orchestras, largely from Scotland, performed at last year’s festival, which usually takes place in the City of Edinburgh Methodist Church Hall and the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow and runs in August at the same time as the main festival period in Edinburgh.
Last year participating bands included Glasgow Schools Symphony Orchestra, Edinburgh Secondary Schools Orchestra, Bearsden and Milngavie Youth Symphony Orchestra and Glasgow Youth Choir, as well as the youth orchestra of Sheffield.
Professor Caird said: “It is a sad story but there will be no festival this year -- unless someone steps forward with the £50,000 we need to stage it.
“The festival has run for many years and been a great success for Scotland and for NAYO, but the effects of the credit crunch and other factors mean it is not going to proceed.
“We are not saying it is the end of the festival, it just means it is not happening this year.
“The festival cannot be run on thin air, and we do not have enough finances to run a festival that has cost £80,000 a year for the past two years.”
Professor Caird, principal of the Birmingham Conservatoire, also said the festival has changed from being a truly national and international festival to being a largely Scottish event, although he did not say this was a reason to cancel the event -- which has given rise to classical stars such as conductors Garry Walker and Andrea Quinn.
A letter to participating orchestras has been written by David Marcou, chief executive of NAYO.
He said that a lack of funds meant NAYO could not employ an experienced arts manager to fundraise, market and co-ordinate the festival in 2010, and it could not afford to sign contracts for hall hire, instrument hire and lighting.
Mr Marcou said: “Fundraising is an increasingly demanding area of activity with diminishing returns and whilst we have benefited from generous donations from Scottish and other charities, many of these are now able to offer less support than in the past because of falling interest rates on investments.”
In December, management of NAYO spent two days in Edinburgh and Glasgow seeking the support of local authorities and the Scottish Arts Council, but received no offers of funding.
He added: “Participation in the festival has traditionally been considered a benefit of membership, with the result that NAYO has never charged a registration fee as a contribution to the considerable overheads associated with planning, promoting and running the festival.”
Mr Marcou said that in recent years the festival has only broken even because NAYO has subsidised it by absorbing a substantial proportion of staff and some other costsand that now it was no longer in a position to do this.”
The Festival of British Youth Orchestras is run by the National Association of Youth Orchestras, which was established in 1961, and has an office in Edinburgh. Its membership is UK-wide and includes student orchestras, chamber orchestras, symphonic, wind and jazz orchestras and chamber music ensembles. The first Festival of British Youth Orchestras was in Edinburgh in 1980. In 1988 an extension of the festival was set up at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, enabling many of the visiting youth orchestras to extend their trip.
Symptomatic of crisis in music education
COMMENT: The cancellation of the Festival of British Youth Orchestras, which ran simultaneously in Edinburgh and Glasgow, is an enormous blow to youth music throughout the UK. It immediately deprives youth ensembles of every hue, and not just classical groups, of what was a vital platform, both for their performance skills and part of their education.
During each August dozens of concerts were staged in each city. Youth ensembles flocked to the unique platform the festival provided. Many professional musicians working today in orchestras will count their seminal, formative experience as including their exposure to the festival’s myriad opportunities.
Worryingly, apart from the loss of opportunities brought about by the festival’s demise, its cancellation is symptomatic of a wider crisis taking place in music education today.
The recession will shoulder the blame, but there is a real political responsibility here that will not be acknowledged. In the UK, music provision in education has always been regarded as an add-on, or a luxury item.
Successive UK governments have failed to enshrine music provision and education in legislation. That leaves it exposed and vulnerable. We are going to reap a bitter, arid harvest that will impact on generations to come.
Michael Tumelty is the music critic for The Herald.