HC Deb 04 March 1969 vol 779 cc382-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Harper.]

11.21 p.m.

Dr. Hugh Gray (Yarmouth)

On 23rd January one of the Daily Telegraph music critics wrote in the course of a notice: The concert given by the Jacques Orchestra at the Queen Elizabeth Hall last night was supported by the London Orchestral Concert Board but would have been more deserving of subsidy had it been given somewhere with a less abundant musical life. In, say, a Norfolk market town where a concert of any kind was a rarity, it could have been accepted as a meritorious and worthwhile effort, but it was not of a standard suitable for a principal London concert hall. That is a deplorable attitude. The members of the Great Yarmouth Music Club brings as sophisticated minds to concerts as members of London audiences, and perhaps many of them know more.

On the other hand, I was depressed to learn that in conversation with an official of this Club a spokesman for the London Philharmonic Orchestra said that the L.P.O. … do not like, as a matter of policy, touring more than two or three hours out of London. The orchestra finds that, as they move further out of London, more and more principal players get deputies, so, by the time they arrive at a place like Great Yarmouth, the only part of the concert that is the London Philharmonic is the name, and if the concert is poor then the name suffers. At least he did not share the attitude of that music critic.

I should like to bring to my right hon. Friend's notice this deplorable custom of substitution. We know that it dates from the time when musicians found it difficult to make a living, but that is no longer true. What does she think would be the reaction, for example, of a football crowd suddenly confronted with a team such as the Spurs with none of the famous players appearing but only deputies and people brought in to substitute? This is surely particularly deplorable in the case of these London-based orchestras which receive public money derived from taxpayers not only in London but throughout the country.

A rather different situation applies in the case of the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, in which a large number of players are under contract and must give 38 hours a week. Thus, if people hear the B.B.C. Symphony Orchestra, they hear the "first league team" and not a team of large numbers of substitutes. Something should be done about this.

I ask my right hon. Friend to look closely at the record of provincial touring by these London-based orchestras. One should not include in the figures appearances at the Edinburgh Festival or at Cheltenham or elsewhere. One should consider not the darts which they make out of London for two or three hours, as the L.P.O. spokesman said they like to do, so as to return quickly for recording sessions and other engagements the next day, but only genuine provincial touring. I also ask her to ensure that on the rare occasions when these orchestras go on such tours they do not perform the same programmes in, for example, Norwich and Great Yarmouth, because people in Norfolk who are starved of music naturally want to hear two concerts, not one.

In dealing with these two points of which I complain I ask my right hon. Friend to ensure that, when in the future public money is applied for, the orchestra concerned should say either to the Arts Council or to herself how much provincial touring it proposes to do in the forthcoming year. I feel that each such orchestra should do at least three weeks' genuine touring in the year. The orchestras should also deposit with the Arts Council or herself a list of the players whom they have under contract, and at least 70 per cent. of these—this is surely not a large percentage—should appear and play, so that the provinces hear these orchestras at their best, and not second or third-rate editions of them.

I do not want my right hon. Friend to think that I am in any way criticising the work done, for example, by the Eastern Authorities Orchestral Association, which works in close collaboration with the Great Yarmouth Music Club. For example, next Saturday the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra will be playing in Yarmouth, and it will send its No. 1 team. This orchestra is used not only to foreign touring but to provincial touring, as are all orchestras which come from Iron Curtain countries.

I ask my right hon. Friend not to think that I am criticising ballet or drama companies. My comments and criticisms are reserved for London-based symphony orchestras. I know that the symphony orchestra based in Bournemouth does a great deal of touring in the area, and perhaps eventually this is a solution towards which we shall have to move—regional-based symphony orchestras throughout the country. But we have not yet arrived at that point.

I also ask my right hon. Friend to ensure in the future that when these orchestras receive public money they give value for it not only in the Metropolis but in the provincial towns, to which, if they do not choose to go, they must be forced to go, and with their best players.

I thank my right hon. Friend for what she has done for all the arts, including music, and I thank the Arts Council, too. I should also like to thank the Great Yarmouth Music Club, with its honorary Secretary, Mr. Aleyn R. Jordan, which does such magnificent work and shows that if one is prepared to work hard on a voluntary basis and approach orchestras, musicians and singers oneself, it is possible to provide, even in a part of the country which is called a cultural desert, entertainment that is really worth while.

11.27 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Jennie Lee)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Dr. Gray) for raising this matter. It would be a complete failure on the part of the Government policy if we did not try to ensure that not only the capital city but the smaller places as well were given not only quantitative support but what my hon. Friend has stressed—qualitative support—in their love of the arts.

I am sure that everything that my hon. Friend has said will be carefully noted by the Arts Council and by our great London-based orchestras. They do a considerable amount of touring. In the current year they have given more than 100 concerts outside London; I am talking of numbers now. There were 113 concerts this year, and in the previous year the number was 109. In the year before that the number was 107. I was trying to do a quick bit of mental arithmetic when my hon. Friend said that these orchestras ought to do about three weeks' touring each year.

Dr. Gray

Each year and each orchestra.

Miss Lee

If one works it out, one sees that they are doing that, and perhaps a little more.

In addition to the four great London-based orchestras, we have five great orchestras based outside London: the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra. They, too, do their share of touring, and it is right that they should. It might interest hon. Members to know that they receive more money collectively from the Arts Council than the London-based orchestras. Of a total cash subsidy of more than £500,000 they receive £351,000, while the four London-based orchestras receive £212,500. Every penny of that money is well spent.

Our great orchestras must have time to make gramophone records and do broadcasting. Many people living in small communities and remote areas might never hear great music without records and radio programmes. However, we wish to do all we can to provide people with the opportunity to hear our great orchestras in person and tuned to their best. I wish to make no comment on the question of substitution, which was the major point in my hon. Friend's remarks, because I am not personally competent to say anything about the matter. However, I assure him that his words will be noted.

My hon. Friend also raised the question of diversity. Hon Members might be interested to know that there is considerable feeling about the need to be fair to our orchestras. After all, they must have time to rehearse and take part in great occasions in London as well as elsewhere. In January this year a conference of local and regional authorities met at the Arts Council to consider a report by the Regional Orchestras Advisory Committee, which had been established earlier, on the future financing of regional orchestras. The conference accepted a recommendation of the committee that a national inquiry should be put in hand into the best use and development of the country's orchestral resources. The terms of reference are under discussion, but it is likely that the inquiry will cover the future pattern of public concert-giving by all orchestras, including the four London orchestras, especially outside London. I do not wish to say anything more definite at this stage. The Arts Council does not dictate to our great orchestras, and it would be wrong if it did.

We are all concerned that the experience of very great music shall be enjoyed by as many people as possible at firsthand. For this reason we are indebted to my hon. Friend for raising this subject and for taking proper pride in the Great Yarmouth Music Club. He has every right to have such pride, particularly because of Yarmouth's great love of music and the welcome it gives to visiting orchestras. I understand that it had two visits last year. In view of the excellent hall that is available and the enthusiasm with which visiting orchestras are received, I hope that there will be a greater number of visits this year. That is precisely what we want to encourage. I am sure that the time my hon. Friend has spent in raising this matter tonight will have been well spent.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-five minutes to Twelve o'clock.