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Back to Chapter 11



The London Orchestras

The London Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, Philharmonia – between 1904 and 1963 all become self-managed. Despite financial problems – lack of subsidy and patronage – the orchestras survive. The Goodman Committee. Comparison with orchestras in Europe and USA – their financial support and conditions.

All four of the ‘London Orchestras’, the usual description that includes the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO), the London Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) and the Philharmonia (sometimes, on tour abroad, called the Philharmonia of London) are self-administered. Their Boards of Directors are wholly, or to a considerable extent, elected members of the orchestra. They employ a General Manager (or Managing Director) and the necessary staff. The members of the other orchestras based in London, the BBC Orchestras, the Royal Opera House and the English National Opera Orchestra are employed on contract in the usual way.

While I was a professional musician, from 1943 until 1979, I was in turn a member of three of the London orchestras, the LPO, the RPO and finally the Philharmonia – the last two when they were respectively Sir Thomas’s and the other Walter Legge’s, and then when they were self-administered. Some years later, from 1974–79 I was Chairman of the Council of the Philharmonia (as its Board of Directors is called because it is a Company Limited by Guarantee). Although I was never a member of the LSO I was engaged by them on a good many occasions during the 1960s as an extra or deputy. Between 1964 and 1979 I was also very involved as an elected member of the Executive Committee of the Musicians’ Union that from time to time played a considerable part in coming to the rescue of several of the London orchestras.

There are not many other self-administered orchestras in the world; the Vienna Philharmonic is an outstanding exception; all the other orchestras in Britain are managed. Self-management has over the years been the cause of considerable opposition from those who believe that musicians, like other groups of workers, whether in industry, commerce or the arts are unsuited to manage their own affairs. In particular, in the case of musicians, there have always been those who feel that they should not be given the responsibility for managing their financial affairs.

Before going into why the musicians in three of the London orchestras were obliged to take over the management of their orchestras between 1939 and 1964, in order to maintain their existence, it is necessary to understand the economics of the symphony orchestra. An orchestra is labour intensive requiring a large number of performers to rehearse and then perform in concert halls that will hold an audience of from 1200/1500 to 3000. The same is true for opera houses.

Symphony orchestras everywhere have always been dependent on patronage. It is impossible for any concert hall or opera house to take sufficient money at the box office even with a full house when every seat is taken, to pay for the number of musicians, singers, the conductor and soloist, that a concert or opera performance requires. Patronage for the groups of musicians that developed into orchestras was first provided by the church and then by kings and the many princes and counts of the principalities all over Europe. Later, with the growth of the bourgeoisie in the 19th century, many city authorities took on this responsibility. In America, from the beginning of the 20th century, men who had arrived penniless from Europe and made their fortunes in the USA, endowed orchestras in the major cities as a way of establishing themselves, and particularly their wives, as members of local society.

It was only in 1940, when the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA) was established with funding from the Treasury, that for the first time a state subsidy for the arts became available in Britain. CEMA, which was set up to provide entertainment and to raise morale for both the armed forces and the civilian population was a quite revolutionary step and was taken with barely any resistance and, in fact, with hardly anyone noticing. It at once gave artists, actors and musicians the opportunity to play an important part in the war effort. Then, after the end of the war in 1945, CEMA, once again without any protest, was quietly transformed into the Arts Council of Great Britain.

The establishment of the Arts Council with funding from the Government allowed public money to be allocated to arts organisations of all kinds, especially those that had in the past had to rely entirely on private financial aid. Unlike the situation in most other European countries where during the 19th. century a tradition had developed all over Europe of supporting orchestras, for historical and social reasons this did not happen in Britain until 1946, very much later than elsewhere. However, the Government in Britain, in contrast to the policy in most other countries, has operated a ‘hands off’ policy, leaving the Arts Council free to designate where funding should be provided.

The first full-time symphony orchestra was not established in Britain until the formation of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1930. An orchestra, the Bournemouth Municipal, was formed in 1893 by Dan Godfrey and funded by the local authority and, though not a symphony orchestra it did provide regular employment throughout the year. It is interesting to see what that orchestra played at their first performance.       

March The Standard Bearer Fahrbach
Overture Raymond Thomas
Valse Je t’aime Waldteufel
Ballet Music Rosamunde Schubert
Russian Masurka La Czarine Ganne
Entr’acte La Colombe Gounod
Selection The Gondoliers Sullivan


During the 19th century a number of orchestras were created: the Hallé in Manchester, the Liverpool Philharmonic and several elsewhere, but none gave concerts throughout the year, usually only having at most a six month season.

In 1895 Henry Wood, later Sir Henry, was engaged by Robert Newman to conduct a season of Promenade Concerts at the Queen’s Hall in London. His first Promenade season programme was of an even lighter character than that played by the Bournemouth Orchestra, being made up of overtures, a selection, songs, instrumental solos such as that for the bassoon, Lucy Long, and flute and cornet solos.

10 August 1895 Queen’s Hall

Prologue: Pagliacci
Mr.Ffrangcon Davies
Polonaise in A

Orchestrated by Glazounov
Swiss Song
Madam Marie Duma
Flute Solos
(a) Idylle
Benjamin Goddard
(b) Valse from Suite
Thou hast Come
Mr. Ivor McKay
Chromatic Concert Valses from the opera Eulenspiegel
(First performance in England)
Cyril Kistler
My Heart Thy Sweet Voice
Mrs. Van der Vere Green
Gavotte from Mignon Ambroise Thomas
Vulkan’s Song (Philemon and Baucis)
Mr. W.A.Peterkin
Hungarian Rhapsody in D min. and C maj. (No. 2)  Liszt


Grand Selection
arr. Cellier
Largo al Factotum
Mr. Ffrangcon Davies
Ambroise Thomas
Cornet Solo
Mr. Howard Reynolds
My Mother Bids Me Bind My Hair
Madame Marie Duma
Bassoon Solo
Lucy Long
Mr. E.F. James
Dear Heart
Mr. Ivor McKay
Tito Mattei
The Uhlan’s Call Eilenberg
Loch Lomond
Mrs. Van der Vere Green
Old Scottish
The Soldier’s Song
Mr. W.A.Peterkin
Amorettan Tanze
Grand March
Les Enfants de la Garde
(First Performance)


The Queen’s Hall Orchestra that Wood conducted in a series of concerts, as well as for the Promenade season each year, still retained the deputy system that had operated throughout the music profession in Britain for many years. The lack of regular employment always made it necessary for musicians to maintain as many of their connections as possible

Henry Wood was determined to create a really good orchestra so that it would not be possible for anyone in future to say that England was ‘das Land ohne Musik’. To this end he needed to weld a group of musicians playing together on a fairly regular basis under his direction into an ensemble that could compare with the finest orchestras in Europe and America. Because of the deputy system he was frustrated by the constant absence from rehearsals, and sometimes even from performances, of key players. As time went by Henry Wood became increasingly exasperated by the constant appearance of deputies until one day the matter came to a head. In his autobiography My Life of Music he recalls how he arrived for rehearsal and ‘found an orchestra with seventy or eighty unknown faces in it. Even my leader was missing’.

He had to contend with this until in 1904, by which time his reputation and authority had grown sufficiently for him to instruct his manager to inform the orchestra ‘In future there will be no deputies’. The next day 40 members of the orchestra resigned. Those 40 musicians were to form the nucleus of the London Symphony Orchestra, a co-operative organisation in which the players accepted the financial responsibility, controlled the orchestra’s artistic policy, and engaged conductors and soloists. From being employees they became the employers. As there was no contract the musicians were paid at the end of each engagement, and always in cash. I remember being paid in this way whenever I played with them well into the 1960s. It was the only major orchestra in my experience to do this.

In 1905 three outstanding players formed the New Symphony Orchestra, another self-administered orchestra, which in 1920 became the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and in 1909 Sir Thomas Beecham founded the Beecham Symphony Orchestra but, unlike the LSO, neither lasted for many years. The next major orchestra to be formed was the BBC Symphony Orchestra, in 1930, the first orchestra to offer the players a full-time contract. The Corporation went even further than Sir Henry Wood: not only were deputies absolutely forbidden, members of the orchestra were not allowed to do any other orchestral work

The London Philharmonic Orchestra Limited was formed in 1932, with Sir Thomas Beecham as Founder and Artistic Director. His co-Directors were distinguished and wealthy patrons of the arts: Viscount Esher, Robert Mayer, Samuel Courtauld and Baron Frederick Alfred D’Erlanger. Though the others joined him in providing the initial funding to establish the London Philharmonic Orchestra, it was in reality Beecham’s orchestra. His intention was to have an orchestra that would, like the BBC Symphony, have no deputies and be as full-time as possible. He put together a schedule that included the Beecham Sunday Concerts, the Courtauld-Sargent Concerts and providing the orchestra for the Royal Philharmonic Society and the Royal Choral Society concerts. He also accepted engagements from organisations around the country, and arranged to do a number of gramophone recordings. Longer periods of employment for the orchestra were provided by the International Opera Season and the Russian Ballet season both at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. Even so, this did not create enough work for the orchestra to be engaged on a full-time basis so that the players did still have to maintain their other professional connections

In 1940, at the beginning of WW2, Beecham went to America, leaving his orchestra without any work or financial support. To keep the orchestra going the players decided to form a co-operative company, which they named Musical Culture Limited. The first thing the new board of management had to do was to find engagements for the orchestra, not an easy task for those more used to playing their instruments than managing an orchestra and with the country preparing for war. The members of the orchestra did the first concerts on a truly co-operative basis: they shared out what little was left after all expenses had been paid. I was told that for the first concert this amounted to 5 shillings (25p), the equivalent of about £12/15 today.

It was not long before a number of the players were being called up to join one or other of the armed services. The task of replacing them and getting deputies of the required standard was becoming increasingly difficult. In addition, the orchestra was obliged to do many more engagements away from London, which many of the best players were not too keen on. The orchestra decided that the best thing would be for everyone to receive a regular weekly salary. By the time I joined the orchestra in 1943 as second clarinet, my salary was £10.50 a week with a small amount extra to help with the cost of over-night accommodation, depending on how many ‘out-of-town’ dates there were in the week. When I left to join the Royal Philharmonic in 1947 I was receiving around £12/13 a week

Until I joined the RPO I had always been on a weekly salary. Suddenly I found I was paid for each engagement I played. The fee would depend on whether it was for a concert in London, an out of town concert or for an extra rehearsal, a children’s concert, broadcast, recording or film session. I see from my old diaries that in 1947 there were weeks when I earned as much as £45, followed by a week when I only earned as little as £10 or £15. After a time, when I had made some free-lance connections, I found, as I had been told I would, that I was earning a great deal more than I had in the LPO. Beecham paid his musicians well. As second clarinet I was paid £4.20 for a concert instead of the Musicians’ Union rate which was £2.75. Principal players received £5.25 instead of £3.00.

Walter Legge, who was employed by the major recording company, at that time EMI, created the Philharmonia in 1945 mainly for making what were then called gramophone records. They were those large, black, double-sided discs that played for about four and a half minutes on each side, and can still sometimes be found lurking at the back of the second-hand section of record shops. For some years the Philharmonia was fully occupied making records and gave very few concerts.

Then, in 1946 Sir Thomas founded the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He established an exclusive contract with EMI for his orchestra to make a considerable number of records each year for five years and an agreement with Glyndebourne Opera for the orchestra to play for their season each year. He also persuaded the Royal Philharmonic Society, with which he had been associated for so many years, that the orchestra could use the title ‘Royal Philharmonic’ and undertake the Society’s concerts.

There was a good deal of competition for players between the RPO and the Philharmonia and one or two players like Dennis Brain managed to play in both for a time. In the early years both orchestras were very busy making recordings. The conditions were very similar in both orchestras, though the Philharmonia probably had rather more recording sessions, much sought after as one was paid the same for a session of three hours as for a concert with a three-hour rehearsal in the morning.

Everything went very well until Sir Thomas ceased conducting in 1960. When he died in 1961 Rudolf Kempe became the principal conductor but, of course, he had other commitments and was not involved in such a personal way as Beecham had been. The management gradually found the task of finding work for the orchestra more and more difficult, their problems being made very much worse, first by the loss of the Glyndebourne season and then by the decision of the Royal Philharmonic Society to terminate their agreement with the Orchestra whereby it would lose the use of the title ‘Royal’. In 1963, The Anglo-American Music Association Ltd., the Company Beecham had established, gave up control of the Orchestra and the players decided to emulate the course taken by the musicians in the LPO in 1939, when they had found themselves in a similar unhappy situation. They formed a new company, Rophora Ltd., elected a board of Directors from the members of the orchestra, managed to retain their name intact, and became another self-administered orchestra.

I had been playing in the Philharmonia from the late 1950s and was a member of the orchestra in 1964 when Walter Legge decided he no longer wanted the responsibility of owning an orchestra. He not only disbanded the orchestra; he took its name away as well. Again the players had to take the only course open to them if they wished to survive; they too became a self-administered orchestra and were obliged to rename themselves The New Philharmonia Orchestra. It was to be more than 10 years before they were able to obtain their original name again and once more become the Philharmonia.

Notwithstanding adversity the four London orchestras survived. None of them had either an outstanding conductor like Beecham, or a man with a personality like Legge, with his involvement in the recording industry at EMI as well as his many close associates in the world of music. More serious was the decline in the volume of recording. This particularly affected the two orchestras that had been created in the aftermath of the war in 1945/6, the Philharmonia and the RPO, which depended to a considerable extent on their recording work.

There was a body of opinion that felt there were too many orchestras in London and not a large enough audience to sustain four orchestras. It was said that two was ample and that, perhaps, one large orchestra assembled from the best players from the current four orchestras might enable Britain to have an orchestra to match those in Berlin, Amsterdam, New York and Chicago. On the other hand, there were others who believed that the current number should not be changed.

In December 1964 the Arts Council and the London County Council, which in 1965 became the Greater London Council (GLC), appointed the Committee on the London Orchestras under the Chairmanship of

Click for larger picture
Arnold Goodman, who shortly after the Report was issued in 1965 became Lord Goodman. The Committee’s terms of reference were: to examine the organisation of the four orchestras; decide whether their number should be maintained, increased, reduced or regrouped and what steps should be taken to improve the stability and working conditions of the musicians. The Committee was told that it should consider the desirability of a co-ordinated orchestral concert policy, so as to ensure that programmes and performances were of the highest standard.

In 1965 the then Labour government held the view that the Performing Arts – music, opera, ballet and theatre – which had been the preserve of the upper and middle classes, should also be available to what was still referred to as the Working Class. It was also determined, if possible, to maintain employment wherever it could. I was elected by the Executive Committee of the Musicians’ Union to represent the Union, alongside the General Secretary Hardie Ratcliffe. The other interests represented were the Arts Council, the London County Council and the Orchestral Employers’ Association, now the Association of British Orchestras (ABO).

The Report, usually referred to as the Goodman Report, was accepted by Lord Cottesloe with the commendation to Miss Jennie Lee, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science, expressing the hope that the necessary financial resources to implement the Report would be made available. It is not too much to say that Jennie Lee and Lord Goodman, both Labour supporters (today they would certainly be considered on the left of the Party though at that time they were much more mainstream) were responsible for the four orchestras remaining, and continuing to do so until the present time.

I had already been involved in negotiations with quite a few employers in several areas of musical employment, but this was my first experience of taking part in preparing a report that was likely to have a profound affect on the future of my colleagues alongside people representing such conflicting interests. Only Arnold Goodman’s legendary skills as a diplomat enabled us to complete our task.

There were some members of the Committee who wanted to reduce the number of orchestras in London, opposed by those of us representing the welfare of the musicians currently working in the four orchestras. Other members of the Committee were concerned that in looking after the London orchestras it might be at the expense of the Regional orchestras. The most important group, those with the responsibility for providing the funding for all the orchestras, was ever watchful that no decisions were arrived at that would be too costly.

There was unanimous agreement on the Committee and among those from whom they took evidence that if first class playing standards were to be maintained a musician should not be required to work more than 10 sessions a week or 35/36 in any four-week period. That would mean approximately 27/30 hours a week, still more hours than nearly all orchestras around the world, especially for the woodwind and brass principals. Most orchestras in Europe and America, even those in the smaller cities, had four of each woodwind instrument with co-principals in the woodwind and brass who would share the work between themselves, so that each of them usually did no more than about18/20 hours a week as part of their contract.

The Committee then considered the amount of work there was likely to be for the orchestras. It came to the conclusion that with the agreed work schedule there was enough for more than three but less than four. The fact that we were shown the plans for building the Barbican Centre with a large new concert hall (it was some years before this was finally built) played a part in the final decision that the four orchestras should continue as before. Now, 40 years later, we still have four orchestras.

The Committee made a number of other recommendations: some were implemented, others were not. The London Orchestral Concert Board was created and was given the task of overseeing the administration of the orchestras, the distribution of subsidies, organising the concert dates at the Royal Festival Hall, and the co-ordination of programme planning. This last had been a big problem for some time; popular works such as the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto no.1, or Beethoven’s 5th Symphony might feature in several programmes within a matter of weeks.

A major recommendation was that a standard contract be established that would guarantee a basic salary, and include provision for holiday and sick pay and some sort of pension scheme. This has not come to pass for a number of reasons. First and foremost there has never been the possibility of sufficient funds being made available, by either Local or National Government, to pay for the administration of the orchestras and the salaries of the musicians, if they were only to work the recommended number of hours and have a paid holiday.

The members of the orchestras were not keen on the idea of a contract unless their salaries were to match what they could earn from their current orchestral employment plus what they could earn from their free-lance work. It was clear from the start that this would never happen. But there were two other reasons why the players were not enthusiastic: they did not trust those who would be in charge of the ‘money bags’ and they feared that a full-time contract would incur a change in their taxation status.

They knew how managed orchestras in London had collapsed in the past and how each time it had required the musicians to take responsibility for the survival of their orchestra. This had made them suspicious of putting their future in anyone else’s hands again. They were also concerned that as full-time employees they would have to give up the advantages of being on Schedule D. When registered on Schedule D their home was considered their ‘work base’, so that they could (and still can) claim expenses for all travelling, by car or public transport, repairs to their instrument, dress clothes for concert wear and so on; even the cost of a room in which to practise and give lessons. I enjoyed these benefits throughout my performing career until I became Director of the National Centre for Orchestral Studies and was paid a regular salary. Fortunately my salary was sufficient for the loss of my Schedule D benefits to no longer be of concern. However, like most musicians, who Lord Goodman noted, ‘are as conversant with Schedule D as with D major’, I continued to remain on ‘D’ for my private teaching, examining and other odds and ends.

Throughout the time I have been involved with what we used to refer to as the ‘music profession’ that then became the ‘music business’, and is now the ‘music industry’. (Oh! Dear!) London has had a much envied music scene: four orchestras, employing the finest conductors and soloists from all over the world, providing at least one symphony concert every evening throughout the year, and two full-time opera houses. The amount of financial support received from Local and National Government to pay for the salaries of the musicians in all the orchestras in London has been about a quarter of what has been given practically anywhere else in Europe. In the USA the orchestras in Cleveland, New York, Chicago and other cities with major orchestras have had the benefit of an income derived from the interest from the donations they had received in the past from those wishing to gain entry into ‘society’, in addition to a continuing tradition of private patronage to the arts.

How has London achieved this? With financial assistance from the Arts Council and the hard work of the musicians in the symphony orchestras themselves. Without the input from the Arts Council it is unlikely it would have been possible. However, from the start in 1946 the funding they have provided has been inadequate, at times better than at others, but never sufficient to support a year round concert season bringing in the finest and most expensive conductors and soloists. These star artists were essential if audiences were to be attracted in sufficient numbers though they soaked up virtually the whole subsidy, leaving nothing over to pay the for the cost of the orchestras and their administration. For 60 years it has been a bumpy ride with everyone just managing to stay onboard.

But, in the end, it has only really been possible because the musicians themselves have continued to subsidise the concerts in London by doing recordings and film sessions, overseas tours, and working nearly twice as many hours and earning much less than their colleagues in Europe and America. The recommendation of the Goodman Committee in 1964 that the orchestras should work 27/30 hours a week still remains unfulfilled. However, musicians in Britain continue to enable Londoners and the many music lovers who visit London from all over the world to enjoy an envied musical experience that has continued to flourish for over half a century.

Chapter 13

Index page



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