Sir Simon Rattle and his top team at the London Symphony Orchestra have appealed for government support to help them survive the difficulties created by Brexit and Covid.
The orchestra depended on international touring – much of it in Europe – for 40% of its revenue before the coronavirus, with tours cancelled by the pandemic.
Now, as the LSO prepares to welcome back its first live audience for 14 months to the Barbican on Tuesday, principal conductor Rattle told the Observer: “We have to find a way of doing this to survive. We’re of course grateful for what public funding we get, but it’s a drop in the ocean of what this great orchestra will need to survive.”
Rattle continued: “We had 99 days touring booked for last season. What would that look like now? There’s no going back to that. Covid has concealed the impact of all this, and now we are starting to realise the problems.”
Those include “even very basic things”, added Sir Simon. “It’s all so obviously ludicrous, even in the area of haulage regulations. Touring concerts have to be planned in a different way – the truck has to return to England after two venues – we cannot go from one country to another.”
The orchestra’s operations manager, Alan Goode, said:
“The two problems exacerbate one another: the pandemic has reduced funding for the arts and music everywhere in Europe, while Brexit will increase the costs of getting and touring there, so an abyss has been opened.”
The orchestra’s chairman David Alberman – who plays in the second violin section – said: “All of us are worried about this. The ways you have to pay taxes, and social charges when you earn as a foreigner from a country outside the European Union – all this has changed with Brexit. We are hoping that these things – and other unintended consequences – will eventually be covered by new agreements.”
Managing director Kathryn McDowell said that while the Arts Council, City of London and private donors “have done their part” to keep the orchestra viable through Covid, “we are an international orchestra. We always have been and always will be, it’s in our blood. And however the situation changes, we will have to find solutions, now more than ever.”
The orchestra, she said, “is working with government to make changes for the better, and we need them as soon as possible. The LSO needs to play in France, Germany, Italy and Spain – though in some ways now, playing in Europe becomes more like going to Asia in the ways we will have to arrange things. But we have to find a way to do it.”