With the day delayed by a week and a half, it would not be hyperbolic to say that Friday 4 November has been both the most anticipated and feared date this year – at least within the admin offices of the country’s arts and cultural organisations.

Arts Council England, which invests money from Government and the National Lottery to support arts and culture across England, today announced the 990 groups who would form part of the National Portfolio of funded organisations for 2023–26. Administrators had been briefed to expect big changes in the way funding was distributed, not least in London, and many had geared themselves up for a freeze on their previous investment at best and a cut at worst.

The Philharmonia Orchestra
© Camilla Greenwell

In the orchestral world the overwhelming feeling may be that it could have been much worse.

The biggest shock was that Cambridge-based chamber ensemble Britten Sinfonia – an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican in London – has lost its entire core funding, an amount which represented just over 50% of its budget, according to founding member oboist Nicholas Daniel. The orchestra’s statement on Twitter simply read, “A difficult day. Thank you for all your support.” Also in the chamber music world, the London Sinfonietta, which is dedicated to the performance of contemporary music, lost 41% of its support – one of the biggest cuts across the board. Its magnanimous statement concludes that it “will need to spend time adjusting long-term plans.”

In the symphony orchestra world, London-based orchestras the London Symphony Orchestra, London Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia have each received a 12% cut – likely bigger than expected despite being prepared for funds to be reallocated outside of the capital. In a statement, the LPO said: “We will consider how the settlement affects our future plans but it is clear that these are challenging times for everyone,” restating their commitment to offering £14 tickets. Meanwhile the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – which consistently receives the least funding of the four London-based symphony orchestras – held on to funding at the same level as previous years. 

Outside of London, there will be palpable relief from orchestras who have secured an increase or standstill in their share of the pot. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra receives an 8.8% increase, while funding for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and Hallé Orchestra in Manchester remains static. 

Also in Manchester, chamber group the Manchester Camerata will be relieved with its standstill funding, while the Manchester Collective receives a grant of £120,000 for the first time to support its “radical human experiences”. Orchestras Live, which delivers “world-class orchestral experiences” across the country, has received an increase of 41%.

Towards the Arts Council’s stated aim to “nurture the next generation of cultural and artistic talent, increasing opportunity for people of all communities and backgrounds” comes the good news of a huge 53% increase for the Aurora Orchestra, whose creative and adventurously presented concerts have gathered plaudits. The Chineke! Foundation, whose aim is to increase diversity and representation in classical music, enters the Portfolio for the first time with an impressive grant of £700,000. Youth orchestras, particularly the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the National Children’s Orchestra, are have also seen funding increases.

All in all, a mixed picture. Clear trends emerge, with the established institutions taking a hit they are likely to be able to cope with while smaller, more diverse, innovative groups around the country and in under-served areas of the capital are given a boost.   

While there will undoubtedly be disappointment and some anger from those who have faced a difficult day, orchestras are no strangers to challenging funding news. Many will already be planning and re-planning their work and investigating other sources of income to cover shortfall. For those worst hit, only time will tell whether the phoenix will rise from the ashes.