Last Thursday afternoon (3 November), I was with my daughter and her friends at a farm park in West Wales – it was the penultimate day of a half-term break – and an email pinged into my phone from Arts Council England, teeing up a call for 8.30 the next morning (the day that ACE’s new round of funding was unveiled). Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well that night, and when the call came the news was as bad as it could possibly be. For us, it was the guillotine, not the salami-slicer.
However, it has been really heartwarming for all of us at Britten Sinfonia to have received such a flood of support over the past few days. There are common threads that run through these heartfelt messages: expressions of mystification, solidarity and outrage from audience members and a gratifying range of performers, composers, and partners. This has meant a lot to us at this incredibly difficult time, and we are immensely grateful.
The truth is, we’re as mystified by this brutal decision as many of you, not least because we seem to already meet, in so many ways, ACE’s aspirations to bring high-quality music and art to under-represented regions – both in what we have been doing and in our plans moving forward. We’ve been vigorously waving the flag for the East of England for three decades, or as our Principal Oboe Nick Daniel (who has been with the orchestra since day one) put it eloquently in a social media post over this past weekend:
“Britten Sinfonia’s footprint is unique, focussing on the East of England, especially with our outreach work, but flying the flag for Britten and Britain all over the world. There are hundreds of living composers who have been performed by us, many of them some of the most important names in music, and most often commissioned by us.
Our outreach work is simply the best in the field and has touched many many lives. We have won award after award, and our work has been supported tirelessly until now by Arts Council England, but we NEVER took that money for granted … And this cut is for an ensemble serving principally a region, the East of England, that has some of the most demanding problems in the country, when the government and the Arts Council say they want to decentralise arts funding.”
– Nicholas Daniel, Principal Oboe, Britten Sinfonia
We will be meeting with the Arts Council imminently to clarify and discuss plans moving forward. While we celebrate the success of new organisations joining ACE’s National Portfolio Organisations – and there is much to look forward to – our hearts go out to others who, like us, received less good news last Friday. It’s easy to forget the human impact of announcements such as these, and we are working hard to support all those connected with Britten Sinfonia as we digest this difficult news.
The timing of the cut couldn’t have been more painfully ironic. We’ve just finished a sequence of stunningly successful sell-out concerts with Anoushka Shankar, Manu Delago and Jules Buckley with ecstatic standing ovations at the Barbican, Saffron Hall and Norwich’s Theatre Royal. Together we celebrated 30 years since Britten Sinfonia’s first ever concert, on 28 October 1992, and launched a season that will propel us boldly into our fourth decade with distinctive programmes and an ever more vital Learning & Participation programme in throughout the Eastern region.
Many of you have generously asked ‘How can I help?’
You can be assured that we’re thinking hard about that, and more will be announced in due course. For the moment, you can help by making a one-off donation or becoming a Britten Sinfonia Friend, or simply by buying tickets for our upcoming concerts. Join us to celebrate exhilarating, passionate, committed music making, Britten Sinfonia style: seeing you there will mean everything to our musicians.