A lack of public funding a serious threat to the future of the Orchestra
Delays in payments by the City of Cape Town and the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC) have created such a serious cash-flow problem that the survival of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and its vast outreach and education programme is threatened.
Like all orchestras in South African and most internationally, the CPO is dependent on regular public funding; this three-tier funding has been a critical stabilising factor in the orchestra’s sustainability over the past 18 years.
The CPO needs R30 million per year to present symphony concerts, run its outreach and education programme which is training orchestral musicians for the future (and providing a viable prospect for many talented youngsters from the disadvantaged communities), and many other facets of its operation. About one third comes from public funds (R10m), the rest from box office income, hire-outs to organizations like Cape Town Opera, Cape Town City Ballet, Starlight Classics, musicals (in total R5m), corporate and individual donors (R15 m). The national government’s DAC contributes more than R7 million a year, while the Western Cape’s DCAS and the City each contribute R1,5 million. Additional income is derived from the CPO Endowment Trust and potential interest in years to come from the Duet Endowment Trust which was established to sustain both the CPO and Cape Town Opera. Bequests also add an important boost to revenue.
But this year is different. The City of Cape Town’s promise of R1,5 million last year remains unpaid and there has been a deadly silence about the annual R7,5 million from central government (usually paid each June). This has almost depleted the orchestra’s savings.
Since the CPO met with Arts and Culture Min. Nathi Mthethwa in June 2017, neither the Minister nor any official in his department has been forthcoming about the orchestra’s current or future grants. After many attempts to reach the Minister, CPO Board Member Judge Dennis Davis, finally received an answer at the beginning of August 2018 that the minister is prepared to meet. A month later, we have not been able to set a date or get another reply from his office.
Doubling ticket prices could increase box-office income but the risk of alienating a loyal concert going public through making concerts unaffordable would be counterproductive to the CPO’s aim to keep the symphonic concert culture alive and well in Cape Town. It would take years to cultivate a healthy concert culture again.
The CPO has weathered many a storm but this one is the most critical and potentially fatal. The lack of cash flow since June – necessitating selling off some of the “family silver” (a loan from the CPO’s Endowment Trust followed by the sale of shares) – is deeply worrying. Management and board members are working non-stop to access corporate funding, but funding for anything other than the CPO’s huge outreach and training programmes (for which the CPO offers full Article 18A tax benefits) is almost non-existent. New funds even for outreach are hard to come by.
Due to the continued dearth of public and corporate funds, the CPO is being forced to face the fact that the country’s oldest orchestra (established in 1914) may soon be no more. This will have an impact on a generation of young musicians in outreach programmes; and the universities whose students (and teachers) will have no orchestral employment opportunities. Cape Town will simply be taken off the map as a world-class cultural city. We cannot let this happen.
The speech by Derek Auret, chairman of the CPO, at the re-opening of the refurbished City Hall and the performane of the Mahler Symphony No 2, “Resurrection”, on August 4, 2018.
Madame Helen Zille, Premier of the Western Cape; Madame Anroux Marais, Western Cape Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport; Mr Ian Neilson, Executive Deputy Mayor;
And most important of all: you, the Ladies and Gentlemen of our most loyal concert-going audience
Good evening, Mholo ngokuhlwa, Goeienaand, Guten Abend!
On behalf of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, its Board of Directors, Staff and musicians, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you most sincerely to this first concert of the CPO Winter Season and the orchestra’s return to what has up to now been its permanent home, the Cape Town City Hall. I am certain we can all agree that the visible results of the nine month’s refurbishment of this venerable building – the first substantial restorative work that has been undertaken since 1947 – are superb. It certainly has brought back a sparkle and elegance to what had become a rather tired facility and Cape Town can now rightfully boast a concert hall of the highest standard. We all are very grateful that the City of Cape Town has finally funded this major upgrade – with further work to follow – and am sure that the disruption to the orchestra schedule has been worth the wait.
I should like in this regard to pay special tribute to MAYCO member Stuart Diamond who has worked tirelessly (and might I add inclusively in terms of consultation with the orchestra) to achieve the result we see here tonight and without whose enthusiasm and dedication we might not have been back in this beautiful hall this evening. To John Rennie, the heritage architect who oversaw the entire restoration project and Richard Jackson, the Head: Specialised Operations, Priority Assets of the City, who was the ringmaster that supervised the operations, and to their teams, our sincere thanks and appreciation for your considerable contributions and a job well done.
It is most appropriate that the work chosen to re-open the City Hall this evening is Mahler’s 2nd Symphony – “Resurrection” – for it represents also what has taken place in respect of this building. The Cape Town City Hall has a rich and eventful history and has seen the cultural diversity of Cape Town on display since its opening in 1905. I am sure that it will continue to fulfil that role in its new garb.
I want to take this opportunity specifically to extend our sincere thanks and appreciation to the Rupert Music Foundation, the sponsors of the concert this evening, for its enduring support of the orchestra. Your contribution has in the past been, and is now, inestimable and is an example that bears emulation.
I should also, on behalf of us all, like to extend a warm word of welcome to our distinguished Principal Guest Conductor, Maestro Bernhard Gueller, on his permanent return to Cape Town. We look forward to your frequent presence on the podium, Maestro.
This evening should be an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Regrettably, there are some matters from which we cannot, perforce, shy away and about which you, our loyal supporters, should be informed. From my notes in the programme you will have gathered that the orchestra is facing a serious challenge and it is not always certain whether it can survive financially from month to month. This impacts not only the future of the CPO, but especially also the CPO Youth Orchestra and the large number of young people for whom we provide training and ultimately positions in the orchestra. You have just heard the youth orchestra vividly demonstrate why this orchestra is considered to be the best in the country; and you may have read the programme which tells you how vibrant the CPO youth education and development programme is. We reach well over 300 youngsters each year, teaching them how to play their instruments well; we teach theory and we give many of them orchestral and performance experience which offers career options for the future. Investing in music education has an impact far beyond the music curriculum. Important life-skills are taught and learnt throughout the programme that is aimed specifically at, and benefits, the development of young musicians.
The provision of such organised extra-mural activities for youth, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, provide alternative choices and options in what are often bleak circumstances. Offering music as this alternative has added benefits other than just a diversion from what could become a life involved in gangs, drugs, alcohol dependence, amidst few economic opportunities. It reaches deep into the community and touches parents, family and friends and, if taken away, would deal a body blow to many. In addition, music provides discipline and accountability to a larger group of peers and teachers, and it has a direct impact on developing self-esteem, relationship skills and emotional and behavioural growth. It has been proven beyond doubt that an education in music has the potential to create a better and safer community for all. We have a responsibility to ensure that this continues.
I wish to assure you that the Board is doing what it can to deal with this perilous financial situation, but it is not easy and most regrettably, we cannot always rely on the support of some of our traditional benefactors. Moreover, dealing with the City is made increasingly difficult by the constant changing of the goalposts and the increased layers of red tape that its officials apparently delight in imposing, raising the question whether the game is worth the candle in terms of our continued presence here. However, despite these impediments our goal is simple: we will do what it takes to avoid the music falling silent and we rely on the support of each one of you to assist us in achieving this objective. Letting the music die is not an option!
Music is essential to any complete national life. Government, at all levels, and the South African corporate sector, owe it to themselves to nurture, sustain and encourage music, for it is by music that mankind gets nearest to the angels and farthest from the animals. Provincial and local government, each company or corporation that does business here and every citizen of Cape Town benefit directly or indirectly from the presence of the CPO. The orchestra is at once a tourist draw card and an element that sets Cape Town apart, as it does other cities such as London, New York, Paris, Tokyo, Sydney and many others who have orchestras, from cities that are without doubt diminished for lack of such an important social structure.
Music transcends all cultural and linguistic borders and brings people together. Indeed, music is the one thing that is created which carries its shining message of inspiration not only to all who are living with it on this earth, but across hundreds of years to future generations. It lights the way and links the thoughts of one generation with another. Ill fares the society which fails to support music and does not salute it with the reverence and delight which is its due.
It only remains for me to wish you much joy and listening pleasure with the concert this evening. And I leave you with this thought: When a journalist suggested to Winston Churchill during the dark and dire days of World War II that the government cut funding for the arts, he responded “Then what would we be fighting for?”. I suggest that the situation is no different today.
I thank you.