Good news has been scarce in recent months, so the announcement that the CBSO and its exciting young conductor Andris Nelsons have signed up for another three years together is particularly welcome.
Those old enough to remember Simon Rattle’s early years in Birmingham may well have been reminded of them by the buzz of excitement around the Latvian’s performances.
On Tuesday the CBSO will introduce Nelsons to the Proms audience and – with plans in the pipeline for international touring, beginning with a visit to the Lausanne Festival at the end of next month – Birmingham has a strong new brand which is likely to gain increasing global recognition.
Equally welcome is the CBSO’s success in building its home-town audience in the teeth of the recession. It may come as a surprise to realise that it budgets to take more at the box office in its home venue than any other British orchestra, including its London counterparts. In the season just ended, it exceeded that budget by £53,000.
This success is partly explained by sheer hard work – the orchestra promoted 82 concerts this year, more than it used to, and more than most of its rivals – and by the Nelsons factor. Renewing the notoriously grey-haired audience for classical music is a challenge, and to be making headway in these difficult financial times is a tribute to both the CBSO’s music-making and its marketing.
One of the hallmarks of the CBSO in recent years has been its extraordinary versatility. Whether it is taking on music from James Bond movies or even Bollywood, it serves a wide range of tastes to a consistently high standard. But it is particularly encouraging to see that, after declining for a number of years, audiences for its main evening series – where its most artistically-challenging work is to be found – were up this year.
After three consecutive record-breaking seasons, so far advanced sales for next year appear to be maintaining the trend. This is consistent with much of what has been reported by theatres and other arts venues through the recession so far.
Is this because people turn to the arts in hard times, or is it just that the impact at the box office is delayed?
It would be a reckless manager who took anything for granted but the evidence so far would at least seem to disprove the idea that the arts are a readily expendable luxury.