ABO releases Key Orchestra Data

Survey finds audiences for orchestras up despite funding cuts

Warning that orchestras’ finances squeezed by cheaper tickets and falling public investment

Audiences for Britain’s orchestras are up, despite cuts to public funding, according to a new survey of Britain’s professional orchestras. But orchestra leaders have warned that they are becoming increasingly dependent on donations for survival as a growing preference for cheaper tickets, combined with cuts in public spending, puts pressure on orchestras’ finances, with overall budgets down since 2010.

The survey, by the Association of British Orchestra (ABO), found that:

•    Attendance at concerts and performances has increased 16% since 2010 – with over 4.5m people a year now seeing orchestras play live in the UK;
•    UK orchestras now reach over 660,000 children, young people and others in the community in education and outreach sessions;
•    The number of orchestras’ recordings for film, TV, streaming and download has more than doubled since 2010.
Despite the growth in audiences, orchestras’ earned income from ticket sales and hires has fallen by 11% in real terms since 2010. According to the ABO, this is the result of audiences responding to squeezed incomes by choosing to buy cheaper tickets for concerts and performances.

Orchestras’ finances are under further pressure from cuts in public funding: down by 14% in real terms over the same period according to the survey.

As a result, orchestras are increasingly dependent on donations and sponsorship, which have increased by 30% in real terms. However, the survey found that nearly 40% of donations are restricted to projects like education and new buildings, leaving orchestras less able to invest in musical quality and vulnerable to falls in donations.

The survey found that this increase in contributed income was insufficient to balance out the falls in public funding, with overall budgets down 7% in real terms since 2010.

According to the ABO, orchestras have so far been able to cut costs to provide increasing value for the public investment they receive, with the result that they have delivered growing audiences, community outreach, and use of new media. However, it warns that increasing pressure on finances means that Britain’s orchestras are now finding it harder to protect their artistic quality and that many are struggling to stay in business, with some having already closed down.

Michael Eakin, Chief Executive of Liverpool Philharmonic and Chair of the ABO, said:

“Britain’s orchestras are doing better than expected in difficult circumstances. They are reaching a growing number of people in concerts and performances, and taking music to hundreds of thousands of children and others in the community.

“But funding cuts and falling income from tickets and hires are making it harder and harder for our orchestras to protect their core product: their world-leading artistic excellence. So far, they have succeeded in increasing donations and sponsorship to partly plug the hole, and most have been able to keep their head above water for another year.

“But this leaves orchestras ever more vulnerable. Donations and sponsorship are more often tied to be spent on a particular building project or education programme, so there is less to go round for the rest of what orchestras do. Without the guarantee of public funding, we will see more orchestras struggling to maintain the quality of their work.”

The survey also found that:

•    More than 2,000 musicians have full-time or regular positions at UK orchestras, with another 8,400 opportunities for extra or deputy players;
•    British orchestras toured to 35 countries outside the UK in 2013, including China, Poland, Russia, South Korea and the USA, playing more than 400 concerts.

The overall real terms changes to orchestras’ income were:

Income source % real terms change 2009/10 to 2012/13
Arts Councils / government
Local Authority
Total public investment
Earned income -11%
Contributed income +30%
Total income -7%




1.    Advance copies of the report are available. For more details and interviews, contact Leo Barasi: 020 7793 4036 or leo@dhacommunications.co.uk.

2.    The ABO is the national body representing the collective interests of professional orchestras and youth ensembles throughout the UK. For details see: www.abo.org.uk.

3.    The ABO surveyed Britain’s professional orchestras about their activities, audiences, income and staffing, between 22 August and 29 October 2013. Responses were received from 49 orchestras: 77% of those from whom responses were requested. Respondents provided data for the season/financial year 2012-13 or the closest equivalent 12-month period. Comparisons are made in this report with the 2011 ‘Key Facts’ survey (covering 2009-10) for a core sample of up to 39 orchestras that completed the survey in both years.

4.    The results will be published in the week of the ABO’s 2014 conference, New Directions. The conference will be held in the Barbican Centre, London from Weds 29 Jan – Fri 31 Jan. For details see: /conference.aspx.

5.    Adjustments for inflation were calculated using CPI from 2010-2012 (2010: 3.3%, 2011: 4.5%, 2012: 2.8%), with data from the ONS (available at: http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/cpi/consumer-price-indices/december-2013/consumer-price-inflation-reference-tables.xls), as follows:

•    Surveyed orchestras’ income from contract hire and ticket sales was £67.3m in 2009/10. This can be translated to £74.7m in current value. Therefore, compared with values for 2012/13, this earned income has fallen by 11% in real terms.

•    Surveyed orchestras’ income from Arts Councils, government and local authorities was £50.1m in 2009/10. This can be translated to £55.7m in current value. Therefore, compared with values for 2012/13, this public investment has fallen by 14% in real terms.

•    Surveyed orchestras’ income from donations and sponsorship was £17.2m in 2009/10. This can be translated to £19.1m in current value. Therefore, compared with values for 2012/13, this contributed income has increased by 30% in real terms.

•    Surveyed orchestras’ total income was £135.9m in 2009/10. This can be translated to £150.8m in current value. Therefore, compared with values for 2012/13, total income has fallen by 7% in real terms.

Download the full 2013 Key Facts Document here Go there now