Low wages and a spiralling cost of living are threatening the future of full-time professional orchestras, the Musicians’ Union has warned.
The announcement, timed to coincide with the 110th Last Night of the Proms, follows the publication of a specially commissioned report by arts development organisation The Hub. All musicians under contract with UK orchestras were polled between June and July and an estimated one in five responded.
The survey found that, on average, respondents had been professional for 21 years and earned £22,500 per annum. Those who have siblings working in other professions within five years of their age earned an average of £46,000. The report also revealed 86% of respondents have to take on other work, with 50% of those saying the amount of non-orchestral work had increased in the last three years.
MU orchestral organiser Bill Kerr said: “In dealing with our orchestral musicians first hand, I see the frustration caused by low levels of earnings. In addition to the high cost of providing instruments, equipment and clothing, orchestral musicians have to bear the additional burden of sourcing expensive childcare during anti-social hours.
“The stakeholders in our orchestral future – the MU, the Association of British Orchestras, the funders and the sponsors – must find a way to improve the pay and conditions of musicians who work in this most vital and important part of our cultural heritage.”
MU general secretary John Smith acknowledged the work the ABO and Arts Council England had tried to do to address the problems musicians faced.
Director of music at the arts council Hilary Boulding said: “Orchestras are in a significantly better position than they were four years ago as a sector.
“Many of them have extended their base and range of work they are doing. There is a real buoyancy in the sector.”