THE LISBON Metropolitan Orchestra (OML), one of the country’s best, could be on the point of financial collapse, if both government and sponsors don’t step in with a rescue package.
Unlike the Gulbenkian, the city’s other famous orchestra, the Metropolitan is not an independent orchestra fending for itself – it has an association of sponsors that have agreed to fund its activities. These comprise of various companies, government ministries and councils that indirectly ‘own’ the orchestra because they fund its existence. However, a series of delayed payments, funds that have not materialised, together with the spiralling costs of running such a quality organisation is putting its future in jeopardy.
The OML gives about 500 concerts a year – chamber, recital, symphony and children’s concerts. “We are underfunded and understaffed to death, with people doing three or four jobs at once, especially at the administrative level,” stresses artistic director, Brian Schembri.
Schembri says he accepts that art organisations the world over are struggling with financial difficulties at the moment. “This is not just the result of the present day economic difficulties, this has been going on for years – and I’m talking in a general sense about sponsors not accepting their responsibilities,” he adds.
The problem is exacerbated by the timescale that the orchestra has to work to. A season of concerts is often planned two years in advance, depending on who is to be invited as guest conductor, musicians and soloists. “Can you imagine how an artistic director, in an institution of this kind, copes when he wants to invite an important soloist, say in May 2006, but doesn’t know if the sponsors will guarantee the money they’ve promised in time,” he laments.
“The problem today is that many orchestras like ours are finding it increasingly difficult to plan anything, because we can’t guarantee that the funding will be there,” he underlines.
And the problem doesn’t just stop at visiting artists but extends to employing musicians in-house too. The orchestra is finding it difficult to announce auditions for a vacancy that arises, when it doesn’t even know if and when it can pay new musicians. Schembri says that up until now, by hook or by crook, the staff salaries have been paid, although it has been getting increasingly difficult and often means cuts in other areas. “Closing down this orchestra would be very easy – it would only take five minutes. But it would be such a pity,” says Schembri.