The decision to discontinue the prestigious national award was made by the six CEOs of Australia’s major State orchestras.
Symphony Australia CEO Kate Lidbetter has defended the organisation’s decision to discontinue the ABC Symphony Australia Young Performer Awards, saying, “It’s a very expensive thing to do and there are other opportunities out there for young musicians.” The highly contentious move, which has sparked a national outcry from Australian music lovers, was decided upon by the six managing directors of Australia’s major state orchestras, Rory Jeffes (SSO), André Gremillet (MSO), Sophie Galaise (QSO), Vincent Ciccarello (ASO) Craig Whitehead (WASO) and Nicholas Heyward (TSO), who make up the board of Symphony Australia, Lidbetter revealed.
While the loss of the YPAs has not been directly influenced by the Federal arts funding cuts that have affected many arts organisations across Australia, the move to discontinue the competition is in response to a diminished level of investment from Symphony Australia’s six member orchestras. This has led to the cancellation of all Symphony Australia’s artist development programmes, including the YPAs. Lidbetter confirmed that the six board members of Symphony Australia were aware that the discontinuation of the YPAs would be a consequence of cancelling this activity. Similar services to Symphony Australia’s conductor, composer and performer opportunities will now be offered by its six member orchestras. However Lidbetter confirmed that, “there isn’t going to be a direct duplication of a concerto competition.”
Symphony Australia is solely financed by the services fee it charges its six member orchestras, without any additional Government subsidy or corporate sponsorship. However Lidbetter conceded that financial pressures on its member orchestras, caused in part by receding Federal funding, had prompted them to withdraw their spending on Symphony Australia’s artist development programmes, including the “several hundred thousand” dollars required to administer and run the YPAs. “There’s no question that, just like everybody else including the ABC, the orchestras are in increasingly difficult financial situations,” Lidbetter said. “Government money isn’t increasing and they’re doing the best that they can with what they’ve got.”
Lidbetter also confirmed that no alternative organisation or administrative body, other than the ABC, were approached by Symphony Australia in an attempt to find alternative management for the competition. However Lidbetter said that the organisation would do whatever it could to support a transition to a new administrator for the YPAs if one were to come forward, and that while she felt “it [wasn’t] the responsibility of the orchestras to pay for and manage the competition,” they would be “very happy to be involved,” in any future YPAs.
Symphony Australia has managed the competition since 1997, running the YPAs independently from the ABC after the Concerts Division of the broadcaster became Symphony Australia. In 2005 a corporate restructure within Symphony Australia led to the revival of the partnership with ABC as the prestigious awards’ media partner. While the ABC have not directly managed the competition in 18 years, Lidbetter believes that the national television and radio corporation could have done more to save the competition. “I’ve been involved with the YPAs since 1997 and in that time I’ve seen the ABC’s involvement diminish enormously. It hasn’t been televised for a number of years and they don’t invest a single cent into the running of the competition,” she said. “The only involvement the ABC have had in recent years is broadcasting the competition on ABC Classic FM and we’ve been really grateful for that. But the ABC has most definitely stepped back from the competition and withdrawn what was quite substantial support in favour of really very minimal involvement.”
In 2016 Symphony Australia intends to launch a new online resource that will connect young musicians with competition opportunities. “There are lots of competitions for young performers out there,” Lidbetter said. “We will try to make that information easily accessible for performers who might otherwise have gone into the YPAs. One of our tasks for next year is to create that database.”
However, while there are a number of concerto style competitions in Australia, primarily on a more local or state level, there is currently no other music awards that offers similar national exposure via radio broadcasts, or prize money anywhere near as generous as the YPA’s top award of $25,000. Lidbetter acknowledged that the cancellation of the country’s most prestigious and high profile music awards was a tremendous loss to the vibrancy of youth music in Australia, adding, “It’s extremely sad. It’s a 71 year old competition and we’re sad to see it go.”