The UK’s orchestral sector has emerged from a decade of financial uncertainty by harnessing vital public investment to perform more international concerts, reach new corners of the globe and develop a resilience which has seen them boost earnings from ticket sales and tours by 23%, a landmark survey reveals.

The State of the UK’s Orchestras 2019 report also shows how our orchestras last year played live to 4.25 million people in the UK and delivered an incredible range of other activities – from performances with children to education or training sessions for all ages – which involved almost 700,000 people. The 2019 report, an update on key statistics for the orchestra sector last delivered in 2016, is based on a survey of members of the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) and was launched in Manchester on January 20 at the ABO’s annual conference.

ABO director Mark Pemberton said: “Our orchestras have spent a decade tackling an incredibly challenging financial climate in which key sources of public funding have frozen or dried up altogether and they have had to make incredibly difficult decisions on the way. “The 2019 survey shows how they have made the very most of what the funding they did receive to explore new markets and build their resilience and keep doing what they do best – giving hundreds of thousands of children, young people and adults the chance to hear and take part in the highest calibre music. Orchestra Tax Relief has also made an enormous difference, helping to rebuild confidence and restore growth to the sector.”

Headline results from the survey show:

  • 7% increase in the number of concert performances given by UK orchestras outside the UK compared to 2016
  • UK orchestras had a total income of £148.6 million – the sum reflects a 23% increase in earned income (ticket sales and tours etc) as well as increases in overseas sponsorship and contributed income (donations and grants) since 2016. The total income figure is up 17% on the previous survey (after removing Orchestra Tax Relief which has been introduced since 2016).
  • Our orchestras consolidated new markets in Far East countries with visits to Thailand, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines and Singapore as well as Japan, South Korea and China
  • Attendance at UK concerts and opera/ballet with orchestral performances is holding steady compared to 2016 with 4.25 million people attending UK concerts or other performances (1% rise on 2016)
  • There are signs of growth amongst the sector’s ‘newest shoots’, with some newer chamber ensembles increasing the number of concert performances they gave.

Other survey findings show how our orchestras continue to extend their reach by delivering new recordings and broadcasts. In fact, 2019 saw a 15% increase in recordings for CD or paid audio download and an even bigger rise – 18% – in the number of recordings for radio/free audio streaming or download.  Marc Pemberton: “These figures don’t just prove the incredible resilience of our orchestras. They point to something even more fundamental – the fact that through all these challenging times they have managed to sustain the sheer quality of what they do. Without this, these achievements would be impossible.”

A longer technical note for this survey is available on the ABO website