British orchestras are a global success story. Heard every day in our concert halls. on radio and streaming sites, on the soundtracks of movies, TV shows and games, and both live and recorded with our nation’s best-loved rock and pop artists, they are key contributors to the success of Britain’s creative industries, the fastest growing sector in the UK economy.

At the core of our orchestras’ work are live concerts and performances in our nation’s festivals, venues and concert halls, ranging from early music to contemporary sounds. British orchestras were heard live by nearly 5 million people in the UK in 2016.

Orchestras are active in music education and the community, providing opportunities for music-making and helping nurture the next generation of musicians and audiences. In 2016 almost 900,000 people took part in orchestral education and community projects.

Although there is no strict definition, the ABO’s baseline for an orchestra is a minimum of 12 musicians. Its Full Members, the professional orchestras, are defined by their commitment to providing a professional rate of pay to their musicians, and the ABO negotiates with and works actively in partnership with its colleagues in the Musicians’ Union.

The Association of British Orchestras (ABO) is the representative body for professional orchestras and youth ensembles across the UK. Founded in 1948, its mission is to enable and support an innovative, collaborative and sustainable orchestral sector. It exists to provide advice, support, intelligence and information to the people who make British orchestras a global success.

The ABO’s membership embraces not only orchestras and youth ensembles, but also venues, festivals, broadcasters, funding agencies and other organisations with an interest in maintaining a vibrant orchestral sector in the UK. At its core are its Full Members, who elect the ABO board each year to work with the ABO team on delivering its strategic objectives.

The ABO connects, champions and develops Britain’s orchestras. It holds a range of networking and training events during the year, bringing the different manager groups within its membership together to share best practice and improve their skills, culminating in its annual conference, the key gathering of the classical music industry, drawing delegates from the UK and abroad. It campaigns on behalf of the sector, providing evidence of the value that its members bring to society, and talking directly to national governments and the EU on ensuring that cultural policy, funding and regulations work in the best interests of its members. Its most recent triumph was securing Orchestra Tax Relief, generating a new source of government funding to offset recent cuts in public subsidy. The State of British Orchestras in 2016 was published in January 2017, highlighting the successes and challenges facing the sector in the current funding climate.


Britain’s world-leading orchestras are well known for their great performances in the concert hall – and rightly so. Each year, they play to nearly 5 million people in over 4000 concerts and performances in the UK, and tour to over 40 countries across the world[1].

But performances and concerts are just one part of our members’ work.

From the classic films of the Ealing Studios to the biggest Hollywood blockbusters, and from mobile phone games to the world’s top tourist attractions – even away from the concert hall British orchestras are at the centre of the best known and most popular entertainment.

Some of the nation’s favourite movies feature British orchestras on the soundtrack. From Harry Potter to Star Wars, Lord of the Rings to Iron Man 3, Hollywood studios have made a beeline to British orchestras when they want guaranteed quality and access to the very best musicians.

And it’s doesn’t stop with movies. Some of our best loved TV shows feature British orchestras, from Blue Planet to Downton Abbey, and even the Champions League anthem. And who can forget the LSO’s appearance at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony, or the 205 national anthems recorded by the LPO which featured not only in London 2012 but in Rio 2016.

The games industry has cottoned on too, with British orchestras featuring on the hugely popular games Candy Crush, the Harry Potter series and Medal of Honor.

Because of their collaboration with other parts of the creative industries, our orchestras reach not only the millions who see them in concert halls, but the billions who hear them through film, TV, games, pop and rock concerts and at other events and locations. It means that everyone can enjoy great music played by the world’s best orchestras. Our orchestras are everywhere.

The diversity of British orchestras’ work demolishes the myth that they are only enjoyed by a small number of people. The reality is, they are at the centre of globally popular entertainment: the best of the best, that you can hear when you watch, play, visit or listen.

For more information on how British orchestras make everyday life special, see the ABO report Orchestras Everywhere.

Manchester Camerata – Hacienda Classical
Manchester Camerata – the city’s ‘experimental orchestra’ has ‘become one of the city’s most in-demand acts’ (Manchester Evening News) – resulting in their critically acclaimed collaboration with the Hacienda DJs. Reworking 80’s electronic dance classics into a continuous 90-minute orchestral score, the orchestra performed a sell-out national tour alongside the DJs to 100,000+ people, culminating in the orchestra opening the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury last year. Now in its third year, Hacienda Classical contributed to Camerata’s 306% audience increase in 2015-16 (146,054 reach). 98% of the Manchester audiences were new to Camerata, continuing its audience development successes. Hacienda Classical levered outstanding profile, including national BBC news and Channel 4, critically acclaimed album, and Five Star review in The Times (http://bit.ly/2fLEWJl) hailing Camerata ‘Probably Britain’s most adventurous orchestra’. Watch this: http://bit.ly/2gKdKM9. http://www.manchestercamerata.co.uk/whats-on/concerts/hacienda-classical-manchester


Recordings have been intrinsic to British orchestras’ success since the invention of the gramophone in the 1890s. The introduction of the LP in the 1940s saw the perfect medium for the longer form of classical music recordings, followed by the CD boom in the 1980s and 90s. In recent years orchestras have embraced the opportunities afforded by downloads and streaming, creating a new business model for reaching a more diverse audience for their work. Orchestras such as the LSO, LPO, Hallé, the Monteverdi Choir & Orchestra and The Sixteen have even launched their own labels, creating a new income stream.

British orchestras are world-beating when it comes to winning international awards, from Grammys to Classic Brits.

The LSO and Philharmonia were the big British winners in the classical award categories at the prestigious Grammy Awards in 2010. http://www.classicfm.com/artists/london-symphony-orchestra/news/lso-and-philharmonia-triumph-grammy-awards/

And thanks to our national classical music stations BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM, orchestral music reaches a combined broadcast audience of 8 million people every week. Radio 3’s weeknight programme In Concert is committed to regular live and specially recorded broadcasts of British orchestras.


British orchestras, opera and ballet companies also reach out to a new audience through being at the forefront of digital innovation in the arts. Indeed the ABO celebrated their role in 2009 with the publication of Orchestras into the Future.

Since then we have seen further ground-breaking developments, including the Philharmonia’s Re-RiteUniverse of Sound and The Virtual Orchestra, the LSO’s LSO Play, and the Royal Opera Chorus in 360 degrees.


When people think of Britain’s world-renowned orchestras, most imagine an ensemble performing in a concert hall or recording studio. What they don’t realise is the incredible, transformative work orchestras are doing in communities across the country.

Our orchestras reached almost a million people in 2016 – a 35% increase on the total reported in 2013 – through nearly 14,000 innovative education programmes in schools and community centres, therapeutic music workshops in hospitals, homeless centres and prisons, and world-class performances with disabled children, socially deprived communities, firefighters and more.

The effects of these projects are undeniable. Participants report better health, an increase in confidence and self-esteem, improved social skills, and a sense of purpose and belonging. Not to mention the chance to express themselves creatively and develop musical talent with world-class musicians.

With over-stretched local services struggling to meet the needs of the UK’s diverse communities, orchestras often step in to help people across society, a contribution seldom recognised.

The ABO has travelled up and down the country meeting people whose lives have been changed through working with a British orchestra, and found incredibly inspiring stories, some of which you can see here.

Next time you visit a community centre, school, hospital or care home, take a moment to think whether an orchestra might be involved there, and the difference they’re making to people’s lives.

Ten Pieces is an exciting initiative for primary and secondary age students led by BBC Learning and the BBC Performing Groups, in collaboration with the wider orchestral sector. Its aim is to open up the world of classical music to a new generation of children and inspire them to develop their own creative responses to ten pieces of music using a variety of art forms – digital art or animation, performance poetry, dance or movement and composition.http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04pc0j8


British orchestras perform a strong public relations role for the UK. They showcase the very best of British culture and musical excellence to thousands of people around the world through international tours.

In 2016 British orchestras visited a total of 42 countries globally, compared with 35 in 2013. Europe is the most toured-to continent, with orchestras doing 96 visits to 26 different European countries. But they are also increasingly popular in China and the Far East, while maintaining their profile in the USA and the rest of the Americas and travelling as far afield as Australia.


Orchestras continue to employ significant numbers of musicians. In 2016, there were over 2400 musicians employed full-time or holding regular ‘member’ status in our orchestras, and over 10,000 opportunities for additional freelance musicians. In addition there are upwards of 2000 employed as management or technical staff.

ABO member orchestras fall into three distinct types:

  • Contract orchestras, which employ their musicians on a permanent basis and negotiate directly with the Musicians’ Union. These include the BBC orchestras, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the Hallé Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Royal Northern Sinfonia, Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Ulster Orchestra, and the orchestras of Birmingham Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, English National Opera, Opera North, Royal Opera House and Welsh National Opera.
  • Self-governing orchestras, which are collectives of self-employed musicians who own shares in their orchestra. These include the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
  • Freelance orchestras, which engage self-employed musicians on a ‘member’ basis.

All three types of orchestra also engage freelance musicians as ‘extras and deputies’, to supplement the core of the orchestra for larger repertoire or as substitutes for regular players.

Pay and conditions for self-employed musicians who are members of or engaged as extras by the self-governing or freelance orchestras are determined by the ABO/MU Freelance Orchestral Agreement.


Orchestras have been operating in a constrained funding environment since 2010, but despite that have continued to grow audiences and maintain their artistic programme.

In common with other arts organisations, they operate a ‘mixed economy’ model, combining earned income, contributed income from fundraising, and public subsidy. In 2016 British orchestras’ total income was £117.5 million, down 5% on 2013. Of that, earned income from ticket sales, touring, hires and recordings was £56 million, at 48% one of the highest ratios for earned income in the world.

Contributed income at £20 million represented 17% of income in 2016, and was down 3% from 2013. Individual giving and support from trusts & foundations has seen welcome growth in recent years, but this has been offset by a decline in income from sponsorship. This had reached a peak of £171.5 million in 2006/07 but had declined to £113 million in 2011/12, the last time that Arts & Business published its Private Investment in Culture Survey. Anecdotal evidence from ABO members suggests it has continued to fall.

Public investment remains crucial to the survival of British orchestras. In 2016 this provided 34% of our members’ income. The most significant changes in public funding since 2013 were a 7% drop in Arts Council and national government funding and an 11% cut in local authority funding.

Orchestras in many parts of the world, from continental Europe to China and the Far East, are heavily dependent on government funding for up to 80% of their income. This puts them at a huge competitive advantage, able to secure touring engagements for example at a cheaper rate than British orchestras, who have to charge a commercial fee and for whom there is no public funding available for international tours (except in Scotland). Such high levels of public subsidy also minimise risk and provide secure employment for their musicians.

In the USA, contrary to myth some public funding is provided to orchestras and concert halls through their local city authorities and the National Endowment for the Arts, but at significantly lower levels than in the UK. They are however heavily reliant on support from donors and on income from endowments, in some cases at upwards of 80% of their income. This creates risk, as evidenced after the global financial crisis of 2008, when American orchestras saw both significant reductions in their contributed income and in the value of their endowments, leading to pay cuts for musicians, strikes and lock-outs, and in some cases bankruptcy.

The ‘mixed economy’ model has served British orchestras well. Public investment provides the foundation on which they can build their earning potential and provide an attractive proposition for donors and supporters. But with cuts in public investment since 2010 reaching over 30%, the orchestral business model is under severe strain.

The ABO is grateful that the need for additional public investment was recognised by HM Treasury with the announcement of Orchestra Tax Relief in 2014, implemented from April 2016.


The Association of British Orchestras is the national body representing the collective interest of professional orchestra, youth ensembles and the wider classical music industry throughout the UK. Its mission is to enable and support an innovative, collaborative and sustainable orchestral sector, and it exists to provide advice, support, intelligence and information to the people who make British orchestras a global success.

In March 2018 the ABO will celebrate its 70th anniversary. Founded as the Orchestral Employers’ Association, primarily to negotiate with the Musicians’ Union and other bodies on behalf of its membership, it changed its name in 1973 to the Association of British Orchestras. The ABO continues to negotiate the ABO/MU Freelance Orchestral Agreement and represents its membership in discussions and negotiations with various national and international organisations in the UK and Europe.

The past decades have seen a substantial development in the organisation in terms of its size, to over 175 organisations in membership today, and its role, which has expanded to include a diverse range of activities designed to support the development of the UK’s orchestral life. In 2010 it created a new category of membership for youth orchestras following the decision of the National Association of Youth Orchestras to cease activities.

The ABO now has an extensive programme of events from Specialist Managers Meetings to Courses and Seminars and its popular Annual Conference, the biggest classical music conference in the UK, which draws delegates from as far afield as the USA, Brazil and Japan.

In past years, the ABO has developed a role as co-ordinator of various national projects, including major initiatives involving the participation of its members. As a champion of the education and community work of the UK’s orchestras, one of the ABO’s key objectives has been the support and development of this core area of work. A series of nationally co-ordinated education projects over the past years has resulted in a well-established Orchestras in Education programme, which exists to promote the education work of member orchestras and to develop the relationship between schools, teachers and orchestral players.

The ABO has also mounted a number of research initiatives, with a series of important industry reports being produced, such as regular statistical surveys of the UK’s orchestras, and highly influential reports on environmental sustainability and noise damage to musicians.

The ABO campaigns on behalf of its members and talks directly to national governments and at European level to ensure that cultural policy, funding and regulations work in the best interests of its members. Its most recent triumphs include securing repeal of the Social Security (Categorisation of Earners) Regulations in relation to Entertainers in 2014, and working with the Treasury on implementation of Orchestra Tax Relief from 2016, generating a new source of government funding for its members.

The ABO presents a number of awards each year. These include the ABO Award, presented to the individual or institution considered by the membership to have made the most important contribution to the orchestral life of the UK; ABO/Rhinegold Awards for Orchestra Manager, Concert Hall Manager and Artist Manager of the Year; and the Salomon Prize, awarded annually by the Royal Philharmonic Society and the ABO to recognise the extraordinary contribution made by individual orchestral players in the UK.


The ABO’s membership embraces not only professional orchestras and national and local youth ensembles, but also venues, festivals, broadcasters, funding agencies and other organisations with an interest in maintaining a vibrant orchestral sector in the UK. At its core are its Full Members, the professional orchestras, who are defined by their commitment to providing a professional rate of pay to their musicians and to having permanent management staff. These include the BBC orchestras, symphony orchestras, chamber orchestras, and the orchestras of the opera and ballet companies.


The Full members elect the ABO board each year to work with the ABO team on delivering its strategic objectives. The eight orchestra representatives elect the ABO Chair from among their number, and are supported by four co-opted board members who bring additional skills and expertise to the board.

The board delegates executive delivery of its strategic plan to the Director and his small team. The ABO runs off limited resources and punches above its weight to deliver the best possible service to its members and raise the profile of British orchestras to key stakeholders and the general public.