Orchestral harmony in marriage

5th May 2000 at 01:00
The immensely popular Children's Classic Concerts are set for a major boost as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra steps in to lend a hand. Christopher Lambton reports

The future artistic direction of Children's Classic Concerts hangs in the balance as the organisation embarks on a unique co-promotion with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for the new autumn season this year.

Final agreement has yet to be reached but it is expected that the core season of nine Children's Classic Concerts (five in Glasgow, three in Edinburgh, and one in Aberdeen) will be jointly promoted by the two organisations.

The collaboration with the RSNO will offer Children's Classic Concerts a "breathing space", according to administrator Terry Hodgkins, following the recent departure not only of her predecessor Louise Naftalin but also of the flamboyant artistic director Atarah Ben-Tovim.

Children's Classic Concerts started in Glasgow in 1994 and has been hugely successful by any standards. Massive numbers of children and adults have been attracted over and over again to the simple concerts in which a large symphony orchestra (normally the RSNO or the Scottish Opera Orchestra) plays up to 15 short pieces of music.

Concerts in Scotland soon expanded to include Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Last year the formula was successfully exported to Birmingham and even to London.

Financially, Children's Classic Concerts have always broken even every year apart from the first.

Earlier this season Simon Crookall, chief executive of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, approached Children's Classic Concerts with a view to amalgamation.

Given the relative size of the two organisations, Louise Naftalin thought "the possibility had to be explored - it couldn't simply be dismissed", and she began negotiations.

By coincidence this was shortly before she decided to leave Glasgow for prsonal reasons and go to London, whereupon she handed over negotiations to her successor in the job, Terry Hodgkins.

Atarah Ben-Tovim took the opportunity to resign from the Scottish operation at the same time.

Having been part of Children's Classic Concerts from the beginning, she feels that "Scotland has its limitations, you can do a great deal there but without it being noticed anywhere else.

"I have tried to make every concert distinctly different which requires a huge amount of energy."

However, she does not intend to leave the growing market for children's concerts. Ben-Tovim's future plans include collaborations with Naftalin on developing the English and Welsh portfolio of Children's Classic Concerts, effectively starting again with what they did in Scotland six years ago.

The departure of its key planners left the Scottish operation of Children's Classic Concerts rather at a loss.

Ben-Tovim used to provide the themes and programme for each concert down to the nearest bar of music.

The RSNO's timely interest has been welcomed even if the marriage may bring its fair share of problems.

Paul Rissmann, the RSNO's education officer, already runs a great many concerts for children as well as workshops on music appreciation and instruction for teachers and adults and will probably have difficulty finding any time for more such projects under a new joint operation with Children's Classic Concerts.

His own highly focused and interactive approach to making music for children is markedly different from the easy listening approach which is favoured by Children's Classic Concerts and could lead to differing views.

Another area of possible discomfort is the loss of revenue to other orchestras, such as Scottish Opera's, whose regular use by Children's Classic Concerts has been a modest but trouble-free source of income in the past.

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