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The disaster surrounding the eastern orchestras only intensifies. A reconstruction

A damning report by organisational consultancy Berenschot, the voluntary or involuntary departure of director Harm Mannak, repeated bickering in the States Assembly and gasping reports about high salaries for directors and artistic directors, all the way to the national newspapers. It marks the chaos at HET Symfonieorkest and the lack of any kind of direction, not only in the orchestra itself, but also in local and provincial politics. The new interim director has little more than a week to submit a new plan to the province, and must fear many corpses in the closet.

'It's the politicians' move now,' concludes Harm Mannak on his departure, not for the first time. 'No extra money,' VVD immediately responds and even CDA, according to many insiders co-inventor of the ambitious original business plan, is increasingly pulling its hands away from HET Symfonieorkest. However, concrete decisions have not yet been taken. Both province and municipality are talking this week about the Berenschot report and the future of the Overijssel orchestra, the province first purely in a committee, probably not Staten-wide until next year.

That sounds reassuring: politicians take their time to reach a well-considered decision, but local, provincial and national politicians could and should have seen all the problems coming much earlier. In doing so, HET Symfonieorkest now has anything but time: the budget for 2016 is not finalised, a new grant application must be submitted to the state early next year, and the province even wants a new business plan by 1 December 2015. Meanwhile, unpaid bills are piling up and crucial questions are still not being asked.

Back in April this year, we published a reconstruction of how it could have come to this. After that, developments followed in rapid succession. Therefore a reconstruction, part 2.

April 2015: fewer concerts, extra money needed

THE Symphony Orchestra deletes concerts in Deventer and Zwolle and reports in a fire letter to the province that it needs extra money, otherwise even the "highly successful education projects" will come under pressure.

MP Jacques Monasch immediately shoots in the pen and reports that he is having culture minister Bussemaker summoned to the House. For her part, that minister was reportedly not too happy with his drumbeat coupled with some very guiding questionsafter which Monasch decided to submit the questions in writing. Calling the House proved unnecessary anyway, as Bussemaker was due to appear in the House that day anyway.

State member Van Abbema should at the same time w substantive questions submitted to Gedeputeerde Staten Overijssel.

End of April 2015: HET Symphony Orchestra makes itself invisible

THE Symphony Orchestra is closing its old accounts and opening a new twitter account: @uworkest. Indeed, @symfonieorkest has been in use by the Symphony Orchestra of Flanders for years. That the many name changes the orchestra alongside many court cases have done no good, at least on social media, is becoming painfully clear. Not only does confusion arise with great regularity, as NPO4 reports news of HET Symfonieorkest referring to the orchestra in Flanders, visitors also lose their way.

At the time of writing, @uworkest has 75 followers while it follows 97 accounts. By comparison, merger orchestra Philharmonie Zuid-Nederland @philzuid is followed by more than 900 people; the Noord Nederlands Orkest @hetNNOnu by more than 3,000.

End of April 2015: Bussemaker gives incorrect figures, Monasch does nothing

Minister Bussemaker answers Monasch's questions nicely. Core of her answers: things are actually going tremendously well with HET Symfonieorkest. But: she invokes incorrect figures supplied by its officials. Monasch, despite being pointed out by several parties, is content with it.

HET Symphony Orchestra obviously welcomes the minister's responses, and Tubantia, the region's main newspaper immediately takes the positive news. No one bothers to look for the real figures. Which, however, make it painfully clear that bankruptcy is imminent.

May 2015: still in Zwolle and Deventer, disastrous financial statements

THE Symphony Orchestra makes well-known to perform in Deventer and Zwolle after all. But not in the theatres that have to adjust their annual brochures at the last minute, but in the hall of a school and a church. The theatre directors in Deventer and Zwolle are of course not amused.

Meanwhile, the new financial statements show that the orchestra is actually bankrupt is. And the new concert format is priced so cheaply that it is impossible to earn anything there. It seems to be mainly anticipating criticism from the province, because why invest a lot in a regional orchestra that can hardly be seen in the region outside its home base Enschede? Concert series in Hengelo were cancelled years earlier.

May 2015: Arnhem smells opportunities

As the problems at its northern neighbours grow worse and worse, Arnhem decides to do more than a mere renovation of Musis Sacrum concert hall; there will be a new large hall for Het Gelders Orkest. The municipality of Arnhem invests 13.5 million, the province of Gelderland 6.5. This gives the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra a decisive lead over its colleagues in Enschede. Precisely at that time, the two are touring together throughout the Netherlands for an everywhere with 5 stars acclaimed production by the Netherlands Travel Opera.

Director George Wiegel of The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra also unexpectedly announces his departure and is going to leave the Rotterdam Philharmonic lead. His successor will be announced on only 6 October: the relatively inexperienced Wiebren Buma.

July 1, 2015: Hester Maij hides behind Bussemaker

The response from the Provincial Council to Van Abbema's questions shows that the eight million in provincial aid is evaporated is without achieving anything. In a heated States meeting that followed, in which Hester Maij in particular was put under fire, she hid behind Minister Bussemaker's answers in the House. Because is something going horribly wrong? On the contrary.

"This is also recognised in Minister Bussemaker's answers in the House, who, as the primary grantmaker, is also supposed to judge HET Symphony Orchestra." 

When asked about a possible merger with the Gelderland Orchestra, she then mockingly remarks:

"These have no leadership and no conductor either, but that's not a problem."

It is decided that the Provincial Council will keep its finger on the pulse, and that Maij will provide Provincial Councils with information 'when something is really going on'. When exactly that will be is not formulated. Meanwhile, PVV member Mulder consistently makes extremely condescending remarks about, in his words, 'the failure orchestra', thereby insulting dozens of musicians.

All in all, relief for the orchestra, but soon the orchestra itself has to sound the alarm.

July 20, 2015: fire letter from management HET Synfonieorkest

THE Symphony Orchestra sends letter to province. Core: we can no balanced budget make for 2016, the money has run out. The province panics, and agency Berenschot is asked to conduct an independent investigation into HET Symfonieorkest's original and new plans. Questions are also raised in the Enschede council, but the responsible culture alderman Jeroen Hatenboer says he still has every confidence in the orchestra.

We requested the orchestra's fire letter, but Maij's spokesperson is still investigating exactly what form our request for information should take.

30 August: We are the champions and a new main sponsor

On one of the hottest days of the year, HET Symfonieorkest will perform on the lawn at Landgoedhotel De Wilmersberg. Director Harm Mannak proudly announces he has signed a multi-year contract with a new main sponsor. Amounts are not mentioned, but 'We are the champions' is played, enthusiastically shared by Tubantia.

September 7, 2015: choosing at the gas station: a coffee maker or THE Symphony Orchestra

In a booming press release, the orchestra reports a lucrative contract with Avia's pump owners. Instead of saving for rocks or a coffee machine, you save for HET Symphony Orchestra every time you fill up the tank. For every 100 points, Avia then transfers €2 to HET. Club savings, fine action.

Although? If 1,000 motorists join in who consume an average of 1,000 litres of petrol a year and always fill up at Avia, that's 1 million litres for THE Symphony Orchestra. Not every Avia pump owner gives the same number of points per litre, but on average it is 0.3 points per litre. The whole action then earns the orchestra €6000, but half that amount is more realistic, because hardly anyone will always fill up at Avia. €3000, in other words. A tip when you consider that HET Symfonieorkest also advertises for Avia.

The club savings campaign was actually not conceived for BIS institutions in need of money either, but for the playground association with a broken swing, or the local football club that wants to provide the F' jes with new shirts.

Not much later, the orchestra also announced in the local super to act, in an attempt to create goodwill above all, not least among politicians.

September 28: Gelderland wants to allocate millions again for its own orchestra

Gelderland picks up. After the Gelderland Orchestra already had a investment incentive of 5 million, the province is proposing to put another 5 million into Het Gelders, with the aim of making the orchestra stand on its own two feet. So again, buying off the subsidy dependence, with the aim of an entrepreneurial orchestra company, so that they can "continue without structural provincial support after 2016".

The Gelderland Orchestra, unless something crazy happens at the November budget meeting, is saved.

4 November 2015: director Harm Mannak steps down voluntarily but stays on

Director Harm Mannak announces voluntary step up as director of HET Symfonieorkest. In his farewell letter, he acknowledges that he may have made mistakes, but mostly emphasises what has come to fruition and that after 12 years it is time for new leadership. Until a successor is found, he will stay on, as will the Supervisory Board.

5 November 2015: scathing Berenschot report, predictable reactions politically

A day later, it turns out that 'voluntary departure' is hardly involved. Berenschot leaves nothing out of the business plan for which Overijssel province allocated eight million. The new plan is also flawed. The millions invested have not only run out, but have only resulted in bigger losses. Even Tubantia cannot help but write critically and a day later responds CDA Overijssel: the province should go all out to keep an orchestra within the provincial borders.

The municipality Enschede responds similarly. Both suggest that HET Symfonieorkest should work more closely with the Nederlandse Reisopera, after all also based in Enschede, but forget to mention that the Reisopera receives no subsidy from the municipality or province and is a national cultural institution that gives more than three-quarters of its performances outside the province.

Meanwhile, the Tubantia truly awake and the owners mindful, the newspaper comes right out with an additionally 'tendentious, unsubtle and needlessly offensive'-poll. With, of course, the predictable gut-fuelled reactions.

8 November 2015: a new sponsor!

In a curious leap, HET Symfonieorkest again announces it has found a new main sponsor. It appears to be the same news as from 30 August, but Tubantia has slept in again, bringing it old news like the orchestra itself big. The externally hired communications agency, hired for the umpteenth time, glows with pride.

November 11: Overijssel state assembly derails again

As before the summer recess, the State Assembly runs completely into the ground without anything being decided. The Berenschot report is not on the agenda, an attempt by PVV member Mulder to still do so runs aground on a faulty printer and is therefore voted down orally.

When he wants to discuss the report a little later by the salaries of director Mannak and the artistic direction, Ank Bijleveld, commissioner of the King and chairman of the Provincial Council, reacted piqued, calling Mulder's remarks "out of order". There, she is formally right, but of course the newspapers take over this very thing, without any enquiry. Chairman of the Supervisory Board, Henk Kesler, breaking years of silence and looking away, first reacted furiously and then gave several newspapers explanation on salaries. Incidentally, without giving real answers. To RTV Oost, Kesler tells the PVV the image of THE Symphony Orchestra damages.

November 11: Gelderland ignores all warnings and seals fate HET

Much more importantly, the additional millions for The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra are being discussed at the same time in Arnhem. There, widespread appreciation for the orchestra, comparable to all the praise for HET Symfonieorkest in many meetings in Overijssel. Gelderland then steps in trap causing major problems in Overijssel. A reading of the documents provided shows The Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra is selling the exact same story.

"In 2014, further steps were taken to prepare the organisation for regular fundraising and raising major gifts. Whereas in 2013 the market for private contributions in particular was explored, in 2014 a start was made in actively working the market. In spring 2014, two fundraisers (together 0.9 FTE) were recruited to strengthen the team."


"In 2014, two meetings were held with a group of influential Gelderlanders to spar on an effective strategy for acquiring major gifts. This has not yet produced any concrete results, but has created new insights and opportunities that can be exploited in the near future."

The problems of HET Symfonieorkest are not mentioned once, nor does anyone raise a question about to what extent the intended goals of Het Gelders Orkest are realistic. After the SP threatens a motion to offer cheaper tickets as well, the million-dollar grant is passed.

This means that the Arnhem Philharmonic Orchestra will not only have access to a new, larger home hall, but will also be able to continue on the same path for the next five years. This makes HET Symfonieorkest's negotiating position extremely weak in the event of any far-reaching cooperation.

Overijssel is left with nothing but to set all its sights on its own province and its own orchestra. And then we need to come clean quickly.

20 November: Mannak nevertheless steps down immediately, followed by the entire Supervisory Board in March 2016

Formally, the Supervisory Board reports making the positions available on 1 March, but that is colourful language to disguise the fact that if HET Symfonieorkest wants to have any chance of getting even a little money from the province, all directors must leave. The municipality of Enschede does not have the resources to do so.

As interim director Bart van Meijl appointed, in addition to being business director of the Nieuwe Philharmonie Utrecht (a small and regional orchestra that is not part of the BIS), also general manager of a tax consultancy/accountancy firm and, as treasurer, a member of the CDA executive committee.

How next?

On that, the Enschede municipality will meet first (Monday) and then a committee of the province. But no decisions will be made then. What is already clear is that both municipality and province are pushing for further cooperation with Het Gelders Orkest and the Nederlandse Reisopera. That sounds logical, but is now a passed station and certainly not feasible before the financial chaos left behind by Mannak and HET Symfonieorkest's Supervisory Board is clearly mapped out.

But that could take months as there are many questions, not least about any commitments the orchestra has made to Harm Mannak's management company, let alone all the other bv's. Months that the Enschede orchestra does not have, however.

More on possible solutions and report on the municipal and provincial meetings in the coming days. On the positive side, the Works Council, for years either uncritically following along or silenced, now does seem to be given an important role. That HET Symfonieorkest will have to adjust its ambitions downwards is certain; it is to be hoped that it is not only the musicians who will be the victims. After all, new beginnings also offer opportunities.



Henri Drost

Henri Drost (1970) studied Dutch and American Studies in Utrecht. Sold CDs and books for years, then became a communications consultant. Writes for among others GPD magazines, Metro, LOS!, De Roskam, 8weekly, Mania, hetiskoers and Cultureel Persbureau/De Dodo about everything, but if possible about music (theatre) and sports. Other specialisms: figures, the United States and healthcare. Listens to Waits and Webern, Wagner and Dylan and pretty much everything in between.View Author posts

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