UK: Profile - Clive Gillinson, director of the London Symphony Orchestra. (1 of 3)

UK: Profile - Clive Gillinson, director of the London Symphony Orchestra. (1 of 3) -

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Name: Clive Gillinson.

1946: Born in Bangalore. Father an officer in the Indian Army, mother

a cellist.

1950: Returns to England after a spell in Kenya where his father had

farmed until the Mau Mau crisis.

1964: Goes to London University to study maths, but leaves to study

cello at the Royal Academy of Music.

1970: Joins London Symphony Orchestra cello section.

1976: Serves for three years as LSO board member, latterly finance


1982: LSO moves to Barbican. Financial problems emerge.

1985: Offered and accepts five-year contract as managing director.

1987: LSO back in the black, a year ahead of the date projected by

the Arts Council.

1991: LSO to replace the distinguished Berlin Philharmonic at

Saltzburg's Whitsun Festival.

Clive Gillinson, managing director of the London Symphony Orchestra, spent 15 years in the orchestra's string section before trading in his cellow for a desk five years ago. There is no comparison, says Gillinson. Business is infinitely more creative.

If that seems a paradox, he suggests, one must simply consider what it is that the rank-and-file orchestral player does. Of course there are moments of intense excitement and emotion, perhaps some of the greatest experiences of your life, but the job is not an individually creative one. You are making music to fulfil somebody else's vision - the conductor's - not your own.

For Gillinson at least, business (providing a platform for the great artists, working out concert programmes with them, juggling incessantly so that the musicians can divide their time between concert hall and recording and film studios) is creative in precisely the way that orchestral life is not. "This is the most exciting, fulfilling, visionary thing I've ever done in my life," he says.

A decade ago such thoughts would have been unimaginable, but then a decade ago neither Gillinson nor the other 80 or so musicians who make up the self-governing LSO knew what was about to hit them - a financial tidal wave which put the orchestra £500,000 in debt and nearly killed it off completely.

The LSO was in its heyday during the 1970s, when Andre Previn was principal conductor. Despite the snobbish sniping at Previn's Hollywood background and his attempt to popularise classical music (he was one of the first to get mass television audiences for the classics), it is generally recognised that the orchestral playing of the period was of a very high order, and because there were far fewer concerts in those days most of them sold well.

The LSO's administrators had tended to adopt the "If it ain't broke don't fix it" approach to management and everything bumbled along quite happily ... and profitably. "There was just a gentle view", says Gillinson, "that everything was fine and the thing would just flow."

That view seems incredibly naive now, yet it is a fact that even as it moved into what was to become its permanent home in the Barbican in 1982, nobody in the LSO appears to have realised that fundamental changes were underway.

"If you're going to go into a totally new trading situation," says Gillinson, "in any company, let alone an artistic one, you've got to analyse the market you're moving into. It was a totally different operation. It was a new venue that nobody knew anything about. Nobody knew how the audience was going to transfer. There were endless questions to be asked and, in a funny way, none of these issues were addressed rigorously."

Add to that the fact that there had probably been a deterioration in the quality of playing, and what Gillinson diplomatically calls a "dilution of ideals" (in other words, the orchestra was agreeing to play with second-rate artists, provided that they brought sponsorship money with them), and disaster was a racing certainty.

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