Bleedin' trumpet players, I dunno..... THE American conductor of the Royal Liverpool Phil- harmonic Orchestra returns from holiday today to face what amounts to a vote of no confidence from his orchestra. At a meeting of the musicians while he was away, more than half objected to Gerard Schwarz’s five-year contract being extended beyond 2006: of the 64 contract musicians eligible to vote, as many as 45 voted against and three abstained. The ball is now in the board’s court: one of the musicians claimed that the meeting had been instigated by the board, who were “trying to oust” Schwarz. “Normally the management don’t consult us on the renewal of contracts,” he said. “We were surprised we were asked.” Discontent with the conductor surfaced soon after Schwarz, music director of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra for 19 years, was appointed in 2001. He was hailed as a breath of fresh air and a marked contrast to his predecessor, Petr Altrichter, the Prague-born conductor. His skills as a communicator were thought to be vital at a time when the orchestra was trying to shake off a legacy of debt and attract new audiences. The conductor, who likes to be called Gerry, used his natural charm to good effect with sponsors and music lovers. However, Malcolm Stewart, 48, the orchestra leader, left after what was described as a “furious bust-up” with the 57-year-old conductor. There have also been mutterings of discontent that Schwarz, who remains conductor of the Seattle orchestra, has been reproducing his American repertoire in Liverpool, reducing the orchestra’s role to that of a “back-up band”. The musicians complain that they have too often performed to a 1,600-seat hall less than half full. They blame low audience figures at many of their concerts on programme planning and repertoire choice. One insider said yesterday: “With Schwarz we thought he’d be a great new hope, but the honeymoon with the orchestra is over. What they need to be doing is safe, audience-friendly programmes that put bums on seats. He’s done a lot of obscure classics, a lot of unknown repertoire which hasn’t particularly filled the house.” The musicians, whose salaries range from £20,000 to £29,000, are concerned about dwindling revenues when the orchestra is still struggling financially. Their “basic gripe” is over Schwarz’s policy of repeat performances. They have complained to management that the policy of performing sometimes obscure works twice in the same week is driving audiences away. One musician said: “There is an element of confusion for the audience because they obviously do not want to come to hear the orchestra play the same music twice over.” Schwarz, who is flying back from Seattle today, is due to conduct Shostakovich’s Symphony No 5 on Sunday. The atmosphere in the Art Deco splendour of the Philharmonic Hall will be charged with tension as he picks up his baton. The crisis of confidence could not have come at a worse time: the RLPO, along with every other arts organisation in Liverpool, is working towards the city’s celebratory period as European Capital of Culture year in 2008. One insider said: “The prospect of a conductor that everybody knows the musicians do not want taking the orchestra into 2008 is a huge embarrassment.” Another said: “We’re concerned with where we’re going in the future. At the moment we don’t seem to be going anywhere.” The musicians were at pains to say that the management had approached them for their views. “We have not been putting together a death list or anything like that,” one said. “This has been led by the management. They’re trying to oust him. The meeting of the orchestra was at the request of the board who wanted to know what the orchestra felt.” Michael Elliott, the RLPO’s chief executive, vigorously denied any such move. He insisted that the meeting was part of a routine mid-term review that had been written into Mr Schwarz’s contract. The board would now consider the various views. The crisis comes four years after Arts Council England gave the orchestra a £5.4 million stabilisation grant. About £3 million was to cover debts accumulated during a refurbishment of the Philharmonic Hall. Although one observer said that the orchestra “is not out of the doldrums over funding” and that there were fears of a cull among the horn section, Mr Elliott said that a reduction in staffing had already played a part in ensuring the orchestra’s financial recovery. “We are always reviewing standards within the orchestra,” he said. “There is not any culling going on.” He said that ticket sales were continuing to rise, with about 100,000 attendances a year and an average capacity of about 70 per cent. But he acknowledged that some of the concerts have played to only a few hundred people. Schwarz could not be contacted for comment yesterday. His manager confirmed that he was travelling from Seattle and declined to comment on his behalf.