New Zealand's Ministry for Culture and Heritage has launched a review of the country's professional orchestras, and has released a discussion paper inviting feedback on possible scenarios for the future of the sector.

The review concerns the national orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (NZSO), and the country's four major regional orchestras, the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, the Vector Wellington Orchestra, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, and the Southern Sinfonia in Dunedin.

The ministry said that the orchestral sector needs to respond to a number of factors: audiences are declining (the total audience for live concerts fell from 645,756 in 2007 to 434,811 in 2010); the population has become increasingly concentrated in urban centres in the north of the country; and financial pressures are growing, with the paper describing the prospects of any sustained increase in central government funding (currently NZD$17.1m) as 'extremely unlikely'.

The paper outlines several scenarios for the orchestras, addressing such issues as funding strategies, management structures, and how the orchestras meet the needs of their local and regional communities. Under one of these scenarios, the 'City and Community Orchestra Network' model, there would be no government-owned, national touring orchestra, meaning that the NZSO could become independent.

Responding to media speculation that the NZSO could be in danger of being scrapped, Christopher Finlayson, the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, said: 'The NZSO is a world-class institution and has a fundamental role to play in the future of the orchestral sector. Any suggestion that the NZSO is in any way under threat is utterly without foundation and is laughable.'

Submissions in response to the discussion paper can be made until 20 August.