30 March 2023

Classical Music: funding and support - Parliamentary debate


Message from the composer James MacMillan:

An Adjournment Debate has been scheduled today [29 March] for Parliament on funding and support for classical music. I was asked for a quote by BASCA [the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors]:

“The damage being done to classical music by people who should know better – at the BBC and the Arts Council – could impact disastrously on the musical culture of this country in the coming years. Musicians have been nurtured by these organisations over the years and the UK has earned an enviable international reputation for its music as a result. To see these erstwhile allies of culture now turn on us for short term mean-mindedness or ideological prejudice is a body blow for British music. Those responsible need to step back and reassess why they have had any involvement in music and culture in their lives. Let them see the bigger picture – British music is a success story. Please don’t ruin it.”

Here’s a link to the debate:


18 March 2023

BBC music cuts: responses consolidated

Here’s a link to a collection of the various objections to the BBC music cuts:


In addition, the composer John Adams has written:

‘As an American conductor and composer my admiration for British musical culture knows no bounds. For all my life the BBC has been the go-to access for its phenomenal orchestras and choruses, its commitment to opera and new music ensembles and for providing a platform for generations of brilliant and imaginative composers. But now we Americans hear only the worst stories coming from the UK, as if the country is on a determined self-destruct freefall. The BBC now apparently wants to join the march to the bottom by cutting its invaluable institutions. Like the crazed character in the movie The Banshees of Inisherin, it is determined to lop off its own fingers, one by one. I am honored to add my name to this list of composers to ask the BBC to come to its senses and cease trashing the best thing it possesses.’

John Adams, 14 March 2023

11 March 2023

BBC music cuts: interesting comment on Slipped Disc

There was once a culture of Directors General and heads of departments being members of the company that ascended through the ranks. By the time they reached the top, they had learned the value of the entire organization and would seek to further its excellence. This is no more.

Davie, Webb, Moore, et al are suits who have been hired for one reason and one reason only: they’re really really good at filling balance sheets. No appreciation for the cultural importance of the BBC, they simply exist to fill a spreadsheet and log expenses and revenue. They’re simply machines designed to make the automatic cuts that justify maintaining their outrageous ExCo salaries whilst the workers underneath them max out at 20-40k a year.

It’s a crime against humanity that these ensembles are being hacked to the bone but still expected to deliver top quality results. It’s a crime against humanity that the BBC Concert Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra will be merged under one management, whilst being expected to maintain the current output of vastly differing repertoire. It’s a crime against humanity that workforces within the BBC are being forced into voluntary redundancy and their positions are being closed, yet the workload doesn’t get thinner. And it’s especially a crime against humanity that Simon Webb will not be getting a pay cut for his now dwindling responsibilities, he may even get to keep the 'choirs' part of his title despite the BBC Singers being gone.

And what was the response to this? A strongly worded letter? From conductors who hold either chief or principal guest positions elsewhere and will have no issue maintaining active diaries in the wake of this loss?

Or how about a protest in front of Broadcasting House? Surely we don’t really expect Simon Webb and Tim Davie to actually be present in their offices when these protests might occur. Do we really think that this will change their minds?

I hear that change.org petition is gaining traction, but do you really think Webb, Moore, Davie et al will be bothered by it? They have no humanity, they don’t care. They get their salaries and piss off to the Bahamas periodically during the winter on private jets.

Nothing that is currently being done about this will have any real impact. I would expect that the conductors in that letter have some kind of moral high ground and choose to boycott the Proms. Would any of the guest orchestras from outside the UK do the same in solidarity? How about whichever famous soloist they line up for the Last Night?

Furthermore, how come there doesn’t seem to be any solidarity on the part of non-music BBC branches? We don’t hear a peep from the newscasters, the producers, the artists affiliated with the BBC’s mass output of television series. Would the stars of the new Dr Who series care to speak out? Maybe they can hold off on airing the 60th anniversary special until Webb gets his head back on right and undoes this damage?

09 March 2023

Proposed BBC music cuts

The letter below was delivered last night to Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general. The signatories are the BBC’s leading conductors:

To Tim Davie, Charlotte Moore, Lorna Clarke and Simon Webb:
We, the undersigned, read with disbelief Tuesday’s press release outlining the BBC’s plans to disband the BBC Singers and instigate 20% cuts across the English BBC orchestras.

The worldwide renown of the BBC Singers – the UK’s only full-time, professional choir – has been built over 99 years of groundbreaking, innovative work. To kill it off takes no time at all, but the ramifications of such short-sightedness are incalculable. This decision, if carried out, will be devastating not just to the choir’s present, uniquely-skilled members, but also to future generations of singers. And even a quick glance at the list of world premieres given by the group begs the question – for which professional choir will our composers now compose? Wherever culture is taken seriously the BBC Singers are regarded as exemplars of what dedication, versatility and slowly-built foundations can achieve. To be willing to consign all this to the dustheap in favour of greater 'agility' and 'flexibility' displays a shocking disregard not only of how artistic excellence takes root but, furthermore, how the BBC’s great legacy across the arts is viewed and envied around the world.

Rewarding the outstanding work of our orchestras with bit-by-bit erosion is equally calamitous. Aside from the jargon, to claim that by cutting jobs you are somehow 'reinforcing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s unique orchestras' is nonsensical. And what is the use of 'doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives' if at the same time you reduce the number of secure jobs available? Telling our best young instrumentalists that hard graft will gain them only freelance scraps is to misunderstand both their aspirations as well as the nature of a top-class symphony orchestra. The latter can only produce its best work in a stable environment – an environment forged by mutual understanding and a shared vision. To perform the widest repertoire to the highest standard cannot be achieved otherwise. And so we beg you to reconsider making these irreversible, catastrophically damaging cuts.

Excellence must be fought for, and lovers of classical music must be prepared to fight with fierce determination for what they hold dear. Hence we would greatly welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposed plans in person and to enter into a real and genuine dialogue. Together, as guardians of the BBC’s legacy, we can surely forge a path forward – a path which secures the ability of the BBC’s
ensembles to deliver excellence for our present and future audiences. This is no less than they expect and deserve.

Ryan Bancroft – Principal Conductor, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jules Buckley – Creative Artist in Residence, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov – G√ľnter Wand Conducting Chair, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alpesh Chauhan OBE – Associate Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Bob Chilcott – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Singers
Sofi Jeannin – Chief Conductor, BBC Singers
Anna Lapwood – Artist in Association, BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo OBE – Chief Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra (pictured)
Dalia Stasevska – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Ryan Wigglesworth – Chief Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra