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 – Günter 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

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