Is this really a BBC orchestra? High on drugs? (update)

Is this really a BBC orchestra? High on drugs? (update)


norman lebrecht

September 07, 2011

An article in, which purports to be ‘America’s Only Humor Site Since 1958’ (anyone see any .coms around in 1958?) enumerates ‘5 Bizarre Dark Sides to Modern Orchestras’.

Oh, yeah….

Its picture below, credited to the Getty agency, purports to show members of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra high on performance-enhancing drugs.

Is that really so? Do we believe these are orchestral players after a concert? Anyone recognise them? Is this really the home-loving BBC Phil? Did get that information from a Getty caption. If it did, the BBC lawyers should be getting onto Getty’s long tail without a moment’s delay.


LATER: I have searched the Getty website and cannot find the image. If it’s not Getty, maybe it’s not the BBC Phil. The plot thickens.


LATER STILL: I am officially informed by the BBC Philharmonic that these are not their players. Nobody has identified them as classical musicians at all. Lawyers are making the appropriate noises to Getty and I hope to update with further information.



  • Manchester Musician says:

    The image is here:

    Absolutely nothing to suggest it’s the BBC Philharmonic, and even if it was, nothing to suggest they aren’t just having an innocent night of bad dancing. The article on is completely insulting.

  • Steven Burnard says:

    I can confirm that this is indeed not a picture of BBC Philharmonic members, being a member myself. In my view just a bit of fun, however our management might think otherwise.

  • People can be pretty ignorant, but I wonder how many thought the photo is real. Given the generally stodgy image orchestras suffer from, and the resulting decline in attendance, the obviously ironic humor of the photo might actually provide a bit of a boost. In any case, I doubt it would be in the BBCSO’s interest to react in a thin-skinned manner.

    • And by the way, regarding the sexism addressed in the article, the BBCSO can breathe easy. At 50%, it has the highest ratio of women members of any major orchestra in the world. Bravo to them.

  • Huw Belling says:

    Completely orchestrated.

  • Chris Johnson says:

    I can’t believe people are giving this silly article this much attention. It is internet garbage and should be treated as such. However, the comparison of musicians and beta blockers to atheletes and steroids does point to something interesting. Althuogh, I suppose you can’t compare some of the recent American baseball scandal’s involving overpaid athletes to hardworkig musicians in search of a decent job…

  • Robbie Ellis says:

    You got outraged at something on Cracked. Hmm, I think you’ve never read an article on there before… even from the tone of this one article, couldn’t you have surmised that the caption might have been taking the piss? (As the site’s tagline is… do you think that Cracked seriously purports to have been founded in 1958?)

    If the clubbers in the picture had really been BBC Phil members, the author would have linked to a source to back it up, just like she did with the little-known aspects of orchestral playing such as drug use, injuries, sexism and poor working conditions.

    Some classical commentators get their backs up at every minor borax-poking as if it were mortal desecration to the art form. If we keep seeing ourselves as guardians of the classical music tradition, we’ll continue to guard against new people coming in.

    • I guess I was hoaxed, Robbie.Still, an estimated half a million people read that post, and most of them will have taken a way a subliminal impression at least that drug use is rife at BBC orchestras. I though it was worth quashing that.

      • If you want to quash that impression, you might have a few hundred thousand readers to go. It’s good to see over 600,000 young people reading about orchestras. Anyway, the article provided stats about the use of beta-blockers by musicians to quell nervousness (though I don’t think it’s a major problem.) Even with the joking photo, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to say the article leaves the impression that general drug use in orchestras is rife. The article also mentions the use of alcohol, and I wish this had been stressed more. Many orchestras have significant problems with alcoholism, especially in Germany – and Britain is no exception. It would be good if this problem were examined more closely.

        • julian gregory says:

          william- just to put your mind at rest, orchestral jobs in Britain are fiercely competitive. Yes, there was a time when you could get away with alcohol-dulled performance onstage. These days it’s likely to result in a P45.
          I notice that the BBC Phil mysteriously transformed into the BBCSO during the course of the thread. Can we have our identity back, please?

          • You might want to check this 2009 article in the Guardian, “Drinking problems rife in the great orchestras.”


            The article notes that the problem is readily observable, but that it is a taboo subject and little research has been done to study it. Some say the culture is changing and that the problem is waning. Others say it is just becoming more hidden. Naturally, just about any discussion about alcoholism will meet with a good deal of denial (especially when the public image of orchestras and employees are on the line,) which makes it all the more difficult to solve the problems. On the positive, even the Association of British Orchestras held a session on the issue at one of their recent annual meetings. Perhaps orchestras will come to grips with the problem.

  • HB says:

    I found it a bit entertaining that there were so many references to the “third violins.”

    Also, I think the use of beta blockers in audition and performance deserves to be studied more. For one thing, I haven’t seen a recent estimate on the percentage of orchestra musicians who use them and how frequently they do. I don’t think drinking before a performance (and I can name a number of extraordinary musicians who would routinely do so) is worse than taking beta blockers. Now it’s completely taboo for musicians to have a drink before an important performance but expected that they’ll have a beta blocker.

  • Orchestra Manager No.10, Op.70 says:

    And I always thought Brits had a sense of humor. That anyone took this article as anything but is really sad. Lighten up, people.

  • C.J. Sperling says:

    I fully agree with op.70 No. 10. Just read the caption of the picture before (violinist with closed eyes): “That’s a perfect rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds! Shame that we’re playing Bach.” Who would assume this to be serious reporting? The photo in question doesn’t even say “members of the BBC Phil partying”, but simply “The BBC Philharmonic”. Which even the most simple reader would not take for serious in this context.

    Seems to me that most people who were upset about the photo did not read the article at all. It’s a great article, addressing serious topics in a humorous way (just as a satiric magazine ought to do), and providing links that are quite valuable to get informed. And the author sure knows about orchestra life, and is feeling with the musicians. Kudos, Ms. Marx!

    With a witty response to, the BBC Phil could have made good use of this unpaid promotion. Taking legal steps… OMG. What PR people does BBC Phil have?

  • Chichi says:

    Agree with the thread. It was a joke/hoax. However, i do remember friends in a very important italian orchestra passing beta-blockers around like smarties. Not being a doctor i wonder: how bad is it for health? and for performance? because it is happening in an orchestra near you for sure.

  • Lavinia says:

    Dude, it’s a joke. DId you … do you just go around looking for things to be offended by?