BBC demands to vet conductor’s Last Night speech

BBC demands to vet conductor’s Last Night speech


norman lebrecht

August 17, 2017

Sakari Oramo has told the Times that BBC officials have demanded to see advance text of his speech at the Last Night of the Proms.

The intervention follows a furore caused by Daniel Barenboim’s anti-Brexit remarks early in the season.

It is an absurd over-reaction by a pair of bureaucrats Alan Davey and David Pickard, probably acting on orders from above. The pair of desk-jockeys know they should have vetted Barenboim, who is overtly political.

But Oramo, who is chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, is the least political of artists – despite his unfortunate taste in waistcoats.



  • Adrian says:

    Sad to hear that the BBC now functions more like the former Soviet Union than an open democracy. If they trust the conductor to perform, then they should allow him to speak freely in his name alone. So what, if he says something that is not politically correct? Isn’t that what democracy and free speech are about? The audience are mostly mature people, totally capable of forming their own opinions and judgments.
    Britain continues its move toward total censorship and a totalitarian society having a public person’s speeches approved by faceless unknown bureaucrats. It is a disgrace and every person should feel outrage and anger. They won’t, as the majority have already been conditioned to favour politically correct speech and obeying the “system”. It won’t turn out for the better.

    • Adrienne says:

      I trust that the defenders of free speech here also oppose the removal of Botany lecturer David Bellamy from our TV screens following his expression of scepticism on the causes of climate change.

  • Interested party says:

    Surely if you make these kind of slurs against respected members of the industry, as a journalist you should be justifying them, not just throwing mud.

  • David Ward says:

    How appalling.

    Nor, indeed, should the BBC or anyone else have vetted Barenboim’s speech. If in future we are only to be allowed to say in public what suits those in authority, God help us all: that is the road to totalitarianism (whether of left or right is neither here nor there).

  • Edgar says:

    Maybe Oramo needs to play Haydn’s Abschiedssinfonie. Or conduct Rule Brittannia with no one in the orchestra making a single sound. Or turn to the audience for hus BBC approved speech and say – absolutely nothing. Silence. Long, loudly speaking, deafening silence.

  • Lucien Knoedler says:

    Back to the days of Oliver Cromwell, the Great Protector?

    • Furzwängler says:

      He was known as the Lord Protector, actually. But by all means, yes, let’s have him back and he can maybe stop self-important jumped-up characters like Barenboim and Levit invoolving themselves in our internal politics.

      • Father Ted says:

        England under Cromwell was a real bore. Most musicians wandered about Europe, like the Gamba players Captain Tobias Hume and William Young. The latter ended up in Innsbruck. No church music, no theatre, no nookie houses no bawdy songs, no busty ale wenches. No wonder when Charles II returned they shagged themselves senseless. Fantastic!

        • Furzwängler says:

          You’re right, it wasn’t much fun at all. But one has to wonder how the once magnificently busty ale wenches suddenly managed to re-bust as soon as Cromwell was gone and Charles II had ascended the throne.

  • DESR says:

    If a conductor ever used the Last Night to advocate Brexit, my God, you would never hear the end of it.

    The whole thing would be abolished in two days after a Great Twitterstorm.

  • Tim Walton says:

    Perhaps they are aware of Sakari Oramo’s regular anti Brixit comments on Facebook!

    • Brian says:

      I’m sure that’s what it is.

      Imagine if one of Bob Dylan’s venues decided to vet his lyrics for political content. Or Bob Marley’s, or any other number of socially-engaged artists. If musicians can’t speak truth to power, who can?

  • Mark Henriksen says:

    Too bad people can’t just do the job they are hired to do.

  • operacentric says:

    The BBC seems terrified of any artist expressing anything perceived as even vaguely political.

    Had artists not spoken out in the past, we would not have The Marriage of Figaro, Rigoletto, Ballo in Maschera, Don Carlos, Mary Stuart (plays or operas), at least half of Shostakovich’s symphonies to name but a quick handful.

    Barenboim in his speech said music transcends boundaries and we shouldn’t isolate people (by ethnic, religious or Brexit persuasions). Last night’s conductor, Francois-Xavier Roth said something similar before launching an encore of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. There’s absolutely nothing controversial in that.

    Without artists expressing themselves we wouldn’t have music (or art or literature). Without artists’ performances of music there would be no Proms.

    What on earth is the BBC so afraid of?

  • Roz says:

    The BBC has already lost much respect around the world, this is just one more nail in its coffin.

    • Sue says:

      This is certainly the news we get from overseas. They seem to be an operative arm of the postmodern barmy army. A subsidiary of Pravda.

      • David Nice says:

        And yet, whatever the causes of this specific incident, you completely ignore the fact that the BBC not only backs the Biggest Music Festival in the World but has given it a very canny pro-European slant this year in perhaps the best overall programme I can remember. As with the EU, there’s room for improvement, but don’t wish it gone.

  • Adam says:

    Most musicians don’t have a clue what they’re talking about when it comes to these issues. It’s embarrassing enough reading their tweets and Facebook posts let alone hearing them give a speech to the Royal Albert Hall.

    It’s basically the equivalent of Jean-Claude Juncker giving a pre-prom technical analysis of a Mahler symphony. Nobody wants to hear it except maybe a few morons.

    The idea that free speech in Britain is dead because the BBC wants to read a script in advance of a broadcast is ridiculous.

    • David Ward says:

      Who then is it that you think does have a clue about ‘these issues?’

      Many musicians (and other artists) are thoughtful and well-informed people with deeply considered political and social opinions, and they should be allowed to express them from time to time. Political art and artists have long been part of our culture.

      • David Ward says:

        And yes, I do dislike the potential implications of a higher authority’s pre-vetting a speech by a musician. As for the idea that if one chooses to listen to a musician’s political speech (whether or not one happens to agree with it) one is to be designated a ‘moron,’ it encapsulates just what I dislike about this interference.

        Let them say what they wish, let us listen with an open mind, and let that be all.

        • Adam says:

          “I think it [Brexit] is a bad idea and very bad for both parties, but I don’t feel I’m qualified to comment on it.” Sakari Oramo.

          Sadly not all musicians have this modesty.

          The BBC have asked to view, not vet the speech. This is always, and has always been the case.

          Since the bbc are hosting and broadcasting the event, yes it is fair they view what speeches are going to be made.

          The BBC has emphatically said this is not a political event, and the performers should respect this in my opinion. That’s not censorship, it’s just saying ‘here is not the right time or place’.

      • Dirk F says:

        “Many musicians (and other artists) are thoughtful and well-informed people with deeply considered political and social opinions”

        Uh… no.

        • David Nice says:

          Uh – yes. Not all may be good speechmakers but they know they need freedom and co-operation to carry on with the sort of concerts we have at the Proms. Brexit will diminish the ease of all that to a horrifying extent. Barenboim spoke about education; Levit played the Ode to Joy. Problems with that?

  • David Leibowitz says:

    Did they ask him to submit his tempi in advance, too?

  • herrera says:

    Well, it is the BBC’s orchestra, the BBC’s conductor, the BBC’s TV station, the BBC’s airwaves, the BBC’s program.

    No concert hall in the world would allow its audience to protest, why should it let its personnel on stage do so?

    I suppose the BBC could deal with a conductor going rogue just as it would with an audience member going rogue, namely, have security come and throw that person out of the hall.

    Would people rather BBC security drag Oramo off stage, or vet his speech before hand?

  • Alexander Hall says:

    Speaking as an entirely unreconstructed and incorrigible Remoaner, I would defend this alleged attack on the freedom of speech. It is bad enough having to be confronted over the years with the daily drip-drip-drip of anti-EU and anti-BBC bias by the world’s worst tabloids (yes, of course, the BBC is entirely run by Commie bastards and the EU does nothing but wallow in corruption and rob the upstanding UK population of its hard-earned cash), but to have to listen to and read the vitriol that would again be directed against the Corporation if they once did anything to “thwart the sacred will of the people” by giving air time to critical Brexit voices, my goodness me, that would be utterly unacceptable.

  • Halldor says:

    But Oramo is on the BBC payroll. He is a contracted employee of the BBC; an organisation whose charter imposes an obligation to maintain political impartiality, and which binds its employees to strict conditions. He’s in a very different position from artists who are merely freelancers hired by the BBC on a gig-by-gig basis or as part of a package supplied by an external contractor (eg Barenboim).

    And most employers would want at least some idea of what one of their employees was going to say at a public event organised by that employer (and broadcast live around the world). In the case of the BBC, they may be happy to let him be as left or right wing as he pleases; but ether way, they’ve an obligation to maintain an overall balance and to do that they need to know what’s going to be said. I can’t imagine that they would allow any of their other employees to speak live on air without any prior editorial involvement. If a BBC staff conductor said something offensive or inflammatory (and we can all think of eminent conductors who’ve expressed homophobic, sexist and anti-semitic views, sometimes even in press interviews – emphatically not Oramo, I stress) on a live international broadcast, the BBC would quite rightly be held accountable.

    Musicians have a habit of thinking that contractual rules don’t apply to them, and indeed they’re generally given quite a generous rein by their employers. Had another public-facing BBC employee made some of the political comments that Oramo has made on social media, questions would have been asked. Happily I doubt many people noticed – classical music tends to fly below the mass media’s radar most of the time. But you can’t slip a live event with the international profile of the Last Night of the Proms below the radar. The BBC’s request is entirely reasonable: exercising editorial responsibility doesn’t become censorship simply because it’s applied to views with which you happen to agree.

    • Interested Party says:

      At last some sense… (and I’m a lefty remainer!)

    • Craig says:

      Exactly. Although I think a lot of us Europhiles would like the idea of a conductor having a go on a very public platform, the BBC has a job to do, no matter how many accusations of bias are thrown at it from all sides.

      Who are you and what are you doing commenting on Slipped Disc? You’re far too reasonable.

    • Anon says:

      A chief conductor has in most aspects the legal status of a freelancer, he is not a regularly contracted employee. He only has a contract for a certain amounts of projects over a certain amount of time. What he can and can not do, is in his contract in particular, not in the regulations the BBC has for their employed workforce in general.

  • David Nice says:

    Issues here more complex than they’ve been painted by most (Halldor notably excepted). Let’s keep in perspective that Pickard et al have deliberately promoted a pro-European Union programme this year: very canny. I don’t see how you can avoid it at the Proms, which is both international and European, with true Citizen of the World status.