Stand by to save a BBC orchestra

Stand by to save a BBC orchestra


norman lebrecht

March 06, 2019

The BBC is preparing a list of cuts it says it needs to make in order to continue providing free service for the over-75s. The cuts, worth £475 million, are due to be published in the summer.

Among the assets listed for abolition, on drafts seen by our source, is the BBC Concert Orchestra.

As ever under Tony Hall’s weak management, any proposal will be abolished once it attracts a sufficient level of public opposition.

This is an early warning. Prepare to go to the barricades.



  • M McAlpine says:

    Before manning the barricades, can I ask why the BBC needs so many orchestras?

    • Johannes says:

      Quite……and not even of any particular quality.

      They always look fed-up to be there, red faced in ill fitting clothes and under rehearsed.

      • Luigi Nonono says:

        My impression is that British musicians are ill-paid and have to work constantly to make ends meet. I don’t know how they can afford to buy instruments. And sight-reading all the time does not make for great performances.

    • Bill says:

      Who needs orchestras? Just come to the US. we have lots of guns, way more than we need. And they’re cheaper than an orchestra too.

    • Nick2 says:

      Although I grew up occasionally listening to one of the BBC’s house orchestras, I have to agree. Why in the present day and in the present financial climate should the BBC fund so many orchestras? It is licence holders who actually pay and I am certain many would prefer the licence to be lowered. It’s not as though there aren’t other – and dare I say, better? – orchestras servicing the BBC orchestras’ regions.

      • Peter Phillips says:

        Which other orchestra serves Wales?

        • Viola da Bracchio says:

          Welsh National Opera Orchestra

          • Peter Phillips says:

            Three or four concerts a year isn’t any kind of cover. WNO orchestra spends most of its time on tour with the company in England. One concert a year in Swansea and that’s just operatic pops. Two or three in St David’s Hall and that’s it. Can’t compare with the BBCNOW playing at two Cardiff venues plus Swansea, Brecon, Fishguard and more. To say nothing of their foreign tours and their educational work. WNO has an excellent orchestra but they’re not primarily a concert giving band. If a BBC orchestra really had to go, what about the BBCSO? It’s outlived the reasons for its formation and London isn’t exactly short of orchestras. But of course we can’t touch it because it’s London.

          • Saxon Broken says:

            The BBC isn’t proposing to cut the NOW. It wants to eliminate the Concert Orchestra, which mostly plays in and around London.

        • Sue Sonata Form says:

          Don’t they have internet or radio in Wales?

          Let’s ask “what other orchestra serves the Galapagos Islands”.

          • Viola da Bracchio says:

            But the point, Sue, is that in Britain, users have *paid* – in their taxes, and then once again in the BBC Licence Fee – and are therefore entitled to provision. I don’t know if the Galapogans have paid, or to whom.

          • Peter Phillips says:

            Oddly enough we also have live concerts. We’re quite civilised in some ways and don’t need to be patronised.

          • MWnyc says:

            Or let’s ask “what other orchestras serve Australia?”

            If Australians deserve access to live orchestral music, then so do the Welsh.

  • Jeremy Aktin says:

    ==As ever under Tony Hall’s weak management, any proposal will be abolished once it attracts a sufficient level of public opposition.

    Isn’t that good management – listening to public opinion ? Surely week mgmt would be blindly going ahead.

    Am confused – don’t we want to Concert Orch to continue ?

  • MWnyc says:

    Okay, I’ll lob a bomb …

    If the BBC wants to cut something, it should eliminate the BBC Singers. Over years of listening to their Radio 3 concerts, I haven’t heard a single one that some other professional choir in Britain couldn’t do better. And those choirs could use both the work and the exposure.

    • Basso says:

      You clearly haven’t heard them over the past few years. They sound fabulous these days.

      • MWnyc says:

        I listened to them just the day before yesterday.

        As it happens, this was one of the better performances I’ve heard from them, but even so, they did nothing that Tenebrae, the Holst Singers, the ORA Singers, the Vasari Singers, Polyphony, the Exon Singers, the Gabrielis, or The Sixteen couldn’t have done better.

        And that’s in repertoire that’s their strength. I still (against my better judgment) listen to the BBC Singers’ Renaissance music concerts when they come around on Radio 3, and (yes, even this season) their quality ranges from mediocre to awful. And the UK is the world capital of professional vocal ensembles who sing Renaissance music.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Should a broadcaster even have its own orchestra? I’m being serious. It sounds like a luxury it can no longer afford. Plenty of competition from elsewhere.

  • Jane Stephen says:

    How about losing some of the very expensive sport.My mother played with the BBC Concert Orchestra.I grew up with it.

    • Graeme Hall says:

      The reality is that all expensive sport has already gone from the BBC. There is almost zero live football, cricket, Formula One etc. Much as I personally would prefer the money to be spent on orchestras rather than sport, sports lovers have already taken a huge hit.

  • Viola da Bracchio says:

    1 Kings 3:16-28

    21 They argued back and forth in front of Solomon, 23 until finally he said, “Both of you say this live baby is yours. 24 Someone bring me a sword.”

    A sword was brought, and Solomon ordered, 25 “Cut the baby in half! That way each of you can have part of him.”


    Once you provoke a hullabaloo, all prospect of rational discussion flies out the window.

    The more serious issue here is the funding model of the BBC by imposing a flat-rate levy (the ‘Licence Fee’) on users, without providing any form of feedback about what users want for their money. But still – ‘Auntie knows best, eh?” 😉

  • mathias broucek says:

    The BBC always responds to cost-cutting by targeting something that people care about (a station, an orchestra etc.) rather than tackling its bloated administration.

    That’s partly because they correctly judge they will get more public support that way and partly because the cost review is in the hands of, er, the administrators…

    • Will Duffay says:

      What makes you say the administration is bloated, and any more bloated than other media organisations? Beware of assuming that the partisan right-wing media is telling you the truth about public sector or pseudo-public sector efficiency and effectiveness.

      • Luigi Nonono says:

        Those two-martini lunches will bloat anyone.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        Please apply your comments equally to the ideological Left. Super partisan. You know, the same wing which cannot get over the election of Trump in the USA and which cannot stop shrieking about it, day in and day out.

      • Allen says:

        “any more bloated than other media organisations?”

        The difference is that people are forced to pay for it under threat of criminal prosecution whereas if I don’t like SKY, I can go elsewhere.

      • Dave says:

        Next time you get your hands on a BBCSO programme, compare the number in the orchestra listing with the number of administrative staff – the latter not far short of the former, and a fair few doing – what? Not doing much to fill seats at the Barbican, which would go some way to helping the band look happier. Not making them dress like the mafia would help as well.

  • Will Duffay says:

    My guess is that the concert orchestra is of little interest to most of us as the majority of its work is of Radio 2 type stuff: show music and popular classics. I’d also bet that it’s therefore financially less of a burden than the BBC Symp or Phil, because it fills big spaces with lots of paying punters. It’s a busy orchestra doing lots of non-Radio 3 type stuff. Whether that makes it a legitimate target for cuts is debatable.

    • Luigi Nonono says:

      Rental for that kind of music and original arrangements may be far more costly. But anything Carl Davis does is magic.

    • Ronny says:

      Cuts in Radio 2s budget will have some impact on the BBCCO but the orchestra actually performs roughly equally for both R3 and R2. It’s a smaller orchestra (56 members) than the other orchestras so naturally would be less of a financial burden as a result.
      It’s also the only BBC orchestra without a permanent base & facilities, though that is hopefully due to change in the relatively near future with a move to Alexandra Palace’s Victorian Theatre, a considerably cheaper option than the studios due to be built to replace the BBCSO’s Maida Vale base.

  • Andrew says:

    Couldn’t they just axe BBC News and Current Affairs instead? It only serves tired propaganda these days. Time to stop the Telly Tax.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      Correct. The BBC is the propaganda arm of the ideological Left. I would say the term “activist” applies to it now. And before you talk about Rupert Murdoch please remember it’s HIS money he’s putting on the line – not that of the British taxpayer.

      • Diane Valerie says:

        Strange. I’ve frequently heard left-wingers complain that the BBC is the propaganda arm of the Tory establishment, so I guess that, somewhere along the line, Auntie must be doing something right! (Or possibly left :)) …

      • Dave says:

        If you think that, you really must be living in the Galapagos Islands – and I’m by no means a left-winger.

      • Harrumph says:

        Just give it a rest, Susie. Gervais was talking about you when he made his comment on bin-dwellers.

  • Kero Sene says:

    I hate to see cuts in the arts but the London area seems to have a lot of orchestras. A good thing for sure but I understand how fiscal situations require changes.

  • Jeremy Aktin says:

    I think there was a permanent BBC RAdio Orchestra, axed in the 1990s which was disbanded. That did middle of the road Radio 2 type stuff

  • George says:

    The cost of providing free licences for those over-75s who wanted them was transferred from the government to the BBC by chancellor George Osborne in an “agreement” in 2015, as part of the one-sided war of attrition between the government and the BBC.

  • Bone says:

    I’m on the side of thinking the savings will be misspent, so why not just continue funding the orchestra?
    I don’t understand the whole BBC phenomena anyway – exactly how many London-based BBC orchestras are there?