Scrap this broken honours system

Scrap this broken honours system


norman lebrecht

June 11, 2019

Two musical knights were created at the weekend.

David Pountney, 71, was head of productions at English National Opera during its 1980s powerhouse era, and from 2003 to 2014 head of the Bregenz Festival which he raised to world attention with, among other breakthroughs, the premiere of Weinberg’s The Passenger, and for which he received one of Austria’s highest honours.


He went on to serve eight years in the saltmines of Welsh National Opera and it is not until he came to the end of that sentence that he was finally recognised by the UK honours committee.

Ian Stoutzker co-founded Live Music Now with Yehudi Menuhin in 1977 and kept the Philharmonia Orchestra alive, financially and creatively, for the next 20 years. He, too, has finally been recognised – and far too late – along with Stephen Cleobury, who is about to retire as director of music at Kings College, Cambridge.

The musical section of the honours committee is peopled by shadowy influencers like the Barbican chief Nicholas Kenyon and suchlike suits.

Its decisions are parochial, partisan and occasionally self-serving. It is, in other words, inefficient and borderline insane.

Ridiculous to demand reform. We need to scrap the honours system in the arts. Its gifts are either past their sell-by or wholly undeserved.





  • rb says:

    Did you miss Sir Stephen Cleobury?

    • Armchair Bard says:

      He didn’t: you did (see above).

      One correction, Norman. Stephen has by no means yet retired. He will direct his final Eucharist and evensong on 7 July. Then he will be taking the choir on a tour of Australia 20 July through 6 August.

      Daniel Hyde’s first service will be evensong on 28 September.

    • Ned Keene says:

      No, he’s slap in the middle of the article. How could the UK Honours system miss a retirement-age, white, Anglo-Saxon at a bastion of privilege like King’s?

      • Armchair Bard says:

        What a silly, chippy remark (also, you forgot to say ‘elitist’). Intellectual achievement isn’t ‘privilege’. You’ve chosen the worst possible Oxbridge college as an example of your fairy bastion [I did not go to King’s, btw]. And what will you say when the brilliant Nethsingha gets a gong for his gorgeous choir at John’s? He ain’t white nor Anglo-Saxon. Sorry.

        Oh, and King’s services are free to all: if you are an atheist, you’re getting one of the best choirs in the world in one of the finest buildings in the world. No matter of privilege there. Remind me how much tickets to the soccer cost these days…

  • Another Hasbeen says:

    Err… DP has been a CBE for 25 years …

  • FS601013 says:

    Yeah, like since when did Welsh National Opera actually matter, right? Where even is Cardiff, anyway? I heard it was somewhere on the Northern Line. Zone 9, possibly. One shudders to think. Inconceivable, anyway, that anything anyone does there could matter more than working on St. Martin’s Lane. Any career achievement that takes place outside the M25 can only ever be a footnote.

    • William Evans says:

      “He [Pountney] went on to serve eight years in the saltmines of Welsh National Opera and it is not until he came to the end of that sentence…”. Clearly, Mr Lebrecht feels that working with WNO counts as a form of severe punishment; what’s behind this sentiment, Mr Lebrecht? I feel the least your readers deserve is some expanded comment from your good self.

  • Martain Smith says:

    Well just think how quickly Kiri got hers, and how long Joan Sutherland had to wait!

    • Nick2 says:

      Kiri got hers because she was a pal of Prince Charles and had sung at his wedding. Had she been merely an extremely fine singer, she would have had to wait at least another 10-15 years.

      Totally agree the honors system as it relates to the arts should be scrapped. Why should people who only do their jobs and make a ton of cash in the process be given another accolade?

  • MusicBear88 says:

    Well, Mr Lebrecht, the most effective way to protest would be to reject your OBE when it comes along.