Slipped Disc editorial: The BBC and ACE must redraw the map of England

Slipped Disc editorial: The BBC and ACE must redraw the map of England


norman lebrecht

February 16, 2020

Richard Morrison, in the Times, has set the ball rolling on orchestral futures with a thoughtful piece on what might happen to British orchestras if the BBC’s funding mechanism is changed.

‘If the BBC moves to subscription it will have to shed its orchestras’ reads the subhead, which is a bit scary. But the underlying anomaly is glaring: ‘One problem is that all but one of the (BBC) orchestras are in the wrong place’, writes Morrison, stating a conundrum that the BBC has buried for around 40 years. Two orchestra are under-employed in London, one competes in Manchester with the Halle, and the BBC Scottish is scrapping for work with the national orchestra, itself struggling.

The problem is that the licence-funded BBC and the tax-funded Arts Council have failed to put heads together to organise a better distribution of music around the country. Proposal for a realignment of London orchestras, one to the West of England, for instance, and another into a merger with English National Opera, have been buried in an organisational paperchase, designed to preserve lots of jobs and a nervous status quo.

But times have changed and the BBC is in the firing line. The Boris Johnson government is using its parge Parliamentary majority to float a radical redesign for the BBC. The BBC’s next D-G will face tough choices. Meanwhile, independent orchestras will lose many of their Europe tours after Brexit. The future of British orchestras has never looked more fragile.

It is high noon for the ACE and BBC. They need to put their heads together now, not a minute to lose, to redraw the orchestral map of England.



  • Esther Cavett says:

    The London based BBCSO is irrelevant now. Used to be famous for pioneering programming. Now mostly mainstream and few would miss it

    • Charles Clark-Maxwell says:

      ==The London based BBCSO is irrelevant now.

      Correct. It used to be a powerhouse of wonderful programming but is now just another London orchestra. Can’t hold a candle to the LSO

    • Cynical reader says:

      Not half as irrelevant as your dismiss the artistic output of nearly 100 people like that is ignorant and I suspect not without malice…

  • Harold Wilkin says:

    If the government scraps the licence fee, then the Proms, the BBC orchestras and much of local radio will disappear with it. Likewise Radio 3 as we know it.

    It could result in Wales and Northern Ireland being left with no orchestral provision since the BBCNOW (obviously) and the Ulster Orchestra rely heavily on BBC funding.

    The BBC may be in need of some reform, but it is the major funder and promoter of the arts in this country. Undermining it’s finances to the point where thousands of musicians and journalists lose their jobs and the arts nationwide are devastated cannot be in the national interest. Think again Boris and Dominic!

  • tomtom says:

    Indeed!, and where does this leave the wonderful BBC Prom concerts? The greatest music festival in the world.

    • 18mebrumaire says:

      That will mean spaff-all to Boris and Dom. If we’re lucky we’ll likely be left with a shortened and improved Last Night accompanied with a tasteful red, white and blue light show.

  • Hilary says:

    So the question is, where do the orchestras re-locate to? Suggestions haven’t been forthcoming thus far.
    Bristol (BBC so) and Bexhill (BBC concert orch) and Coventry (BBC Phil)immediately spring to mind.

    What a depressing government this is. Sad times.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I wish the Australian government would do the same to our ABC; it is nothing short of institutionalized cultural marxist group-think.

    I worked there in the 1970s and saw the damage done by one of its leading activists, Alan Ashbolt, and the ABC’collective’ has never improved since then. Having heard much the same complaints about the BBC and seen it for myself when living in Europe, the sooner these behemoths, which are a burden to taxpayers, become ‘subscription only’ the better everybody will be. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay to be lectured to by an unrepresentative collective of social justice warriors. And most of them just aren’t very bright to begin with.

    I wonder if Johnson will have the chops to take on this hunkered-down BBC albatross.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      ” institutionalized cultural marxist group-think”

      People who use phrases like that are not to be taken seriously.

      Did you never realise that thinking is different from spewing slogans?

  • Boris says:

    What evidence do you have for the RSNO “also struggling”? This seems to be nonsense. It’s strongly supported by the Scottish Government and is enjoying an incredible run under Thomas Sondegard.

  • John Rook says:

    It would be a crying shame if the orchestras became the victims of the BBC’s taxpayer-funded flagrant political bias. Better to shed their inflated ‘news staff’ than the orchestras.

    • Stephen Diviani says:

      Sad that you are mouthpiece for Johnson/Cummings and the New Right. The BBC is independent and that is why this government wants to destroy it, as Cummings has made clear on many occasions.

      • Saxon Broken says:

        The BBC isn’t deliberately and consciously biased, but many people in it recognize that is doesn’t reflect the full range of views in Britain very well. Its unspoken assumptions reflect too often a kind of “soft left metropolitan view”. And having racial/gender quotas is not the way forward. Just shouting the Tory party are right-wing bigots will not be a good solution.

  • Paul MacAlindin says:

    The Scottish analysis is complete rubbish. Whilst I don’t belittle the challenges ahead, the SSO’s artistic profile is completely different to that of the RSNO. If we’re talking about scrapping for EU work as a third country, that’s a new problem shared by all British orchestras, and it’s the smaller ones without the big donors to send them to America and China who are going to take the hit.

  • Stephen Diviani says:

    Arguing about where BBC orchestras should be relocated when the government is intent on destroying the BBC is like a Viennese Jew, in 1938, thinking they will be safe because they have converted to Christianity. We have an ‘elected dictatorship’ intent on silencing all independent public institutions: look at how Johnson/Cummings expelled all those moderate & one-nation Conservative MPs. They want total control and an anarchic laissez faire capitalism. Does anyone seriously think that Cummings gives a shit about BBC orchestras?

    • norman lebrecht says:

      Your analogy is wildly inappropriate. I think you should revise it.

      • Stephen Diviani says:

        Revised first sentence: Discussing re-locating BBC orchestras is like re-arranging your sitting-room furniture when you know that the government has scheduled the house for demolition.

        • Saxon Broken says:

          Actually, it really isn’t clear what, if anything, Boris really believes, apart from being in office. He isn’t even really much of a believer in Brexit, and beyond that he seems to have no plan.

  • Ellingtonia says:

    What is its about the “classical music” fraternity that they think it should be paid for by people who are neither interested nor care about it i.e. the general public. I can think of no other genre of music that receives (or expects) government funding to maintain its existence, jazz, folk music, rock……..all are dependent on selling seats to continue their existance. One of the greatest musicians this country has produced, the pianist Stan Tracy had to play as house pianist at Ronnie Scotts for donkeys years simply to earn a living, no public subsidy there. The Beatles travelled the length and breadth of the UK as well as doing residencies in Hamburg to hone their skills and make money and generate audience interest, no subsidies there. So please spare us the weeping and wailing about a radical shake up in the orchestral world. How about relocating one orchestra to Bristol, one to Norwich and another to Carlisle to see if they can build a reputation and the support of the local communities?

  • Iain Scott says:

    What drivel. The BBC SSO is not scrapping for work with the RSNO.
    Evidence please . Honestly you’ve no idea of musical life in Scotland. None whatsoever.