The BBC’s delay in cancelling the Proms was brought about largely by the need to bury a much bigger problem.
The BBC Symphony, Philharmonic, Scottish and Concert orchestras – together with a share in the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the BBC Singers (and not including the Ulster Orchestra) – cost the Corporation £29 million a year, according to a recent reliable estimate.
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, the BBC has been unable to furlough any of its employees, including the musicians.
Until today it has hung on to the Proms in the hope of justifying the mounting expenditure of paying orchestras to stay silent. By the end of the summer, that bill – paid for by the public from its licence fees – will amount to somewhere in excess of £12 million.
The musicians themselves are helpless. They do not know what their future holds. The executives responsible do not yet have much more of a clue.
My understanding from a senior person involved is that the BBC has been holding informal talks with Arts Council England with a view to merging four orchestras into two. How far these talks have advanced during lockdown I cannot tell, but they may soon be overtaken by events.
By September, two independent London orchestras will (I’m hearing) face insolvency and the BBC will face grim choices. The BBC orchestras and its music staff will be, once more, at the forefront of public economies.
We stand by our sources. Check back at the end of 2020 to see what has changed.