Big news: Britain has its first BAME music director

Big news: Britain has its first BAME music director


norman lebrecht

June 15, 2020

Birmingham Opera Company just named Alpesh Chauhan as its music director, starting next month.

A former assistant conductor with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Alpesh will work with artistic director Graham Vick at the head of one of Britain’s mostvaluable and vulnerable opera companies.

His appointment is huge, for many reasons. Alpesh has long been regarded as one of the rising talent in the British podium. He lost his agency with the collapse of HazardChase at the Covid outset and has not advanced as fast as many expected, beyond holding a post as Principal Conductor of the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini in Parma.

Now he is the first BAME music director in Britain.

That’s a big stride into the future.



  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Enough of the BAME label, he’s just very, very good. See his Mahler V here

    • Zelda Macnamara says:

      Yes, he is very good – we have been at some of his concerts in Birmingham. But re the “BAME label”, we need to be more upfront in challenging structural racism and discrimination, and that includes celebrating this. Classical music lags a long way behind other sectors in getting proper representation of diverse communities. To me, the use of the term “BAME label” might indicate that the person using it hasn’t actually got to grips with the issues.

      • Paul Brownsey says:

        ” Classical music lags a long way behind other sectors in getting proper representation of diverse communities.” Could it be that “diverse communities” are not very interested in it, proportionately? Are you in the grips of the idea that a classical audience or orchestra ought to include a proportionate number of those from “diverse communities”?

        • John Borstlap says:

          Indeed, the notion is nonsensical. The point is that classical music should be accessible, not that diversity should have a correct representation.

    • Bruce says:

      @Jan – so you’re actually agreeing that someone’s ethnic background shouldn’t be important.

      Nevertheless: when someone is the first at something, or one of the “first wave,” if you will, then that is worth pointing out. Any time you see someone’s sex or ethnicity attached to a profession, it can be an interesting game to ask why that label is there, and to examine what mental picture comes to mind when you think of that profession — whether it’s conductor, doctor, business executive, or what have you.

      And if you’re tired of it, just keep in mind how things like this tend to fade into the background once they become normal — which, you clearly agree, they should. Remember how gay marriages used to make the front page of every newspaper? Remember how black… well, black anything really, except athletes & entertainers, used to be considered noteworthy? Remember when people used to say “woman doctor,” or “black doctor,” as opposed to just “doctor” which meant something different? Even women conductors are starting to become, if not exactly common, then not circus freaks. Soon this guy will just be a “conductor.”

      • John Borstlap says:

        He is already an entirely colourless conductor and anyone disagreeing with this, is a racist.

        The recordings on YouTube demonstrate this is indeed a very gifted young performer. Good luck to him!

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    Congratulations Alpesh! Birmingham Opera Company shines a light in the West Midlands for opera and classical music. Here’s to a great future!

  • phf655 says:

    I just learned that BAME means Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic. It would have been helpful if you had explained this to readers, like me, who live on the other side of the pond. It seems quaint to me that Black people and Asians are lumped together. In this country Asians are frequently seen as over-privileged.

    • IC225 says:

      “Frequently seen as overprivileged”. What a truly repugnant idea.

      UK society is not US society; circumstances and values are very different and this is reflected in different language.

      • V.Lind says:

        It’s also ludicrous, and based on a VERY racist concept that lumps all Asians together. Is the poster thinking of Vietnamese, or the Hmong community, or Indians, Pakistanis, Afghans, Chinese?

        Maybe he has seen a movie called Crazy Rich Asians, or more likely heard of it without seeing it and assuming that all Asians are crazy and rich.

        One thing I do not assume is that any minority in the US is over-privileged.

        • John Borstlap says:

          A friend of mine is half European, half Asian. The Asian half often feels discriminated against but the European half feels the other half is sometimes overprivileged. This causes serious psychological imbalances. Some people in the UK are 1/3 Paki, 1/2 Spanish and the incalculable rest probably Welsh, depending on the mother’s story. Which bit is overprivileged and which underprivileged, and to which extent and for how long?

          Life would be less complicated if people would go colourblind and mix until everybody looks like a cappucino.

        • Byrwec Ellison says:

          You evidently don’t live in America.

        • Bruce says:

          In the US, “Asian” means East/Southeast Asian, basically from Myanmar to China to Japan to the Philippines. No one thinks of Indian/ Pakistani/ Bangladeshi people as “Asian,” even though those countries are obviously part of Asia. It’s a little weird.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The terms is also sometimes used, in an accusatorial way, as BLAME – including the Lazy community. They are often quite non-bamish but who can tell?

    • That Guy says:

      My understanding is that ‘on the other side of the pond’ Asian tends to refer to people with East Asian heritage, while in the UK the word Asian tends to refer to people of South Asian heritage, Mr Chauhan included.

    • Paul Brownsey says:

      Lumping black and Asian people together is as barmy as lumping gay people and trans people together as “LGBT people”. It generates idiocies like talk of “LGBT health needs”, when gay people have no health needs in common with trans people that they don’t share with everyone else, and “LGBT relationships”, where T doesn’t stand for any sort of relationship.

  • Noah says:

    He is not the first BAME principal conductor in the UK. Ryan Bancroft (Principal Conductor of BBCNOW) is African-American.

  • Freddynyc says:

    All this concern for the British orchestras lately – I suppose their American counterparts are on better footing…..? **cough**

  • Malcolm James says:

    Er… how about Tadaaki Otaka at BBCNOW in the 1980s and 1990s, or don’t the Japanese count? This may sound silly, but the serious point is that we can’t lump all BAME people together. Where would top orchestras be without Chinese and other East Asian players, but Afro-Caribbeans are still a rarity. Different ethnic groups vary greatly in the extent to which they have culturally embraced Western classical music, e.g. compare China with India, where there are hardly any professional orchestras.

  • Heather says:

    Congratulations to Alpesh! He did a really good job conducting CBSO with Birmingham Opera last year, coping with all the challenges extremely well, so I think he will be a great addition to the company!

  • factcheck says:

    Not the first… sigh… I can think of one example from 1987 (Tadaaki Otaka, BBC NOW) and you’re calling this the future! Not even the only current BAME music director.