Institutional racism? It’s in British national media and the BBC

Institutional racism? It’s in British national media and the BBC


norman lebrecht

June 16, 2020

We broke the news yesterday that Britain has its first music director of Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) extraction: the young and extravagantly gifted Alpesh Chauhan becoming chief at Birmingham Opera Company.

Not one national newspaper has carried that news today. Nor, needless to say, has sad-sack, celeb-obsessed BBC News.

Alpesh is Birmingham born, a British-Asian product of state education at its best. He is principal conductor at Parma in Italy. He ought to be a source of national pride and a role model for minority communities. But the national media blank him because…. well, you tell me.

Were they aware? Well, I personally flagged it up to the Telegraph news desk, who usually respond to music events.

When Munira Mirza puts together Boris’s panel on institutional racism, I’ll be happy to testify at the media session.



  • John Borstlap says:

    I think it’s not being ignored for BLAME reasons but because it is about culture, and on top of that, ‘classical music’, the little fringe hobby of overprivileged, old middle class reactionaries

  • Allen says:

    The MSM can’t be relied upon to report the deaths of long established, high profile conductors or soloists. Nothing racist about this.

    We have enough s**t stirring to contend with already.

  • Damian Penfold says:

    It has little (rather than nothing) to do with race, and everything to do with the complete lack of interest in anything that is not sport or celebrity related. Culture and learning in this country are neither celebrated nor valued. It has been ever thus.

  • Jan Kaznowski says:

    Talking about BBC’s lack of coverage, I just saw a Nigel Kennedy interview “…he searched in vain for coverage of [Lynn] Harrell’s passing on the BBC’s website: “They’ve got American TV reality stars and all kinds of stuff. For the world’s greatest cellist, they’ve got no space. A shocking omission.”

    • Damian Penfold says:

      A shame that the journalist of this piece knows as little as those Kennedy criticises. It is Warner who now own EMI Classics, not Universal.

  • Robin Smith says:

    As far as I am aware the national media didn’t make any fuss of the new RLPO Principal Conductor (I don’t think I’ve noted it anywhere other than here) either. Chauhan impressed me on the times he has collaborated with the CBSO. The Brahms PC1 with Grosvenor was very fine indeed.

  • Simon Dearsley says:

    Given the current world situation on BLM, it is truly extraordinary that the BBC and national newspapers did not positively embrace such news that shows some ethnic diversity in these white (often male) bastions of the Classical music world. If you really think that its exclusion does not signify racism you are perhaps more blinkered than you realise. I mean that kindly, seeing beyond your own cultural perspective is tremendously hard.I read the comments on this post expecting wide spread support of the Lebrecht article. I can’t describe my amazement at your responses.

    • Mike Schachter says:

      Many posts have referred to the lack of media interest in the UK for almost any musical culture
      You shouldn’t expect universal bandwagon jumping.

    • Xeum11 says:

      I might be mistaken but I assume you are white, so I thank you for writing this, and I am even more gobsmacked that you got so many down votes for stating this simple truth.

    • Adrienne says:

      “If you really think that its exclusion does not signify racism you are perhaps more blinkered than you realise.”

      In that case, I’m also a blinkered BAME (ridiculous acronym).

      BBC music coverage is so limited that I’d be astonished if they had covered it. A parrot playing Für Elise or a chimpanzee playing a nose flute might stand a chance on daytime TV, otherwise forget it.

  • V.Lind says:

    There is very little space for arts news anywhere, and I really do not think the appointment of a new music director at a regional opera company rates the space or staff attention you seem to think it ought.

    The Guardian has a section on “classical” that seems to stagnate on the same stories for weeks at a time. I would assume that in happier times the section might have included this sort of news, but I would imagine that between layoffs over the past few years, along with other newspapers’ staff reductions, and the further reduction of staff with furloughing, there are very few hands to turn to every story in the arts universe.

    I seriously doubt that this has anything to do with race. This is hardly BBC news material, but it would not surprise me if Mr. Chauhan were to turn up on a programme like Front Row BECAUSE he is minority. In fact Radio 4 execs are probably trying to figure out how to constitute a BAME version of Woman’s’ Hour without looking like absoLUTE
    lickspittles. But try flagging the sorry at Front Row — you might have better luck.

    You used to work for newspapers. You should surely realise that they are run for profit, and are bleeding money since online came along. They have cut lots of arts coverage, not just classical music — they have also cut all smaller sports, with football and some cricket and rugby dominating what is left. A single appointment that interests people who frequent this and similar sites is hardly a matter of general interest to the public.

    • Derek says:

      You make several good points in your remarks.

      So much news nowadays and it is all concentrated on a few high profile subjects.

      • V.Lind says:

        Newspapers are struggling to survive. They have massively lost advertising; judging by the popularity of The Guardian online, I would imagine that uptake on subscriptions for online newspapers is not as great as they could wish.

        Golf and tennis can barely get covered — to read the papers you would think that (in normal times) they each play four tournaments a year.

        So why would a sector so limited in its appeal as classical music, especially the arcana of its hirings, warrant coverage of its every move? That ship sailed a long time ago in most papers.

        But while this frames my basic response to Mr. Lebrecht’s post, I do see that he is asking about the appointment in terms of race, a very trendy topic these days, and perhaps he is only expressing surprise that the wokies have not jumped on it.

        I personally find it distasteful to read stories like this and the one about the new librarian in Philadelphia cloaked in their race. Just as I have always disliked the pronouncement that this orchestra or that has hired a female conductor, or principal, or whatever.

        While I somewhat sardonically suggested this chap for Front Row, I struggle to imagine what the discussion would be — I would be perfectly interested to hear his musical ideas and plans for the company, his response to the difficulties facing Birmingham Opera after Covid, etc. I would not like to hear, any more than I suspect he would wish to discuss, anything about his being the first black music director. As Jackie Robinson said, “I just want to play baseball.” And this guy is not in a position that even remotely resembles that of Jackie Robinson.

  • John Borstlap says:

    This young man betrays the plight of his community by supporting a luxury hobby of overprivileged authoritarians! Real emancipation of BLAMEs only happens when they keep away from the systems that suppress them!


    • John Borstlap says:

      Sorry about that…… she wants BLAMEs being kept out of music life to protect them from discrimination. I tried to explain the contradiction here but to no avail, being threatened with seeing my name on one of her banners.

  • Derek says:

    I don’t think this omission has anything to do with racism, but as mentioned by others, appointments and general news in the classical music field rarely gets media attention.

    The Birmingham Opera Company does great, high quality work but it is a relatively small organisation for national media interest.

    However, I appreciate you highlighting Alpesh , his appointment and background. He went to a very good state school in Birmingham, which has a diverse, well integrated mix of students and so far he has developed his career well.

    He has appeared with the CBSO a number of times (I agree with Robin Smith’s comment) and I thought his Bruckner 3 was a very fine interpretation.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Another word for young Benjamin Grosvenor, the most interesting pianist to come out of Britain since Paul Lewis. I’d like to hear him play Brahms’s first.

    Grosvenor speaks of the continuum of piano history and is part of it. He admires Moiseiwitsch and Cortot, and may join notable performers of this concerto.

    No race or media other than the human race, sorry, just music. All lives matter. I warrant Andre Watts could play it. Everyone makes his way in the world against obstacles, some more than others. Ability counts and finds a place. We all belong to one minority or another and hope for favoured treatment but grow strong by bearing burdens.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      “Ability counts and finds a place.”

      Were it were always so; were it that the place ability finds is worthy of it! Simple luck and the not-so-simple effects of marketing often play a dominant role on the place ability finds.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Ability can only find a place if there is some kind of filter in the fragile network of concert life. But such filter has eroded already long ago, so: pure conincidence and money have become greater drives than before. Still, real talent can emerge, but surely there’s much more that is out of sight. At least, I know of quite some young musicians who are superior to quite some ‘stars’, but they have not ‘made it’ – as yet. And this has nothing to do with ability.

  • Perhaps not making a big racial issue of it is a sign of a colour-blind society.

  • Would it be mentioned in the national press if it were a, and I hate to use the term, non-BAME who had become Music Director at Birmingham Opera Company?

  • CRMH says:

    Otto Klemperer was the first principal conductor of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Do Jews not count as BAME; whereas the far more numerous people of Indian and Chinese descent do? A genuine question for NL.

  • RW2013 says:

    With all of two (2) operas in his repertoire,
    it doesn’t sound like a very serious appointment.

  • Greg Bottini says:

    Institutional racism? How about dog-whistle racism?
    Please refer to my comments under Norman’s shameful post of June 12, 2020:
    BTW, Norman still has not replied to my comments, even though I invited him to do so and to begin a dialogue.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Nothing racist about this. The media just isn’t interested in things like this. Like it’s not interested in the genocide going on in certain African countries.

  • Edgar Self says:

    How is it in the world of physics,Peter? Does ability still count and find a place?I do agree about blind luck. turning left at a corner instead of right has sometimes made all the difference in four careers. If this luck holds I may make it into a fifth.

  • factcheck says:

    Perhaps because you’re utterly incorrect in saying he’s the first BAME music director in Britain? Tadaaki Otaka became BBC NOW principal conductor in 1987 and also directed Britten-Pears orchestra.

    Not even the only current BAME music director, I can think of at least one off the top of my head – Jonathan Lo, Northern Ballet.

    I’m sure there are other examples I’m not aware of too.