English National Opera advertises for non-white players

English National Opera advertises for non-white players


norman lebrecht

April 13, 2021

The advert is worded:

Orchestra Fellowship for Ethnically Diverse String Players (12 Month Contract)

We are looking for five string fellows to join the ENO Orchestra in the following positions on a 12 month fixed-term contract starting August 2021:

Violin 1
Violin 2
Double Bass
closing date: 30 Apr 2021

The chairman, chief executive, artistic director, music director and every other senior person at ENO is white and middle-class. This kind of recruitment for the lowest entry level – a temporary training post – is patronising at best, ineffectual at worst.




  • Patrick says:

    Was only a matter of time… I suspect that in due course UK orchestras without 15% minority representation may find grant funding harder to come by such is the way of social engineering these days

  • Patrick says:

    … though I’m waiting for typos in similar adds looking for ethically diverse players

  • Gustavo says:

    Perhaps they are seeking individuals who can play the rebec, fiddle, phonofiddle, tayaw, Violino piccolo, and the violin.

  • Stephen Maddock says:

    Even by the standards of below-the-line commentary, you have hit a new low for unpleasantness and wrong-headedness.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    Oh god you people are all awful. At least ENO is trying and will turn anyone down who is not talented enough. You have to give people chances and if no one is good enough well they can then give their evidence to ACE.
    But there are some talented black musicians and students out here so there shouldn’t be a problem.

    • Leon says:

      Why don’t they do blind auditions as many American orchestras do ? Audition behind a screen. That way ageism, sexism and racism can’t come into play.

      • Bone says:

        How much diversity is needed to perform as an ethnically diverse musician? Are biracial children ethnic enough? Serious question – I am genuinely curious.

        • John Borstlap says:

          If only one of your parents is diverse, you are yourself only half diverse and thus it is to be expected that the advantage of such condition will be considerably diminished.

      • Allen says:

        Well yes, it would be the obvious choice – except that it might not produce the result they want.

      • ThrownOutOfTheKremlinForSinging says:

        Blind auditions? Nothing to see here, folks.

    • Hayne says:

      Right you are Elizabeth. We all know minorities can’t make it on their own.

    • E. Cohen says:

      Seeking out an individual based on race alone overtly is RACIST!

      White candidates who are openly barred from participating should take businesses like this to court and donations must end along with all public funding as everyone is not welcome.

      Also, you keep saying “black”. Nobody of any ethnic origin should be considered then? Underrepresented minorities like Indian, Jew, Maltese, Palestinian??

      • Adrienne says:

        ‘Also, you keep saying “black”.’

        But, don’t you realise, it is the sacred duty of Ms Owen to protect the interests of feckless people like me who might be interested in the wrong type of music?

        13% of all orchestras should be black and ‘Asian’ – but it must be the right type of Asian. Good luck with that.

    • Pat says:

      Except they are not advertising for students? This 12 month contract is open to experienced musicians with a knowledge of operatic repertoire. Personally having lost 90% of my income due to Covid and this being the only viola UK contract advertised in England I’m devastated that I’m not able to apply. I’m fully qualified in all criteria except my skin colour. The musicians who win these £35 k contracts are surely going to feel uncomfortable that they were gained in such an unbalanced way?

    • Pat says:

      Elizabeth, I wonder if you make these comments from the comfort of not having your livelihood destroyed by Covid? This is the only job in England available for violists at present, hundreds of talented applicants who fit the criteria of being a professional musician experienced in operatic repertoire are unable to audition because of their skin colour.

  • Maria says:

    Let the best player with all the other necessary attributes needed to get the job, no more, no less. There is far more to choosing an instrumentalist – or a singer – for English National Opera than the colour or ethnicity of one’s skin. It should be there for home grown talent – the reason it was set up! So many being overlooked at home.

    • Elizabeth Owen says:

      13% of Britain is black and Asian so home grown talent covers everyone not just right wingers.

      • Hayne says:

        “…not just right wingers.” And there it is. Can’t argue logically against another point of view so bring on the name calling.

      • Eddie Chan says:

        The ethnicities you are attempting to USE also bear significant conservative and Republican voters.

        Your leftist ignorance is no longer amusing Ms. Owen.

  • Adrienne says:

    Let’s face it, they’re really on the lookout for black people, as if five black people can be diverse. SE Asian? Forget it.

    Sick and tired of this patronising, virtue signalling, nonsense.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Isn’t this initiative unintentionally racist? They are specifically looking for coloured people.

    • Ronald says:

      Ah, but it’s positive discrimination, so that’s OK. It’s the problem some have with blind auditions – there’s a possibility that no BAME players will get selected. And therefore there will be no positive BAME role models for future generations. So this sort of initiative is seen as the solution.

  • Nick says:

    we don’t even have to think about it: it is simply a deeply offensive, racist ad that should have been banned in no time.

    • V.Lind says:

      Well, at least it appears ENO does not have a Chief Diversity Officer, who would presumably have agreed with you, so I think it’s points to them for a well-intentioned if clumsy initiative.

      • Dave Killgore says:

        How do you personally feel about giving up your own opportunities, job and belongings to someone else out of appeasement?

    • marcus says:

      Quite. Imagine the response if the ad specifically asked for only white british players. Nothing to see here, move along-I don’t think.

  • Emil says:

    For once on this, I agree with Mr Lebrecht – 12-month fellowships is at best a bandaid on a large wound. It’s a start, but by no means enough.

  • Gary says:

    ‘This kind of recruitment for the lowest entry level…’

    Actually, speak to absolutely any instrumentalist of any background whatsoever in the UK and they’ll tell you a different story.

    A 12 month contract in a London orchestra would be seen as gold dust by anyone. People are delighted if they get booked for a run of shows over 3 weeks by ENO.

    A whole year? Yes please.

  • Operacentric says:

    It is also rascist

  • BRUCEB says:

    Anyone who bothered to read “We are looking for five string fellows…” and then perhaps thought about it for five seconds might realize that these are not “real” jobs. They are fellowships, so the ENO is not taking jobs away from other people. The blurb here doesn’t make clear that they will be paid, although the word “fellowship” implies something (not necessarily full pay). Also there’s no possibility of tenure.

    As far as the “patronising at worst ineffectual at best” comment, I disagree. Positions like this will give young musicians a sense of what it’s like to have to produce consistently at a professional level. In other words, experience.

    For those wondering why white people can’t have the same opportunities: if you look at basically any orchestra in the world, you will see that white people are doing just fine.

    • Allen says:

      “if you look at basically any orchestra in the world, you will see that white people are doing just fine.”

      Which white people?

      Several studies in the UK have shown that the lowest performing group is white, working class boys. Any organisation that GENUINELY wants to help the disadvantaged would look at social class, not race. That would help white, black and brown people alike. Wouldn’t give the right impression though, would it?

      Instead of “looking at orchestras”, look at audiences where tickets are free or cheap – still white. Opera and classical music generally does not appeal to all groups equally. It just doesn’t, and we need to accept that fact.

      • BRUCEB says:

        White people in orchestras. I’m not talking about society as a whole.

        You have a point about social class though.

      • John Borstlap says:

        In 17th and 18th century Europe, it was not race but class which was the determining factor in any career. For instance, many Africans found their life in any of the classes. In the end, class is probably indeed a much stronger defining element than ethnicity.

    • SVM says:

      “white people are doing just fine”

      Actually, there are plenty of white people who struggle to make it in the profession. It is tough for everybody, regardless of race (I hasten to add that I am *not* claiming it is *equally* tough for everybody, although I *am* sceptical of claims that race were the biggest factor in determining so-called “privilege” in the UK). Professional development opportunities should be awarded based on merit, especially in cases where they involve professional engagements, and eligibility criteria must never involve race. Positive discrimination is still discrimination.

      • BRUCEB says:

        Their struggles are mostly based on merit (which, as Allen mentioned above, can often be a result of class — could they afford the best teachers/ schools/ instruments?).

        Also I’ll toss in an element that doesn’t happen in US orchestras. In the US, auditions for most orchestras are 100% behind a screen. Barring unusual situations like trial periods for two or more finalists, the winning player is offered a one-year probationary contract before anyone knows what they look like, including how they dress, how they move, or any idea if they’re a good colleague, e.g. do they play too loud, follow their section leader, etc. I have read on this site (UK musicians can correct me if I’m wrong) that the standard UK procedure is to subject a winner to a trial period before giving them a (probationary?) contract. So there’s a certain amount of time to assess all that, and for biases to creep in: maybe they laugh too loud during breaks, ask too many questions, their hair is too tall, distracting in their dress, who knows what. Those can all come under the vague heading of “wouldn’t be a good fit,” and someone could consciously or unconsciously include skin color in that category, and not give themselves time to see if the person adjusts, or responds well to a little quiet advice, or if they themselves get over their initial reaction over time.

        (Also, in the US, a probationary contract says the person can be dismissed at any time for any reason during their probationary year, without recourse to standard protections like arbitration etc — at least, mine did. So if someone shows up drunk at their new job and starts grabbing bottoms, the orchestra doesn’t have to put up with a year of that.)

        If anyone even reads this far, please don’t think I am saying that all US auditions are completely fair, and no UK ones are. But if you want to think I’m saying that, then I can’t stop you 🙂

    • Pat says:

      This is no educational fellowship it is a full-time job with a £35k salary. Requirements include experience n opera repertoire and provision of a suitable instrument.

      • BRUCEB says:

        Thanks for the info. That does change things. As I said, it wasn’t clear from the post how much, or even if, it paid. That, plus requiring previous opera experience — unless they count the kind you can get from playing in music-school opera productions — does make it look less like an educational/ experience opportunity and more like a rigged audition.

        (My orchestra used to use “orchestral fellows” from a local university: they had to audition but were paid less than regular musicians, and some of their “pay” may have been in the form of tuition scholarships — the program ended a long time ago and I don’t remember the details, if I ever knew them. The orchestra basically used them to add bodies to the string sections for less money; and the students gained experience and whatnot. Several of them went on to bigger & better things, and some of them are still in the orchestra as full members now.)

        I wonder what they have in mind when they say a “suitable instrument.” (Also, does “provision” mean they provide it or they expect the musician to own one already? If the latter, then it adds to the “class problem” described above by Allen.)

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    This is disgusting.

  • Patrick says:

    I hope they take ENO to court. Positive discrimination. And racist. The BBC frequently advertises for non white applicants, but of course nobody says anything. Best person for the job. Screened auditions. UK is becoming too 1984…

  • La plus belle voix says:

    My great-aunt hailed from Silesia and was Sinti. Would my daughter qualify?

  • Saxon says:

    Although often repeated, that “fact” is unlikely to be true.

  • John Borstlap says:

    Worse, 40% of European genetic material stems from the neanderthalers, as can easily be seen in the numbers of people voting for extreme rightwing parties.

  • I’d say this was the beginning of the end, but with the hysteria for female conductors in full swing for years now, I would say rather it’s the middle of the end.