Why won’t the BBC back British artists?

Why won’t the BBC back British artists?


norman lebrecht

May 05, 2021

Comment of the Day from James Earlbridge:

I’ve watched BBC Young Musician of the Year for many years now. Each edition appears to get more and more sanitised and anodyne in presentation and content. I have wondered though, how is it this excellent Marimba player was allowed to compete in this competition? I thought that one had to be a UK Citizen or Permanent Resident in order to participate? Clearly this talented boy who to my knowledge has only been in the UK for 2 years can’t have been cleared for citizenship yet? Or has the British tax-payer funded competition now open to all participants?

The same question can be asked of the BBC New Generation Artists Scheme which again is tax payer funded and ought to be there to give talented British musicians a leg-up in the music industry and opportunities to perform on the best national stages. Now it seems to be a scheme which is open internationally with no transparency how the candidates are selected and often to candidates who have virtually no connection to Britain. There are so many extremely talented British-born musicians that given the right resources could thrive, contribute and build a truly valuable musical culture, but it seems that this is being put by the wayside in favour of a vapid internationalist approach which serves only those who already have a big profile and international connections.




  • Mark (London) says:

    It’s always been doing it ! Radio 3 ‘ young generation musicians’ support has gone to many foreign musicians! Don’t be surprised!;The BBC isn’t exactly pro British . It sees itself as an organisation telling it’s funders what to think and hates being told how to spend the money it gets as of right !

  • Michael says:

    Of all the comments worthy of repeating this is not the one – unless if simply to highlight the casual xenophobia that is such a peculiar blight of the British. The BBC is not taxpayer funded; rather, it is funded by the television licence fee and its commercial operations. Moreover, “the British tax-payer” is not a British person who pays tax, but a person unfortunate enough to have to pay tax in benighted Britain. Would that it were not the case, but unfortunately neither the obligation to pay tax in Britain nor the requirement to pay the television licence fee are reserved for UK citizens or permanent residents. They are on everyone who lives and works (and watches TV) in Britain, whether here for 1 year or 20. Last, the BBC’s remit is worldwide. Through the licence fee and its commercial operations the BBC operates in almost every country on earth, and that is part of its charter. It’s not a local station for local people. As to the criteria for Young Musician, they are the same for paying the television licence. You need to be resident in the UK when you apply and for the duration of the competition. Beyond that, you have to be incredibly good at your instrument and, to win the thing, endure at least 5 rounds of competition – and then and only then you get to enjoy the petty racist sniping from the sidelines from nobodies who themselves have achieved nothing in their lives and who can’t be bothered to do 2 minutes of internet research before posting their ill-mannered and unfounded commentary that you’re not British enough to take home “their” trophy. Welcome to Britain!

  • christopher storey says:

    How right he is, particularly about the ” new generation” scheme, where there is hardly a home-grown musician to be heard

  • Ulrich Brass says:

    You have to be quite xenophobic to not consider someone living for 2 years in a country a permanent resident of that country.

    • BRUCEB says:

      I think it’s actually a legal status, not a common-sense one. You probably have to apply, live/have lived there for X number of years, have a job, etc.

      I’m sure it happens all the time that someone from another country moves to the UK for several years for university and moves back home as soon as they finish their degree. (For example, my American oncologist went to Oxford for one of his degrees.)

  • Miko says:

    Nationalist, dog whistle clap trap.
    The licence fee is not a tax, it is voluntary.
    You spit out the word “internationalist” as if it were an insult; that tells us everything we need to know about your deeply unfortunate instincts.

    • Allen says:

      It is not voluntary if it is levied on anyone who watches live TV or BBC Iplayer.

      Most essentials are either zero rated or exempt from VAT. Is VAT voluntary?

      • Chris Isbell says:

        It is voluntary. I do not pay it. This is perfectly legal because I do not use any services where a television licence is required.

        • Allen says:

          So answer my question. Is VAT voluntary?

          • BRUCEB says:

            Answer this one: if a fee can be avoided, is it mandatory?

            In the case of a tax, everyone would have to pay it regardless of whether they own a TV or radio, or watch BBC programs online. In the case of a fee, then it would be like paying for any other service: if you take a trip on the train, then paying for a ticket is not voluntary. (You can avoid that by using some other mode of transportation, such as your feet.)

            I don’t live there and I don’t know the rules; but it seems if you don’t want to pay the VAT, then you have the option not to use the service.

          • Allen says:

            “(You can avoid that by using some other mode of transportation, such as your feet.)”

            That’s the problem. You cannot avoid the licence fee by not using BBC services. It is payable if you watch ANY live TV in the UK. Many older people do not want to go down the internet route.

            Similarly, you can (within reason) control the amount of VAT you pay by sticking to essentials which don’t attract VAT. Eg: basic foods do not attract VAT, but confectionery does.

  • Peter says:

    The xenophobia is rather close to the surface. There are many wonderful young musicians in UK at the moment. They are fantastic to hear. Why seek to exclude them ?

  • Kenneth Griffin says:

    Obviously this unattributed “Comment of the Day” is placed here as a provocation, but let’s start by addressing its fallacies.

    The Young Musician entry condition is residence from date of entry to the date of the final. No requirement for Priti Patel’s minions to incarcerate applicants in Covid-insecure premises and to attempt to deport them unless lawyers allow them to remain in the
    UK to strike their marimba.

    And the New Generation eligibility condition is to be young, not to be a citizen or a resident or even to surround yourself with flags when on Zoom. It’s okay to say you’d like such a scheme, but a bit silly to attack the existing one for differing from your fantasy scheme.

  • Bored Muso says:

    The Beeb is not the only UK organisiation guilty of favouring other young musicians from overseas. The UK specialist music schools and Royal Colleges of Music are all guilty of grooming potential overseas music students to come and study in their hallowed portals over and above UK born ones.
    It was to be no surprise either the superb marimba player or Chinese violinist should be finalist contenders, as they both ticked all the PC boxes and hoops the Beeb have to be seen to jump through in contrast to the white middle class horn and oboist. Look at the diversity of the Presenters and Judges too…

    • La plus belle voix says:

      “Overseas”, such a jingoistic word.

      • V.Lind says:

        Has it come to this — that an accurate word becomes jingoistic? It is less judgmental than the (to me) equally inoffensive “foreign”). We are so hung up on looking for potential offence in every descriptor that you now jump on this. By its geography, every other place in the world is “overseas” from Britain. And I find it a pretty and evocative descriptor.

        Any problems with “abroad”?

      • Gary Freer says:

        For an island nation it is purely descriptive.

      • Jason Lewis says:

        Well, we do live on a series of islands surrounded by water……

    • HugoPreuss says:

      The German ARD, roughly equivalent to BBC, sponsors an annual competition, financed by German taxpayers. According to your logic we should exclude all participants from the UK. I’m glad that we are not that petty.

      • Tom Phillips says:

        Germany is a much more politically, socially and culturally advanced nation than the UK (and of course the United States).

    • Tom Phillips says:

      Next thing you know they’ll want to marry your daughters…heaven forefend!

  • M McAlpine says:

    I find it entirely predictable that some people find a request to encourage British talent in a competition funded by British licence payers as ‘xenophobic’ which is apparently a ‘particular blight’ of the British. Doesn’t matter that numerous other countries I have travelled to also have this particular ‘blight’, us British must self-flagellate and not encourage our own British talent. I believe there is a European Young Musician (if it is still going) where our young person could try their skills against. Come on, there are many, many international competitions and there is absolutely nothing xenophobic about wanting to showcase home grown talent for once.

    • Michael says:

      What does “home grown” mean to you? It sounds like a dogwhistle to me. The guy lives here, and has studied here. He is a product in part of the British education system. Doubtless if he has a TV he pays the licence fee and if he earns an income he will pay tax here. You would seek to exclude him from this competition why, exactly?

      • M McAlpine says:

        Well, I have lived over seven decades and ‘home grown’ has always meant the same thing to intelligent people, so I would have thought common sense would have told you.

  • Jason Lewis says:

    The licence fee is not voluntary. The BBC is available to international audiences, but revenue from the home-applied licence fee still accounts for roughly 75% of the BBC’s income.
    The presentation of the Young Musician competition has become increasingly and sometimes comically ‘inclusive’…. and that’s OK. The real concern is the exclusivity of it all. Kids from specialist music schools and the private sector predominate disproportionately. (The public sector accounts for 90% plus in the UK). There are exceptions I know – the Kanneh-Masons recently – but they tend to come from families who are dedicated to the project. Here’s a challenge for the BBC: unearth children who have the potential to be fine classical musicians but are struggling to find the required support. Rough diamonds if you will.

  • Cynical Bystander says:

    I’m less concerned about this than the BBC using Licence Fee funded facilities to allow there overpaid ‘stars’ to moonlight by fronting Zoom events for private concerns. I mean if you can’t live on £360,000 a year of Licence Fee money without picking up the odd £5,000 on the side, my heart bleeds.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Ah the unending parochialism and nationalism of British (usually English) classical music commentary – truly a sight to behold. So reminiscent of the late Harold Rosenthal, editor of Opera Magazine, who, when reviewing Royal Opera performances, would frequently lament that “I fail to see why (this singer) was imported when there are perfectly good interpreters at home”. More recently, the same magazine contained an ENO review noting “a cast top-heavy with Americans”. It just never ends. NEVER see this type of response in either US musical criticism or anywhere else in Europe.

    • Matias says:

      Having spent most of my life in the US, I find your claim that the UK has some sort of monopoly on parochialism and nationalism quite laughable. And my (admittedly limited) experience of Scotland is that it has a peculiarly childish brand of nationalism all its own.

      If a country is ignoring homegrown talent for any reason, it seems perfectly reasonable to want to know why. There seems to be an element within the UK music world that attaches excessive weight to a foreign name.

      Lastly, Germany is politically advanced? Well it certainly has a penchant for advancing its politics.

    • Helen says:

      As English audiences seem to be more than happy to turn up for those ghastly foreign performers (perhaps even in preference to those from closer to home), perhaps your Guardian-style outrage is a little excessive?

    • Gary Freer says:

      Surely it’s in order to wonder why a singer from Nottingham, who came up the hard way, like Catherine Foster is considered good enough to sing major Wagnerian roles at Bayreuth for the last six seasons but has yet to sing at the English National Opera or the Royal Opera House?

  • Jonathan B says:

    Mr Earlbridge is presumably objecting to these competitions existing at all, since they are following their own rules. (By the way, it would be interesting to know his credentials for complaining, googling simply brought up this blog post).

    BBC Young Musician is what it says on the tin, a musician who meets the age requirements and is studying in the UK. Nothing about nationality. There are flaws – the finals do seem to over-represent the specialist private music schools – but it does pick up some interesting future prospects. And interestingly those private students don’t necessarily win, they often forget the competition is about musicianship not just virtuosity.

    New Generation Artists has its criteria less public, but it seems to be open to promising young professionally trained musicians who are prepared to commit to the obligations of the NGA scheme and I guess the adequate but not stellar pay structure. It has an amazing track record of finding some very interesting performers who often develop impressively while in the scheme, but at the same time it tends to exclude the real shooting stars who can presumably attract higher pay. It will be interesting to see if it survives Brexit, since it isn’t clear whether the open competition is compatible with visa regulations.

  • Andy says:

    Neither are “tax payer funded”. Both are license fee funded which is not the same thing at all. And, the “marimba player” has a name: it’s Fang Zhang.

  • Kenji says:

    As someone who was a jury member on various BBCYM category and semi finals in the last decade, I can assure those who may wish to believe otherwise that the decisions we made were entirely our own. There was never a word in our ear from a shady BBC executive about ‘making the right (aka PC) decision’ or promoting their diversity agenda. BBCYM contestants are more diverse now than they were 30 or 40 years ago because Britain, and the intake of its specialist music schools, is more diverse. There’s nothing sinister about it. We should simply celebrate it.

    As for the Radio 3 NGA scheme: the recruitment policy is more open and transparent now than it used to be (when decisions were made – brilliantly, it has to be said – by one R3 Editor). Now, suggestions for NGAs are canvassed widely from artist agents and other people with alert talent antennae. The scheme has always had wider horizons than the UK for its successive cohorts (see Janine Jansen and the Jerusalem Quartet under J as early years NGAs). It continues to present and develop a wonderfully cosmopolitan range of global talent, and helps Radio 3 continue to be the finest, broadest reaching classical music radio station in the world. If there haven’t been more ‘indigenous’ British NGAs in recent years, then I think we need to direct our concern at the nature and extent of classical music education in most of our schools (beyond the private and specialist music ones). Pipeline is the issue, not the ‘vapid internationalist approach’ of an apparently Woke BBC that our provocateur refers to.

    Instead of getting angry with each other here, and going down Culture War/Punctuation rabbit holes, we should all be vigorously resisting the government’s shameful plans to slash 50% from Further Education arts funding.

  • Just another incarnation of George Soros’ Open Society NWO Communist/Fascist One World Government nonsense.
    It has been a long time since the BBC was a pro-British institution.