English orchestra sacks half its players to become ‘more diverse’

English orchestra sacks half its players to become ‘more diverse’

News

norman lebrecht

September 12, 2021

We understand that English Touring Opera has sacked half of its players in a bid to replace them with ‘diverse’ musicians, as required by Arts Council England. The dismissal came out of the blue. Here is what the freelance players were told on Friday by the company’s boss:

Dear (name witheld),

I am writing to advise you that English Touring Opera is going through some significant changes over the next few seasons.

Some of these changes will directly affect the composition of the freelance orchestra engaged to tour.

It does seem likely that ETO will not be in a position to offer you a freelance engagement in the Spring 2022 season, even if we would like to leave the door open for freelance engagements in the future.

The orchestra has always changed, season to season – just as the company on stage and in the wings has changed regularly – but for a few reasons there will be quite a bit of change now.

As you know, the company has appointed a new Music Director, Gerry Cornelius. Gerry will be involved in advising on freelance orchestral engagements, as you would expect; he has been tasked with working with Phil Turbett on shaping the modern orchestra, and there have been recent auditions to inform that work. English Touring Opera is committed to increasing all kinds of diversity in its team, and while there have been appreciable, steady advances on stage in this area, we have prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council, principal funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most of the trust funds that support ETO.

I appreciate very much the commitment and achievement of all the freelance players who have achieved such high standards for ETO during my tenure with the company.

I know that all those players have achieved distinction in their work with other groups, in their teaching, and in many other fields. I recognise, too, that this last 18 months have been extremely difficult for freelance artists and technicians.

I know that you are not likely to read gratitude into this message – but I assure you that I do feel grateful for what you have brought to ETO in the seasons during which you have played so far.

James Conway
Director

The Arts Council has allegedly distance itself from its ‘guidance’ and the Musicians Union has condemned the sackings in strong terms:
The Union is appalled to hear that a number of members have been sent a letter by English Touring Opera (ETO) stating that they will not be booked for the 2022 tour. This equates to almost half the orchestra losing their roles. Many of the members who have been told they will not be booked for the 2022 have been performing with ETO for 20 years or more.’

This sets a dire precedent across UK arts.

UPDATE: Arts Council denies’ guidance’

Comments

  • Paul Dawson says:

    I realise that you’re your own boss, NL, but were I your editor, I’d insist on your delivering rather more about the Arts Council’s quiet disavowal.

    • V. Lind says:

      Me too. That was the most interesting nugget in that otherwise appalling story.

      Got the impression Conway was also trying to distance himself. Were these diversity czars willed on him by some fiat, of the Arts Council of of some sponsors?

      Just try this on in sport — just try it. There would — rightly — be a public outcry you could hear from outer space. But the very institution meant to be shepherding the arts through the various hazards life presents is demanding this arrant foolishness?

      God, it’s time the chatterati, all the dismayed people who wring their hands at this sort of rubbish in universities and in artistic and other liberal-ish institutions got their acts together and fought back.

      And I am curious about the music biz’ use of this word freelance. How freelance are they as some have been with the orchestra 20 years? Are they not contracted to the orchestra? Over here in Canada, freelance generally refers to people who work gig to gig.

      • Marfisa says:

        I agree: more clarity and less automatic outrage would be welcome on this matter.

        Has the ETO had a diversity czar willed on it? I could find out nothing about that. It is certainly the case that the Arts Council has a firm policy about diversity in the organizations it wholly or partly supports.

        There is a strange assumption on this site that ‘diversity’ must be about race. Class and social mobility is another concern.

        And finally, I get the impression that professional sport is already ‘diverse’, at least in class and ethnic terms. In any case, there is no sensible comparison between sports and the arts. Many orchestral musicians are middle-aged; there are few 55-year-old players in the English football leagues.

        • Anthony Sayer says:

          Football is now so ‘diverse’ I’ve completely lost any connection to the sport I’ve loved all my life.

        • V. Lind says:

          “Diversity,” in its current application, IS about race. It was for a while about sex, but that seems to be working itself out (with a little help). Age is not a useful issue when comparing things people do sitting down and things they do running around for up to 90 minutes (longer in baseball and cricket, where many players do seem to do well into middle age).

          This particular case appears to devolve from the fact that the entire ETO is white.

          Both the Arts Council and the ETO and other music organisations have to do one thing: put the best talent they can find on that stage. And sod age, sex, race. The places must be open to young or old, male or female, black or white or Asian or whatever. But awarded on one thing only: talent.

        • Antonia says:

          Conway’s letter states, “… and there have been recent auditions to inform that work. English Touring Opera is committed to increasing all kinds of diversity in its team…”

          All kinds of diversity might now include not just ethnic diversity, but also, more obvious representation of LGBTQ people including non-binary and trans.

          if they want to go further, they could include people with disabilities (at least, those disabilities which do not hinder their playing, such as those requiring a wheelchair à la Itzhak Perlman), vegans, people covered with tattoos and having injected their eyes with dark dye, recovering alcoholics, in short, an orchestra that looks like the larger society.

      • Maria says:

        Freelance is gig to gig but if people prove to be reliable, interested in more than the money, loyal and a pleasure to work with, they would get invited back.

        • Commenter says:

          And inviting the same people back year after year is how you maintain an all-white orchestra, whether you mean to or not – and talented people from other ethnic backgrounds won’t get a look in.

  • John Borstlap says:

    This is what you get when social justice is carried-out in terms of group think. This dismissal exercise is full-blown racism: ‘We don’t want you any longer because of your ethnicity. And of course this has nothing to do with your musical contribution to the orchestra’.

  • CA says:

    This is simply horrible. I hope orchestras don’t get such ideas in the states, for musicians or for their staffs.

    • V. Lind says:

      I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    • J Barcelo says:

      It is happening, especially at the universities with their orchestras. There, auditions are not protected by unions and need not be held anonymously. The hiring of conductors has become noticeably “woke”. White guys need not apply.

      • Alicia says:

        You are right. Alas, not only at the universities. Quoting a recent reply from a professional orchestra based in Upstate NY: in our choices “we are focusing on learning about conductors that are women or BIPOC”. For uninitiated in the Church of the Woke: BIPOC stands for “Black, Indigenous, People of Color”. It is astonishing how orchestra managers are not ashamed at perpetuating such openly sexist and racist policies! I wonder, what about non-binary conductors? What constitutes being “indigenous”? Is white (or rather pink) not a color? Certainly any talk about excellence in music is futile, for the managers cannot care less.

        • Bill says:

          Nothing wrong with finding out more about an underrepresented group so that you can make certain that your hiring processes are not biased against them.

          Frankly, a lot of up-and-coming conductors aren’t all that great. Given that, I see no problem with hiring an uninspiring BIPOC instead of an uninspiring white guy.

          • Bone says:

            If all things are uninspiringly equal, then I agree.
            That is absolutely NOT what is occurring now, though. Frankly, racism is racism and I’m sick and tired of hearing equivocation from the woketards.

    • PaulD says:

      It is coming, based on what the symphony orchestra, opera company and other arts organizations in my small city have signed on to.

      “Our Coalition of arts, culture and history organizations is committed to dismantling systemic racism
      in our community. This includes the oppressive impacts of segregation, mass incarceration, and
      educational, economic and environmental discrimination; all of which are born from slavery. The arts
      and culture community has perpetuated white supremacy through appropriation and tokenization,
      such as recruiting Black people for shows, exhibits and performances without integrating them into
      positions of sustained leadership.”

      Further:

      “Prioritize intentional recruitment and hiring practices of Black staff, leadership and board members
      by investing time and/or resources to expand recruitment outside existing networks.*”

      • Anon says:

        PaulD.
        The BBC have published jobs for years stating that White Applicants needn’t apply. But nobody ever questions this.

        • John Borstlap says:

          I read somewhere an advert for a job application with the text: ‘People of ANY colour need not apply’ – obviously, they wanted to be on the safe side.

      • Antonia says:

        The pendulum may need to swing too far in the other direction before it returns to center. This is commonly how it all goes.

        Not that I approve of the way this is being done! But is it worse than the super-slow, incremental change seen this far?

        This type of thrust MUST be accompanied by major investment into instruments and private music lessons for those in diverse but poorer neighborhoods in order that the diverse children receive the proper training to prepare them for such a career. And perhaps college scholarships for those needing them. This is the only way to support such change without ultimately largely reducing expertise and competence.

        • V. Lind says:

          But it is NOT doing this. A small company is removing the livelihoods of a group of people to make room for another group of people. Sound familiar?

          Who IS making the move into education, the place where it all belongs? Until there is a body of highly able, trained, motivated and talented black musicians clamouring for places in orchestras and opera companies, any actions like this are at least tokenism and quite possibly deleterious to the projects where they are engaged. There is absolutely no evidence that masses of black musicians are being denied opportunities.

          There are rich legacies of “black” music, whether it be African, Caribbean or American (North and South). There are also many outlets for these musics. Interest in western classical music has not been high on black agendas, though naturally these communities have all thrown up talent in the genre, not enough, perhaps, of which has been recognised.

          But I do not get the impression that blacks are beating on stage doors. I do not doubt that, in any close calls until very recently, the nod probably went white, or that an obviously “black” name might not have got past the application stage to the audition. THAT has to stop.

          The question has to be asked: who exactly is demanding this diversification of orchestras? And why? Nobody is stopping blacks attending concerts or operas. If they only turn out for black artists, they are making a socio-political, not a musical, preference.If they truly love this music, they are not going to be any more fussed by the colour of the singer or soloist or conductor than anyone else.

          I abhor exclusion. But I am very wary of INclusion that means imposition by decree rather than engagement on merit. of course I am not suggesting that minority candidates will not be as meritorious as others. But in that case, they are covered and do not need these wokeist box-ticking policies.

          Has anybody asked them? There is a distinct odour of do-goodery here.

          • Marfisa says:

            V. Lind, just a few final thoughts and queries. The discussion is worthwhile. But there are many things I at any rate simply don’t know.

            Do we know that the freelance musicians who ‘seem likely’ not to be offered engagements by the ETO in Spring 2020 have had their livelihoods removed? Being freelance, they probably had other sources of income (though I realize how hard the past two years have been).

            Do we actually know who the 12 new appointees to the freelance pool are? Increased diversity was being prioritized, but that does not mean they are all black. (You do seem to be obsessed with blacks, I’ve noticed.)

            Do you or I know the current ethnic or racial mix of people at music colleges or at the early stages of their careers?

            Do you think that freelance opportunities should be denied younger people for as long as older people still want to hold on to them?

            Do we know that increased diversity was the only motive for the (admittedly drastic) turnover of the orchestra? The letter does also say “Gerry [Cornelius, the new Music Director] will be involved in advising on freelance orchestral engagements, as you would expect; he has been tasked with working with Phil Turbett [Orchestra Manager] on shaping the modern orchestra, and there have been recent auditions to inform that work.” This implies artistic decisions.

            Do you actually know, given that the ETO’s outreach programmes may take it to schools in predominantly black areas, whether it would affect the children differently if the orchestral members were all middle-aged and white, rather than some being younger and/or black?

            What is the process by which people come to “truly love this music”?

            Interest in Western classical music is not high on the agenda of any group, young or old, black, Asian (even), or white. We are a small, happy, minority!

            Enough.

        • Gonout Backson says:

          Do you realize you have accepted (not invented, of course), swallowed, and now regurgitate, the new meaning of the word “diverse”? Stripped of its etymological sense, it now carries only an ideological value (bending under it). In other words: it stopped describing reality and started distorting it, lying about it. From Webster’s to Lenin : a mechanism well described by Orwell.

  • Nijnsky says:

    Since when does mainstream political opportunism equate to promoting “diversity?”
    Neither is Westernizing other cultures promoting “diversity.”

    Further more, it looks like that quite possibly those being sacked will be more the purveyors of diversity.

    And I don’t see China being coerced into taking in Western singers or training Western instrumentalists for their operas, nor Gamalan, it all seems more an excuse to suppress the beauty from other cultures that was already there, and was indigenous to them: Native “Americans,” (Sorry Amerigo you’re in quotations). Or Maqam…

    There’s a DIFFERENCE between assimilation, opportunism and “diversity.”

  • Miko says:

    Orchestral management using diversity as cover to financially unburden itself.
    Cynical and divisive.

  • Allen says:

    What is the legal position? Seems to me that if they are freelance players, technically they are not being “sacked”, as there is no contract of employment between the players and the orchestra.

    This would also mean that the suggestion that the orchestra is trying to “financially unburden itself” doesn’t wash.

    Perhaps the orchestra should be given at least some credit for being open about what it is doing. Shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.

    • Miko says:

      Huh? By fielding a smaller band every time, they’ll financially undurden themselves.
      Obviously.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      All the major orchestras in England outside the BBC are run on a freelance basis, even if they hire the same people decade in, decade out. The legal aspect probably can’t be compared to those of other countries.

      • Allen says:

        I don’t think the CBSO or the Halle are, and probably not Bournemouth either. Don’t know about Liverpool.

      • Tommy says:

        “All the major orchestras in England outside the BBC are run on a freelance basis, even if they hire the same people decade in, decade out.”

        Er, not true. The CBSO, the Halle, ENO orchestra, ROH orchestra, Opera North orchestra and others are salaried orchestras.

    • Gary Freer says:

      I hope they have good lawyers. They may be needing them.

    • CRogers says:

      The ‘sacked’ musicians should high several employment lawyers immeditely. I have a friend who was kept on a ‘temp’ contract for 20 years with her orchestra. She got the union involved and eventually got a ‘permanent’ contract.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    Since the English Touring Opera is active in the areas of England that would not otherwise have ready access to opera, I will not have the pleasure to boicott their performances.

    The English Touring Opera is sponsored by Arts Council England, individual and corporate sponsors, as well as trusts and foundations – what do they have to say about this atrocity?

    • Marfisa says:

      Atrocity? Really? 9/11 and 7/7 were atrocities.

      But how fortunate you are not to live in those benighted areas of England where opera is a rarity.

      • Will says:

        The unauthorised installation of socialist authoritarians within all of our schools, hospitals and institutions by Blair was a massive atrocity that we are now seeing 20 years later come to it’s full fruition. Communism.

  • Average White Man says:

    At least they’ll now be able to match the incredible levels of artistry the Chineke achieves

  • Rupert Christiansen says:

    Wrong headed, craven and depressing

  • Roman says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but isn’t it explicitly violating Equality Act 2010? I hope that they’ll make an official complaint and this will have legal consequences.

    • Allen says:

      I’m not a lawyer either but, as I understand it, although it is indeed illegal to discrimate on grounds of race (and sex, religion etc), it is legal to “correct” perceived injustices. I believe the BBC and other organisations have used this argument in some of their recruiting practices.

      As I said above, what is unusual is that the opera company is being open about what it is doing.

      This is the logical conclusion of people in the arts harping on about unequal representation. You reap what you sow.

      • V. Lind says:

        Well, I suppose Mr. Conway was open to his about to be sacked musicians. (|which is why I wonder whether he was being pressured).

        But if you mean open to all, this was released by the Musicians’ Union — I suspect by way of the Daily Mail, which has this story blazoned.

        Agendas to spare around here.

      • C Bayley says:

        I think that’s more-or-less right:

        “Positive action:
        Permitted action by an employer to assist protected groups which are disadvantaged or under-represented in a particular job. It is a limited exception to the prohibition on discrimination in employment.”

        https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/7-200-3418?originationContext=document&transitionType=DocumentItem&contextData=(sc.Default)&ppcid=6ce3158a9cde4fe496c04598a39e43e4&comp=pluk

      • Derek H says:

        So they can “correct a perceived injustice” by replacing capable, dedicated people and put them out of work through no fault of their own?

        Isn’t that an injustice?

        It is one reason why giving priority to a “category of person” rather than ability and job performance is misguided.

        • CA says:

          It absolutely is misguided. It is disgusting. It is insidious. I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty because I’m white and therefore not wanted because someone needs to meet their “numbers”. We need to get past this BS.

        • Allen says:

          So they can “correct a perceived injustice” by replacing capable, dedicated people and put them out of work through no fault of their own?

          Well they think so, yes.

          We are constantly being told that the composition of all organisations must reflect the UK’s demographic. If you accept this premise, it follows that English Touring Opera’s employment of musicians is racist, and steps must be taken to rectify the “injustice”.

          Other employers have been toeing the line for some time. Clearly penny has only just dropped with the MU.

        • Antonia says:

          The orchestra should seek greater diversity over time by replacing retiring/relocating/otherwise departing players with those who are more diverse.

          • V. Lind says:

            No. It. Shouldn’t. It should replace them with the best available talent. And make damned sure they are checking out diverse sources of talent.

  • Bostin'Symph says:

    I’m all in favour of organisations ensuring appointments are made irrespective of race, gender or background, but this seems like a chilling purge. And what exactly is meant by ‘This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council’? I wonder if this is legal?

    From the Citizens Advice website:

    ‘It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against you because of race. This includes all employers, no matter how few people they employ. Most workers, including employees, agency workers, trainees and those who are self-employed have protection from race discrimination at work.’

  • Curvy Honk Glove says:

    Well… You didn’t really think all that arts “funding” wasn’t going to come without strings attached did you? I thought you classical music people were supposed to be the smartest intellectuals among us and yet THIS catches you by surprise?

  • FrauGeigerin says:

    So, basically “you are good, but you are not the right colour/gender. Find another way to feed you and your family”. Shame, shame, shame…

    • How the turn tables! says:

      I mean… all due respect, Mrs. Violinist, us non-whites have been told that for decades. Doesn’t feel so good now the shoe’s on the other foot does it?

  • Orchestral musician. says:

    This should send terror across the orchestras who receive Arts Council funding. Even in the self governing ones – a Faustian pact at the expense of the musicians, ably executed by management under the guise of cost cutting.
    Average White Man stated that Chineke would bolster the standards, well, they work already in these AC funded groups!
    Sponsors wouldn’t get involved for political reasons. Let’s hope the MU rise to the challenge unlike their work with the West End musicians…
    And if course the BBC are pristine with their working practices.

  • Kevin Nutty says:

    I smell a rat here.Im wondering if this is a cynical ploy to cut the number of players who normally work with this Company.
    Will the positions lost be filled with all ‘non white ‘players. What
    do we imagine are the feelings of those who take a position that is only vacant because the previous holder was the wrong colour. We in the music business have only our talent and our good reputation to secure our place in a competitive line of work.
    I cannot imagine that the Arts Council see this idiotic situation as the correct interpretation of their ideas.
    This ridiculous state of affairs needs to be aired in public and the purveyors shamed and humiliated.
    Kevin Nutty

    • V. Lind says:

      And what sort of a reception will new orchestra members get from the core group, who have just seen friends of many years expelled for the sin of being not “diverse”?

      Way to grow an art form: hire based on racial makeup rather than talent.

      • Marfisa says:

        You make a lot of assumptions here, one being that long-standing players in the same group are necessarily friends! Another is that more established musicians would not welcome new talent into their orbit. But of course you may be right on both counts.

        The word ‘expelled’ is not an accurate description of the process, as others have explained.
        The orchestra consists of up to 25 freelance musicians; this summer auditions were held (the existing players did not have to re-audition), 12 new players were chosen, so about the same number were not asked back.

        ‘Prioritising increased diversity’ does not equate to ‘appointing untalented players’, as you seem to imply.

        • V. Lind says:

          No, but it openly admits a criterion other than ability for hiring, which is very open to misapplication.

          The admission that something other than musical talent is a criterion for hiring is very suspect anyway. What other professions are meant to do this? We know at least some elements of academia and journalism are similar. But sport is not. Do you want that sort of rider in recruitment ads for engineers or doctors?

          • Marfisa says:

            That is a very simplistic attitude to the process of making job appointments. If you are looking for somebody to work in a team with other people, of course talent/ability is a primary necessity, but there are many other factors involved. Diversity may legitimately be one of them.

          • V. Lind says:

            It isn’t even legitimate grammatically. Am I diverse? Are you? We are each what we are.

            Why is Being Black a criterion for employment if Being White is not?

            Of course I am aware of the doors that were closed to minorities for many years, quite explicitly until some anti-discrimination laws were put in place. And we all know that those laws have not changed all attitudes, and that some of those bad attitudes live on hiring panels, where they can exercise a lot of influence.

            But the problem needs to be tackled where it truly exists. Make damned sure those panels are not excluding anyone due to race (or sex, or religion, or whatever else gets their knickers in a twist). And boost the education in sectors where you think there must be a widening of intake to professions. I do not personally think that getting into classical music is a priority for young blacks, but ASK THEM. Poll parents of school-age kids as to what they want improved to widen their kids’ chances. I think they would ask for open doors and a fair shot, and they would enumerate what they perceived as shortfalls in the education available to their kids. I’ll bet classical music would not even figure, but |I would be delighted to be wrong.

          • Adrienne says:

            “I’ll bet classical music would not even figure, but |I would be delighted to be wrong.”

            When I see a comment beginning “speaking as a”, I usually move onto something else, but please bear with me.

            Speaking as a black person, I think you’re right. Classical music is not on the radar of many young white people but,
            in my experience of black family and friends of all ages, the interest is virtually non existent. They are vaguely aware of the Kanneh-Masons through, TV but not influencd by their skin tone.

            Any attempt to engage black people by treating us as special needs, not knowing what is good for us, is destined to fail miserably. Our “patronisometers” are well tuned, even if our ears are not (that was a joke, by the way).

          • V. Lind says:

            I just have always had the feeling that there are plenty rich heritages of “black” music, and that efforts to break through might be found to be centred there.

            Doesn’t mean there is not classical talent — we see that very clearly. And I think for a long time very nasty barriers were placed in the way of minority artists. I am not sure that is as true as it was, but it must be guarded against. Fought, even.

            But as far as I am concerned, as long as the auditions are open to all who qualify to participate, then all bets are off once they begin. Only the best, or the whole project of saving orchestras and classical music in general is doomed.

            And I am afraid that must go for the composers too. It is probably a good thing that some neglected black composers are being re-examined, but I hope they are being heard by knowledgable and critical ears, not by social engineers. The stuff we ought to be hearing will be resurrected; some work will drop back into obscurity.

            I find your attitude healthy and, in my experience, it is not rare. And I continue to urge those who seem hellbent on colourising orchestras to ask the black community whether it is something they feel strongly about.

            The top-down approach, as exemplified in this Arts Council-to-ETO-to musicians affair, is designed to virtue-signal — possibly with the most generous of intentions. But there’s little evidence of real dialogue with the objects of all that virtue.

    • Rustier Spoon says:

      Maybe the purveyors should also be looking over their own shoulders too!

    • CRogers says:

      Yes absolutely. ‘Name and Shame.

  • Well, that’s probably the last we’ll hear of the English Touring Opera.

    As if 2020/21 hard enough already for musicians 🙁

  • Rustier spoon says:

    Utterly disgusting!!!

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    What a load of old crap. But its beyond funny- its tragic. A desperate time for musicians- most of whom in the UK are freelance not under contract. Then to be let go of under the ‘diversity’ banner. The world has gone mad. If you’re passionate about you work- find a job playing in another country. Perhaps Sakari Oramo’s sensitive address at the Last Night was not just about the challenges of being a musician in places like Afghanistan!

  • Chris says:

    Gerry, what do you have to say about this?

  • Rustier spoon says:

    “ENGLISH” Touring Opera…

    • AlbericM says:

      Are you objecting to the fact that an opera company performs all operas in English while touring an English-speaking country?

  • Ellie says:

    It’s not sacking – they’re freelancers who – while they can often expect a return invite each year – do not have any right to their positions.

    Without radical interventions like this, orchestras will not change.

  • Dan P. says:

    I’m not sure what the issue is here. These are FREELANCE players. They have no contract and neither the company nor the players have ANY obligation to one another except for the specific services they are hired to fulfill. As the company said, all similar organizations that are composed of freelancers change personnel regularly. Players may have other engagements that conflict or there is a change of plans. And, the assumption that the organization by hiring players of other races indicates the lowering of quality or the end of the company is, in itself prejudicial and racist. Sorry, but when you’re a freelancer, no one owes you anything, just as you don’t owe anyone anything. That’s what a freelancer is.

    • Anthony Sayer says:

      See above and get informed about the way it works in the UK.

    • Allen says:

      “And, the assumption that the organization by hiring players of other races indicates the lowering of quality or the end of the company is, in itself prejudicial and racist.”

      If players of other races are in short supply, it is not racist, it is realistic. No shortage of players of SE Asian heritage. African heritage, less so. What is an orchestra supposed to do if players of the “right” colour are not available?

      If concerts, including free ones, cannot attract audience members of colour, what are the chances of finding orchestral players of colour? Slim, I’d say.

  • Felixx says:

    I don’t know, some players (usually with some justification) hold positions in such freelance ensembles for years, as seems to be the case here; I don’t think there is anything wrong with diversifying the pool whichever way you define it. Not being invited back, or being invited back less regularly, is hardly unusual for these kind of orchestras, giving other – sometimes younger – players a chance to make some money and build their CVs too. And if ETO wants to make a practical statement about inclusion, as seems to be infered by readers, they are certainly free and, in my opinion, right to do so.

  • christopher storey says:

    Oh dear , what were they thinking of ? Well, that’s the end of English Touring Opera – unless, of course, it has the funds available to pay out the enormous claims it will receive as a result of an open acknowledgement that the dismissals are racially discriminatory. There will be no defence available to ETO for these claims

    • William Evans says:

      Sadly, as noted by other contributors, the musicians involved are freelance so cannot, technically, be dismissed – they were not previously employees of ETO except within each individual rehearsal/ performance contract. Any legal claim for unfair dismissal would, therefore, fall at the first hurdle (unless services were dispensed with between a specific personal contract being signed and its performance completed). The perils of a freelance career writ large.

      • christopher storey says:

        I am afraid, William Evans , that you know nothing about the law on this matter, and what you have stated is drivel

      • christopher storey says:

        I am afraid, William Evans , that you know nothing about the law on this matter, and what you have stated is drivel . Go away and read the relevant sections of the Equality Act 2010 , which provide for protected characteristics ( in this case racial origin) not just in the case of employment, but in the workplace generally, and even more critically in this case, deal by S.108 with discrimination in relation to relationships which have ended

  • M McAlpine says:

    Diversity triumphs musical talent every time!

    • You simply are not in a position to substantiate that claim. Auditions were held, decisions were made, you were not on the panel, neither was I. You need to examine your motivation for making that statement, looks pretty ugly from where I am reading

  • CA says:

    “Whites not wanted.” I’m sorry but it’s disgusting that it’s come to this. Hire based on quality of performance!!!

  • Glynne Williams says:

    This has to amount to discrimination against current players, regardless of their race, sex, orientation or religion. It must be resisted by the Musicians’ Union and anyone who cares about the quality of music in this country. Who in the Arts Council gave the green light to such an action? We should be told…

  • BigSir says:

    I will boycott this organization (and any like it) that are institutionalizing racism and lack any sense of loyalty to their employees.

  • Bass One says:

    Perhaps Tesco’s will soon be able to set up and sponsor a Shelf Stackers Orchestra.

  • Vilnesh says:

    I always thought that orchestral players are hired on their ability. In Germany in many places they have to play behind a screen. It’s simple. If you aren’t good enough you don’t get the job. All the Brits will end up with are orchestras that are not up to the job playing on inadequate instruments. Any musician who can should move abroad. Oops! Almost forgot about Brexit. What a benighted country.

  • Don says:

    I hope they ask Hezbollah and Taliban to send over some audition tapes or utoobs. And the CCP too.

  • Trevor says:

    Utterly revolting. I hope they are besieged by a litany of legal cases for overtly stated race discrimination and put right out of business as a stark warning of the consequences of this kind of mindless cultural marxism.
    The road to hell is paved with good intention and we are on it.

  • JK says:

    Play left-wing games, get left-wing prizes. The MU is all up for so-called “diversity” until it hits their (subscription-paying) members between the eyes.

  • James Inverne says:

    It has to be said, and said NOW – this is morally wrong, plain and simple. I’m sure there is more to the situation, as the letter hints, but that’s the bottom line.

  • Gerald Newson says:

    Am I assume that the ETO management will also be removing and replacing half its own staff in the interest of the Arts Councils’s philosophy of “diversity” ?

  • Rustier spoon says:

    Several hours later and having been in contact with one poor, totally undeserving beleaguered musician, I think I’m even more shocked and disgusted than I was earlier. Out and out racism.

  • Sonicsinfonia says:

    This is not pursuit of diversity but pure racism, discriminating between players by virtue of their ehtnicity or skin colour. Pretty stupid to put it in writing. I don’t know whether freelancers can bring an action under the appropriate employment legislation but ought to be looking into it. I so wonder how Chineke manages to discriminate in a similar manner.

    This conductor is making a name for himself – his NYO Prom was decidedly dull, despite some plaudits.

    We ought to be pursuing the best of quality, regardless of background and colour, with equal opportunity to all, not filling jobs by ticking the appropriate boxes on a form.

  • Marfisa says:

    Arts Council England is the major source of funding for the ETO.

    Arts Council England in numerous documents is pushing a diversity and equality agenda, and threatening the future funding of organizations that do not make sufficient progress in that area.

    There are currently no musicians of a non-white background in the ETO freelance orchestra pool, and their ages are between 40 and 66 (Daily Mail).

    What is the best way to deal with this situation? Any suggestions?

    • V. Lind says:

      It wasn’t a “situation” five years ago, when they were between 35 and 61. That it is a situation now is a politically-driven agenda based not in moral self-examination but in response to a growing hysteria. Events, mostly in the US, have triggered a widespread response that grows in confidence with every nervous acceding to demands by intimidated institutions.

      And every victory makes the demands of this new cultural revolution more excessive and, in some cases, more ridiculous.

    • Leyland Maestro says:

      The best (only) way is to restore funding- for musical instrument lessons in primary schools, and youth ensembles- then wait for about 15 years. We are currently reaping the results of the ‘anti-elitist’ dumbing-down of state education in the 1990s and 00s which has made classical music amongst under-18s pretty much a middle-class monopoly.
      You can’t appoint candidates who don’t exist.

  • Tom Clowes says:

    On this very site I’ve read so many comments assuming that musicians of color were hired because of their race, without any evidence. I don’t however see similar comments assuming that White freelance musicians weren’t retained for reasons other than their race. This is despite the evidence of a Daily Mail article saying that every musician in the orchestra was White, but the number not retained was reported at 14, and the further evidence that Arts Council England appears not to support this orchestra’s stance, even though the orchestra attributed the stance to Arts Council England. So despite the fact that there is evidence that the diversity concern could have been pretextual, because it doesn’t fit folks’ pro-White narratives, that possibility is never even imagined.

  • Michael James says:

    If the players are freelancers, not employees, their work is governed by explicit contractual arrangements. When contracts expire, neither party is obliged to renew them.

  • CRogers says:

    Some years ago, when I worked in education and was a member of another union (Unison) I was involved in a long running, legal dispute with my employer. My union were beyond hopeless. They were like a Sunday kick about football team trying to play in the Premier League. I hope the MU can do a bit better…..

  • Bored Muso says:

    Is this really about diversity?

    Does our ACE really demand and expect more diverse players among the companies they help fund?
    Where is this actually stated and demanded?

    This sad move is probably more about cost cutting and economic viability as we emerge from the pandemic shutdown with many now alarmed at the economic shortfall of having no performances for nearly 2 years.

    It also of course provides a timely opportunity to allow new Musical Director, Sri Lankan born Gerry Cornelius (appointed to ETO in April of this year) to ‘re-audition’ his players picking out the long standing deadwood and reshape the ‘modern orchestra’ the company claim they are now creating.

    It would be fascinating to know if ‘recent auditions’ were exclusively for ‘diverse’ musicians, and if any were successful.

  • Micaelo Cassetti says:

    Never mind the quality, cop a feel of that diversity!

  • Maria says:

    This is a dreadful letter. Consciously engineered ‘diversity’ is more about looks, race, gender in all those manifestations and – yes- your weight if you are a woman, than may the best person have the job who may also have valuable experience.

  • I hope lawyers were consulted prior to this decision,otherwise a class action based upon a refusal to renew employment that had previously been based on a pre established understanding,namely solely on ethnic interpretation may make for interesting litigation.

  • Adrienne says:

    Across the arts, people have been jumping uncritically on the BLM/CRT/diversity-in-everything bandwagon because it sounds virtuous.

    Now the chickens have come home to roost. I’m sorry for the musicians concerned but, at the same time, I can’t avoid a wry smile.

    Good luck, ETO, in finding “diverse” musicians at the same level to replace the loyal ones you plan to ditch. It has been common knowledge for some time that the Arts Council wants more “diversity”. But no recipients of Arts Council largesse would, in their right minds, miss an opportunity to get the AC off their backs by turning away a qualified black musician. There’s a supply and demand problem and the implication that these organisations regularly discriminate against black people is absurd. Far far too much hassle.

  • John says:

    I wonder if the head of these so called diverse people will also be replaced. This situation is going to create more hostility towards these racial minorities. Why not hire the best instead of picking who is a minority.

  • Eric says:

    Very nice. The condescension is palpable in this ‘news article’. particularly the early quotation of ‘diversity’, as if we were PREVIOUSLY being lied to the unnamed progenitors of the ‘article’, rather than within its confines.

    The ‘journalist’ possibly thinks they are defending the vulnerable from some kind of faceless, soul-crushing, bureaucratic, globalist authority that seeks to grind your heroic artists in its gears. And ignores that the obvious counter-argument to statism is not ‘diversity’, but ‘merit’.

    I understand many of these musicians had a stable job for 20 years. This is frankly amazing for any job, especially in the performing arts. If you have that kind of job security, Good for you! … but understand you are the exception, not the norm.

    Statism has its own costs:

    For each one of these people who lost their gig, how many talented musicians are working a boring office job for 20 years, with no real chance to compete for this orchestra? 2,000? 10,000?

    And why should this larger majority who have been locked out support the 20-year+tenured-musicians, you claim to care about, either with public funds or purchased tickets?

    • V. Lind says:

      Freelancers are a lot of things, but “tenured” is not among them.

      The freelancers receive da message saying they were not being offered their place in the coming season, and the only reason they were given was this:

      “English Touring Opera is committed to increasing all kinds of diversity in its team, and while there have been appreciable, steady advances on stage in this area, we have prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra.”

      If increasing diversity has been “prioritised,” then something else — like ability — has dropped down a notch in the scheme of things.

      These letters do not say, You did not meet our musical standards so will not be renewed. They basically say, we have to mix it up a bit and you have to make way. Not your fault, but social engineering trumps musical cohesion.

      • Marfisa says:

        (a) “*their* place” – you still hanker after the “sacked” scenario, even though you now realize they weren’t tenured? They had no more right to a place than anyone else (unless having had it for up to the last 20 years constitutes a right, which could be argued).

        (b) Not the only reason given. Read the letter again.

        (c) I agree that ‘prioritize’ might be taken literally to
        imply that other factors were of less concern. But it could just mean that extra efforts were taken to recruit from minority groups as well as more widely for the auditions. Somebody should ask them.

        (d) What the letter did not say might, in fact, have been the the case! It would have been rather cruel to say it, though. It might also have been that the style of these freelance players did not match the new musical director’s vision. (Note that only about 1/4 seem to have been sent this letter; why this subgroup?)

        I may just be becoming too disputatious.

      • V. Lost says:

        Brainworms. You seem to think that diversity = less talent, as if anyone else needs a leg up over Mr. John Smith faking his way in the back of the seconds.

  • ThisMuchIsTrue says:

    Firstly, less than a quarter of the pool are meant to have received this letter.

    Secondly, diversity does not mean simply racial diversity, it can mean that of age, size, social background and educational background. This broadest term is what the company are seeking to promote.

    Thirdly, no one is ‘sacked’. This company offers short term contracts. If they feel disatisfied with who they give those contracts to they are within their rights not to offer them again.

    Finally, does anyone truly believe that out of the less than 25% of their talent pool receiving this letter, any of them would have prefered to be given another reason. Many companies (for example Glyndebourne this yeaf) do not have the grace to inform players, singers and backstage staff that they are not required until the last minute or not at all.

    James Conway has behaved more honourably than any other artistic director in this country would have done and has been brave enough to put his head across the parapet. These musicians have plenty of warning (in terms this business) and the door is not shut to future seasons.

    • Matias says:

      “Secondly, diversity does not mean simply racial diversity, it can mean that of age, size, social background and educational background. This broadest term is what the company are seeking to promote.”

      Really? Not enough 400 pound tuba players or 4 ft piccolo players?

      Come off it, we know perfectly well what this is about.

    • Marfisa says:

      Thank you for clarifying that the freelance pool was around 60, from which the orchestra of (I believe) around 25 is selected, engagement by engagement. The news item was lacking in basic information of this sort. I was indeed puzzled as to how “It does seem likely that ETO will not be in a position to offer you a freelance engagement in the Spring 2022 season, even if we would like to leave the door open for freelance engagements in the future” translated into “has sacked half its players”!

  • Local pianist says:

    I played as accompanist to a few of these candidates (white or not, male or not, straight or not), and found them all to be very good examples of what British conservatories have to offer. I don’t know what so many other commenters are kvetching about here. If you’re so good, go audition.

    We’re talking about quality, right? Surely, logically speaking, some youngsters are better than some established musicians. We should certainly hope so! And in that case, I’d rather an exciting youngster (of any colour or bent) replace a doddering old fart. There’s too much screaming from people who, in any other occasion, would be perfectly happy to big up Benjamin Grosvenor. Norman is guilty of fanning the flames, as usual, but the rest of you lot are absolutely laughable. Go touch grass 🙂

  • Lawyer says:

    The affected players should band together and get legal advice. This is, extremely clearly, discrimination. Positive policies and a proactive policy towards diversity is legal and welcome: failing to engage people on the express grounds that they do not have specific characteristics is direct discrimination.

  • Ed says:

    Surely it is against the law to discriminate against someone on the basis of their ethnicity or colour? In this case why can’t they take James Conway to the employment tribunal?

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