How an English orchestra conducts ethnic cleansing

How an English orchestra conducts ethnic cleansing


norman lebrecht

September 19, 2021

More details have emerged on the purge of white freelance players from the orchestra of English Touring Opera.

An explanation has been given in a statement on the ETO website as to how the process was conducted.

This summer English Touring Opera held open auditions for orchestral musicians in order to continue to hear the very best artists in this country, and strengthen the broad pool of players on whom the company calls. Panellists for those auditions were Gerry Cornelius (Music Director), Holly Mathieson (Associate Artist), Philip Turbett (Orchestral Manager) and guest Chi-Chi Nwanoku (distinguished orchestral musician, and founder of the Chineke! Orchestra). The auditions were immensely rewarding and exciting; several musicians were offered opportunities to work with English Touring Opera for the first time, based on their ability.

Nwanoku is a successful equality activist whose verntures are heavily supported by the Arts Council and the BBC. Her questionable presence on an independent audition panel appears to have been calculated to give preference to musicians of a minority background. The term for such manoeuvres used to be ‘positive discrimination’. Now it’s called diversification. The outcome for non-minority musicians is the same.

In today’s Telegraph, columnist Zoe Strimpel writes: 

The hideous optics of the ETO debacle offer a particularly stark reminder of how in the era of wokedom, the arts are doomed. Sure, the arts have a social component, but they are fundamentally rooted in creativity and talent, and they must delight, rivet or intrigue. They are not meant to be primarily didactic. I for one would never go to watch an orchestra just because it had been lauded for diversity. I would never read a book because it had been commissioned as part of a ‘diversity and inclusion programme’ and I would never admire a work of art simply because it had emerged from a person of the right colour. Yet such ideas are gaining popularity: earlier this summer, Labour MP Janet Daby, a former shadow minister for faiths, women and equalities, put to then-Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden the merits of issuing “mandatory diversity quotas” for artists that appear in publicly funded galleries like Tate Britain. Thankfully, that quota hasn’t yet been mandated, but under a different government it might well be. 




  • Dragonetti says:

    How strange (or perhaps not) that ETO should choose Ms Nwanoku to be part of this. She is fast changing from being a bassist of superior ability to a quasi political activist disguised as a musician.
    It is a given that things weren’t always right in the arts world. Just look at the treatment of women in the not very distant past for starters. However, what this is supposed to achieve escapes me entirely. You can’t right the wrongs of the past by committing more wrongs in the present.

  • Miko says:

    “ethnic cleansing”? An outrageous misuse and cheapening of this term.

    If there is no ethnic diversity ON the stage, the message sent out to kids from diverse backgrounds is “this is not for you”. That would be assuming music education was available to all…which lets face it under Tory rule will never ever happen.

    So a bit rich to call this “the era of wokedom” when for centuries it’s been the era of white upper class hegemony so far as the arts are concerned. That’s what you “culture warriors” want to preserve at all costs.
    Not even a meritocracy: just a big old club for the well heeled ruling class.

    Still, given time, under Boris Johnson’s racist administration you might yet get your chance to chase out ethnically diverse players from orchestras as Jewish players were expelled in the German Reich.
    Then you can claim “victory”.

    • Rik says:

      Your last paragraph is outrageous. I’m not a Tory but cf ethnic minority members in senior positions with numbers on the Labour Party. Whatever – it’s a ridiculous and offensive statement

      • miko says:

        Offensive to whom? Nothing to say about “ethnic cleansing”?
        Half my family was decimated in the Holocaust so I’ll take no lectures on the subject from you. That unwanted legacy gave me a keen eye for embedded racism, and I smell it in this blog with depressing frequency.

        • Y says:

          The fact that your forebears suffered in the past does not give you the right to exact that same suffering on other people today. The ETO’s policies are racist, and you do not look good for defending them.

        • New Englander says:

          Oh stop – you want some extra credit for the Holocaust? Does your ancestral background add merit to your case? Should it?

          No, it doesn’t, and no, it shouldn’t. And neither should race factor in hirings in the arts – or anywhere else for that matter.

          • miko says:

            Extra “credit” for the Holocaust?
            I would dishonour my missing ancestors by not speaking up against racists, whoever they might be. Race in the music world has factored for eons: it’s called preserving the status quo.

          • Henry Renie says:

            I’m guessing they were not Jews.

        • benjamin lerner says:

          was your family decimated or was half of it killed?

      • M McAlpine says:

        The idiotic statement that Johnson’s administration is ‘racist’ when his cabinet is the most ethnically diverse in history shows what prejudice went into it.

    • Anon says:

      Many of is get that idea that “this is not for you” when watching NBA basketball, Olympic sprinting events, and American football.

    • Matias says:

      You accuse NL of “cheapening” but, in your last paragraph, you do exactly the same by alluding to the Holocaust?


    • marcus says:

      Pritti Patel, Kwasi Karteng, Rishi Sunak, James Cleverly, Sajid Javid. Do you talk bollocks all the time or just at the weekends?

    • V. Lind says:

      Do you not concede that chasing out players because they are white is not the way to go?

      • miko says:

        No one was “chased out”, or “sacked”..a list of freelance players was reviewed and renewed, something that happens twice a week in the orchestral world without anyone so much as batting an eyelid. But there’s so much mileage for the far right when “woke” can be invoked; the odd semantic slip between racists is worth it to whip up a good old “Tommy Robinson” about it.

        • V. Lind says:

          They were told that their contracts were not to be renewed because the company was focusing on diversity. What are they expected to think? They are not being let go because they are less good than they were last year but because they do not fit in with a focus on diversity. The ETO should be concentrating on musical ability, not social engineering.

        • Viola says:

          Each recipient of the letter was treated illegally and has 3 months
          to put in a claim to ACAS. This covers job interviews,self-employed as well as contracted employees.

    • Peter says:

      If black kids don’t want to attend classical concerts simply because there are too many white people on stage…

      … it sounds to me that these people are in fact racist?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      “Upper class hegemony”? Oh, is that what Beethoven was? I didn’t realize. And Schubert? Another member of the ‘upper class’, along with JS Bach. Brahms is another.

      These comments of yours are silly, shallow and replete with grievance and vicious resentment. Were it not for patronage of the arts for centuries there would BE no classical music, painting or architecture worth preserving. But I might as well be talking to the wall.

      And choosing people based on a variety of skin colours and ethnicities doesn’t guarantee THE BEST. Even within any enterprise – any at all – there are great differences between the people already – no matter what their colour. Some have far more expertise and skill than others and this has got to be compromised by the soviet-style enforcement of social engineering.

      You would have loved it on the USSR. There’s still time to move to North Korea, where everybody is equal (yeah, right). What a hideous spectre of a society where everybody is the same. Wider reading required.

      • miko says:

        The only social engineering in the music business is built in: musical education only available to the well orf.
        And I’ll stay in the UK thanks; it’s no more your country than mine.

        • Wide Awake says:

          -> ‘musical education only available to the well orf’

          Instruments for beginners don’t cost much more than when I was a boy and are much better quality. Second-hand instruments can be cheap and easy to find online.

          There are innumerable lessons available free on YouTube and one can watch performances by the greatest musicians. Need advice? Try an online forum. Want to find some other musicians locally? Search online.

          Services like Spotify make an enormous range of recordings available with the click of a mouse for no charge. When I was very young, I carried home vinyl discs from public libraries.

          A visit to IMSLP gives free access to scores for most of the mainstream repertoire and much more. Want to see the autograph score? A few minutes hunting online might do the trick.

          Software for recording and notation is free.

          Musical education is available to everyone as it has never been before.

        • Anthony Sayer says:

          Wrong. Music lessons in the UK are not the preserve of the wealthy.

      • Herbie G says:

        Sue, stop talking common sense; it’s out of place here!

      • Herb says:

        You hint at an important point, namely that most of the composers we love and cherish are lower class. This will, I fear, be lost on those with limited awareness of history. It is all the more ironic in light of the fact that formerly, those who adhered to classical Marxian thought put primacy upon giving the lower class its due. Indeed, they celebrated in their own diverse and interesting ways whenever the lower class seemed on the cusp of rising up.

    • Henry Renie says:

      That is absolutely not true at all. Presuming to know what kids think is condescending. Many have risen to any challenge in their love of music.

  • Marfisa says:

    Ethnic cleansing? That loathsome headline is the last straw. Good-bye, and I don’t mean au revoir.

    • V. Lind says:

      I wish you would reconsider. Your contributions to this site are usually pretty valuable, whether one agrees with you on every point or not.

      Yes, the term is inflammatory, and deserves to receive criticism. I doubt Mr. Lebrecht would welcome any reference to a “holocaust” in similar context. Despite the fact that the word has many metaphorical applications before being capitalised and essentially co-opted (in the 60s) to a specific reference. We all have to be called out on anything egregious, and your comments are usually among those that can document your reasoning for your contribution. You argue your corner well.

      This is a contentious issue, and part of a larger trend to dismantle so much of what has been produced in the past. It needs vigorous discussion, especially as regards the arts, here, and the loss of your voice would be significant.

      • Wide Awake says:

        -> ‘We all have to be called out on anything egregious’

        Alarmingly, you’re adopting woke language.

        1. What does to call out actually mean? Who tends to use this expression and in what circumstances?

        2. You do know what ‘egregious’ means don’t you? In British English, historically, it’s at least as likely to have been used in a positive sense as it is to have had negative connotations.

        • V. Lind says:

          “Called out” is not woke, it is common usage in North America for drawing critical attention to unacceptable action, behaviour or statements.

          As for “egregious,” I note your subtle use of “historically.” I’d welcome your examples of when the word was last used in a positive context. For others, including the sense in which I used it, see any English dictionary or thesaurus. And I do mean English and not American.

    • Freewheeler says:

      Off you go, then.

    • Hornbill says:

      It seems to be a regular pattern on Slippedisc for screaming clickbait headlines to draw you in to a more moderate post below

    • Paul Dawson says:

      I share your concern, but on this particular issue, I’d be Jonathan Miller, rather than Peter Cook.

    • Herbie G says:

      Marfisa, you threatened to leave SD some time ago and now you have broken your word and returned. Are you a superannuated diva who tours the world giving ‘last performances’?

      Being here on SD means that you might see things you disagree with and positively resent. The response is to post a rational refutation.

      None of us on this site is indispensible and none of us is so important that if we leave, NL will call the whole thing a day and close SD down.

      I am struggling to find a polite way of saying this, but whether you stay or leave matters not a jot to the majority of us.

      In the immortal words of Woody Guthrie: ‘So long, it’s been good to know you’ …sort of.

  • UK Arts Manager says:

    Chi-Chi Nwanoku OBE, the guest on the ETO orchestra audition panel, seems to have fared rather better than those now-unwanted ETO orchestral musicians. The Chineke Foundation accounts for the year ending 31 March 2019 [source: Charity Commission website] declare that she earned £57,553 (on the foundation’s turnover of £564,945): the following year her payments from Chineke rose to £59,266 (turnover £1,132,233).

    • miko says:

      A mere snip compared to the majority sitting on the board of the ABO, and I’d say considerably more value for money.

      • V. Lind says:

        Possibly, but she comes with an agenda that goes beyond musical criticism. I’d be happier if ETO has stated that they held blind auditions — maybe they did, but the word “open,” with its implication that it was not always thus, raises the question.

  • CA says:

    Stop politicising the Arts. Hire the best man or woman for the job based on artistic ability. We have to stop this ridiculous bandwagon. The arts ARE for everyone. The problem as I see it is failing to ensure early on that many who don’t have access to it can have access. I’m talking about education, mentorship, lessons, instruments etc.

    • Stan says:


      Education and help available, for all that want it, irrespective of background.
      I am losing patience with classical music and opera organisations because of this illogical obsession.

  • John Borstlap says:

    What can you do in these times? On friday morning my PA appeared with blackface, ‘just to be sure’ as she explained.

    • PeterB says:

      “My PA appeared with blackface just to be sure.” There are few certainties in life, but John Borstlap going lower than low is one. I wish there were a way to block vomit-inducing people here.

      • Herbie G says:

        Get a life, Peter. If I weigh up John Borstlap’s stream of erudite contributions over the months with this one from you… do you see where I am going? He has one attribute that you don’t have – he can also raise a smile or even a laugh sometimes. Lighten up, man.

      • Anthony Sayer says:

        Send them to Siberia, maybe?

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      You know she was just copying Justin Trudeau!! At the time you just couldn’t see his virtue signalling baubles; they were hidden under his Indian livery.

  • Matias says:

    This might turn out to be a blessing in disguise. It has attracted unusually wide attention for an opera story and will serve as a warning to all: your job might not be as safe as you thought it was.

    An overwhelmingly European artform, in a European country, is full of Europeans? Surprise surprise. But families who have migrated to this European country, recently or not so recently, might not be able to relate to it unless it is massaged to look more like them?

    Those responsible for this arrant nonsense must have a very low opinion of minorities if they think they arrived on British shores expecting something different.

  • Ben G. says:

    Hmm… the last I heard is that music is an audible art and not a visual one….

    What’s all of this nonsense about anyway?

  • IP says:

    But existing recordings from the past will not be subjected to Chi-Chification, 1984 style?

  • Morton says:

    I hope private donations from benefactors are cancelled or withdrawn in the light of this shocking discrimination.

    The ugliest racial discrimination starts off as and ideology to ‘promote’ one ethnicity over another artificially. That ideology, in the hands of fanatics with superficial understanding, will inevitably lead to an absolute evil.
    Sound familiar? – Well it should.

  • B&R says:

    Nwanoku has a chip on her shoulder…because mum & dad treated her bad…
    not a good time to sack half an orchestra…not like they had a good couple of years.
    tin eared nonsense and certainly not a winner for race relations…but maybe thats what activists want.

  • s says:

    All this outrage about the odd position in which minority candidates are favoured when white musicians were favoured for decades, centuries even. This is no different from how only men got appointed as conductors (with some exceptions) til a few years ago. Didn’t hear people on this blog’s outrage about the unfairness then, only doubt as to whether women could conduct at all.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    Please have your cancellation fascists stop this!!! By your silence you are enabling. Soon they’ll all be wearing the uniforms.

  • Tom Clowes says:

    If having a Black panelist gives an advantage to Black musicians, as Norman asserts, does he also believe that having White panelists gives an advantage to White musicians?

    • Wide Awake says:

      In 2021, a white panellist probably only really cares about the quality of the musician, but if they are worrying about the colour of someone’s skin, it’s probably because they don’t want to hire someone with a chip on their shoulder who might cause trouble. Do these campaigners never think how counterproductive their actions might be? The tragedy is that they affect the prospects for others as well as themselves.

      A quick search online tells you if someone can be difficult and then that’s them off the list. I personally would now be very reluctant to hire Chi-Chi Nwanoku.

  • Henry Renie says:

    Promoting musicians solely by their race is pure racism. This is actually the worst thing to happen to classical music since the Holocaust. No kidding. It is exactly equivalent to removing Jews from orchestras because of their heritage.

  • will says:

    Why was Chi-Chi Nwanoku’s presence on the audition panel ‘questionable’, given that its stated (or implied) goal was diversification? It seems very fair and well-balanced that the panel comprised 2 non-white and 2 white musicians.

    • V. Lind says:

      What is God’s name does what colour the panel is have to do with choosing the best MUSICAL talent?

      Are people going to be asked their race on forms next, in order to serve on hiring panels?

      Didn’t we enact laws to stop all that?

    • Robin Smith says:

      in a country where over 80% of the people are white a 50:50 split is unusual. Reminds me of South Africa and Rhodesia.

    • Wide Awake says:

      -> “Why was Chi-Chi Nwanoku’s presence on the audition panel ‘questionable?'”

      Because she’s now a professional black person rather than a pure musician: she makes money by attracting attention for being half-African rather than anything else. It’s rather contemptible given the career she’s had.

  • Bored Muso says:

    Let us not get sidetracked by this diversity smokescreen here.
    This is not a genuine diversity issue.
    ETO held auditions without the knowledge of current longstanding members of their orchestra.
    Those who heard about these pre season auditions were excluded from the process, and were not even allowed to re-apply for their jobs and be fairly considered.
    This debacle is about new Music Director, Gerry Cornelius wishing to replace half his inherited ETO band with new players from those he considers unsuitable or undesirable for his future musical plans with the company.
    The ETO management, Director James Conway, is supporting him, but incorrectly quoting and misusing Arts Council England missives which have since been discovered as a tissue of lies in order to replace half of this touring orchestra.
    This unacceptable behaviour and professional disregard towards long serving musicians should be challenged and stopped immediately and those affected by this travesty should be re-instated, or given a fair opportunity to re-audition for their previously held jobs.
    The use of the diversity card should not be the issue here.

  • Michael McGrath says:

    Does anyone else feel nauseated? Ethnic cleansing was tried and found guilty at Nuremberg. As no German admitted to being a nazi, so no citizens alive today will admit to having been part of this sad era of “righting past wrongs” by annihilating the lives, hopes and careers of innocent people who happen to have been born the wrong colour, ethnicity, etc

  • leo grinhauz says:

    Does it really make a difference? “classical music” has been dead now for quite some time. This desperate attempt to have it matter, again for the “masses”won’t make a difference. Any new audience will be there for optical reasons only. Real music needs no optics. No show. No audience. Once again, and pay attention, this time: music no longer needs musicians. Only players need music. people don’t deserve great things. people couldn’t care less.

  • Wide Awake says:

    Face the facts:

    Classical music is generally appreciated by cleverer, well educated people.

    There are just about enough clever, well-educated white people (including Jews) and Asians (from the Far East) to sustain classical music in Britain. A lot of white Britons are now thick and poorly educated.

    Most Afro-Caribbean Britons are thick and poorly educated. This population has no interest in classical music. Even a more technical popular music like jazz is now the preserve of white performers and a white audience.

    It’s possible that the culture of Afro-Caribbean Britons will change but I doubt it.

  • H Rosen says:

    Surely the only way to fairly give jobs is screened auditions. That’s fair and impartial and clean and right. Everything else is wrong..

  • John says:

    Mao’s cultural revolution comes to the west at last.

  • Muzikmann30 says:

    At this time Boris needn’t worry about there being ‘another government’, Labour is struggling to look any way electable, and the further down this road parts of the party want to go the further they’ll be from success as any party opposing them will be able to quite successfully tar them all with the same brush. Sir Keir knows this and is probably more aware than ever that running his party is becoming a never-ending exercise in herding cats. Even a sizeable chunk of minority voters are not on board with this kinda thing, as has been shown again and again.

  • Pat says:

    Chi chi Nwanoku seems to have forgotten the white Irish mother that gave birth to her?