Just in: Arts Council denies telling opera to diversify its musicians

Just in: Arts Council denies telling opera to diversify its musicians


norman lebrecht

September 13, 2021

In a first official response, Arts Council England has distanced itself from English Touring Opera’s decision to replace half its players with ‘more diverse’ personnel.

‘We did not instruct the English Touring Opera to send this letter,’ said ACE. ‘We are now in conversation with ETO to ensure no funding criteria have been breached’.

The Arts Council England is ETO’s largest funder at £1.78 million a year. The Musicians Union is infuriated at the ETO move.

We await developments from ETO, which is not replying to media emails.





  • Bostin'Symph says:

    “We did not instruct the English Touring Opera to send this letter,’ is not the same as We did not instruct ETO to diversify their orchestra.

    Before Covid I distinctly remember the reporting in these pages of a speech made by someone high up in the Arts Council saying to the orchestras they support, effectively: You’d better diversify or there’ll be trouble. It was definitely stick without carrot.

  • M McAlpine says:

    Of course the Arts Council made threats in the present climate. Do they think we’re all simpletons?

  • Patrick says:

    This directive from Arts Council England came out many months ago. It’s laughable as the board themselves o not represent diversity in any size nor form! A case of what we say, not as we do!
    Of course they are going to deny their communications with ETO, as they’ve been rumbled!

    • V. Lind says:

      Might be as simple as someone saying to someone else how white ETO was. Might have been interpreted as “clean up your act or lose your funding” without any explicit remarks.

  • operacentric says:

    It’s all about box-ticking and quotas now, never mind seeking the best. All applications and auditions ought to be anonymised and blind. If someone is the best applicant/player good enough to take a slot, that ought to be the deciding factor, the proviso being that everyone has an equal opportunity to apply in the first place (hence anonymising names on applications/CVs to avoid unconscious bias).

    • Adam says:

      They’ve tried this but it didn’t bring the desired results… The problem is lower down the chain, in grass roots music education, and in family support and interest.

    • Guest Conductor says:

      Screened auditions have the opposite effect on ‘diversity’ to that which is desired, which is the appointment of more musicians of Afro-Caribbean heritage. Positive discrimination has been a fact of life in UK orchestral life for decades. It cannot be applied in blind auditions. The outcomes of these are overwhelmingly in favour of Asian musicians who are typically extremely hard-working and well-prepared.

  • Herbie G says:

    More diverse personnel? How diverse must a person be before being suitable for a job there? I guess Emma Raducanu would be successful – after all, her parents are Rumanian and Chinese and she is British and the winner of an American tournment.

    Thinking on from that point, how diverse have the winners of Wimbledon and the American Open been? Should there be a thesis on Race in International Tennis?

    What about winners of Mastermind? What about University Challenge winners? Appallingly biassed in favour of clever people. The trouble is that if they make the questions easier so that less educated people stand a chance, the clever ones would still win!

    What frightens me is not that this b/s exists but that people are taking it seriously enough to formulate policies on it.

  • CA says:

    Seriously? You can’t make this stuff up, can you?

  • Bored Muso says:

    As suspected by us hundreds of London based Freelance musicians, this ACE response disclaiming any direct involvement in this outrageous cut of musicians, demonstrates a smokescreen set up by Director of ETO (James Conway) and incoming recently appointed Music Director (Gerry Cornelius) simply because they don’t like some of the long serving members of the ETO Orchestra and are using this excuse of ACE demanding for diversity to axe many players.
    They may have brought in Chi-chi Nwanku CEO of the All Black Chineke Foundation back in July to audition potential BAMES with ETO Manager Philip Turbett, and ETO staff conductor Holly Mathieson to create this smokescreen in advance of the forthcoming Autumn tour, but clearly from the current ACE announcement, this has backfired on the ETO artistic directors to the possible detriment of the future of the company.
    The general consensus of the hundreds of outraged readers
    (many former supporters of the ETO regionally) of The Daily Mail on Line, who have been made aware of this travesty, is an intention to boycott further performances of this regionally funded touring company as a result of such deceit and deception.

  • Maria says:

    ETO must surely have had it in writing about having to diversify? It can’t have been just a casual phone call? Or else someone is lying?

    • Marfisa says:

      Maria, try to inform yourself by googling: Arts Council England Diversity. There are countless Arts Council sites with statements such as “We want the diversity of audiences, leaders, producers and creators of arts and culture to reflect the diversity of contemporary England.” Nobody is lying. The guidance is clear in the many documents that managers of organizations dependent wholly or partly on Arts Council Funding will have had to read. It is made clear that diversity is a factor in funding decisions. No letter needed to be sent.

  • Marfisa says:

    I congratulate SD on a nearer approach to accuracy by dropping the word “sacked” in favour of “replaced”. It is good that some comments get through.

  • Matt Burman says:

    Wow, your racist dog whistle works brilliantly, Norman. The ignorance (of funding in the UK, of the priorities for ACE for more than 20 years now, of why classical music in the UK really does need to try harder and do better) and – yes, I’m happy to call it out as a cis white straight male artistic director – the implied and overt racism of comments on your piece, are symptomatic of an art form and its management (and those that claim to be its critics) that needs to take a good look at itself and acknowledge the systematic and structural racism that maintains largely white orchestras and their audiences in the UK. Try some finding some perspective. You are all literally part of the problem. And I’m happy to use my real name and not hide behind keyboard warrior anonymity if you would like to have an actual conversation about this.

    • Leyland Maestro says:

      You’re safe using your real name because you’re part of the arts management hegemony which shouts ‘racist’ at anyone failing to sing from the approved hymn sheet. The sort which demands that ‘diverse’ people are prioritised for all arts jobs except yours.
      Your ignorance of the realities of classical music in the UK is as obvious and profound as your patronising arrogance.

  • Leyland Maestro says:

    The amount of hand-washing now taking place over this scandal would bring a tear to Chris Whitty’s eye.