Musicians Union faces down ‘racist’ English Touring Opera

Musicians Union faces down ‘racist’ English Touring Opera


norman lebrecht

September 30, 2021

Officials of the MU have been meeting managers of the troubled opera company in the hope of reversing the whites-only sacking of 14 regular players in its orchestra.

The union is also urging members to write to the ETO chairman Mark Beddy at his home address in Peckham. Beddy (pictured) is also a member of the LSO board and chair of London Symphony Orchestra Productions – as well as Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee of the British Council.

These are the issues that the MU has raised:

– On 9th September ETO Director, James Conway wrote to 14 regular ETO players stating that they were not required for the 2022 tour.
– It transpires that just over half the orchestra (14) received the same letter and half of those not booked are 60 or over.
– All those not booked again are White.
– The MU has recognition with ETO and a Collective Agreement governing the terms, conditions and pay for the orchestra – why did ETO not consult or inform the Union of these plans. The MU is in talks with many other UK Orchestras about Equality, Diversion and Inclusion and could have advised ETO as well.

– James Conway’s letter stated:
“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.”

– Can the board advise whether ACE or any of the other trust funds instructed ETO to act in this way?

– Were the ETO board aware that there were plans for such a wholesale restructure of the orchestra, many of whom have been playing with ETO over decades or years?
– Open auditions took place in summer 2021 from which all current ETO players were excluded. Can the board advise as to what criteria was applied to choosing candidates for audition? Can the board advise why current members of the orchestra were excluded from the process? Does the board think that a fair and inclusive process was followed and justify as to how they hold that belief?



  • Michael James says:

    Can’t wait for diversity to dictate the appointment of airline pilots and brain surgeons.

  • Elizabeth Owen says:

    In Wales this type of person with lots of influential jobs is called a member of the Taffia!

  • Bored Muso says:

    Thank God the MU have now taken up this travesty and are challenging ETO for it’s misguided deceptive attitude and disrespectful behaviour towards their musicians that make up their Orchestra.
    Those responsible for allowing this debacle to happen in the first place should now be held accountable, apologise and
    be told to re-instate immediately all those who have been professionally insulted and snubbed by their shoddy and dodgy rejection and by not allowing any to re-audition for their jobs.

  • John Soutter says:

    Sack the sackers. Give them a taste of their own white power as the pot said to the kettle!

  • sam says:

    Statistically, if you had a jar that is filled with 95% red M&Ms and 5% all other color M&Ms, isn’t it most likely that every time you grab a handful of M&Ms, you’d get 100% all red M&Ms?

    Frankly, I think the union has a much better age discrimination claim than a race discrimination claim. Management better have a damn good rationale why 1/2 of those dismissed were 60 years and over.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Easy. White AND old. Kind of intersectional theory application. All men, too? (real question – I don’t know).

    • The View from America says:

      I’m sure management thinks that all of those “over-the-hill” musicians have had more than enough of time to make and save money.

      Those old musicians can be put out to pasture because they can handle the hit. The fact that it’s age discrimation matters not.

      Besides — what’s a little “collateral damage” when the diversity initiative is so much more deserving?

      • Tancredi says:

        Would they have sacked Haitinck for being 92 and still on the podium? Ability in performance should be the criterion.

    • Sue Sonata Form says:

      That sounds like a threat to me.

  • Herb says:

    In the US and Canada you would get into big trouble with targeting Indigenous people like this. How is it possible in Britain?

    • V. Lind says:

      When I as living in London in the late 80s, job advertisments — big display ads in the broadsheets, so quite open — asked for candidates (for instance) “under 25” or “male” quite often. By then, neither would have been allowed in Canada.

      I don’t know if any of that has changed since. But quite a lot about employment procedures struck me, as a long-time expat in Canada, as old-fashioned.

    • Adrienne says:

      This has already been covered in previous reports. It is because they are seen as correcting perceived underrepresentation. The view is that any organisation that does not represent the demographic of the UK must be practising discrimination. No other explanation is acceptable.

      I’m not supporting it, just explaining how they try to justify it.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    The intellectual pygmies are at it again.

  • psq says:

    ETO Chairman, Mark Beddy, member of the LSO Board, …, Chair of the LSO Production , etc, etc.

    Just imagine the LSO firing 50% of its non-diversified musicians. I’d like to see the fireworks that come out of that!

  • Sidelius says:

    The callousness and utter lack of feeling for these poor musicians is truly revolting. It is patently both racist and ageist. You just can’t treat people who have served you for decades in such a way. No half-intelligent or half-decent executive would do this. Where are these folks in their late careers supposed to go? And for what? For the offense of being white? To satisfy the Gods of Woke? There is nothing that can redeem this decision. Heads need to roll. Mark Beddy should be stripped of all his positions and prosecuted for flagrant discrimination. They should sue him for every penny. These musicians should get their lives back, with deepest apologies.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    What is “diversity”? Since it is, by definition, a relative term, how does one define the ground zero from which divergence occurs? Skin color – as arbitrary a classifier as hair color – seems an overwhelmingly popular point of departure. But why? Take a white guy from London and a white guy from Newcastle. Yes, both are white and male. But they may well diverge in so many other ways as to barely understand each other speaking the same language. The 300 miles that separates their place of upbringing may well represent an unbridgeable chasm of socio-cultural segregation. They may barely recognise each other as countrymen. Yet, the 3rd generation, black neighbour of our white Londoner may share almost identical cultural and economic ties. They may have sat next to each other at assembly for a decade, played football, gone clubbing, shared their teenage triumphs and disasters. It may well be that pigmentation alone – surely the most superficial of distinguishing features – separates them. So, what are we trying to accomplish in this nauseatingly self-righteous drive towards “diversity”? My guess is that, in any given orchestra, the richly diverse back stories of each and every member – by virtue of regional, cultural, economic and educational variations alone – far exceed, in their naturally beautiful and unforced way, anything an arbitrarily imposed pigmentation-based quota system could ever muster. And if colour is the defining qualifier, will we see orchestras of Pygmies and Polynesians, Inuits and Indians, Amazonianss and Aboriginees? Or is this only about people who look like George Floyd? Do us red-faced and freckly Irish not count? We’re pretty diverse, after all, and share the inheritance of 4 centuries of white enslavement. “For the strangers came and tried to teach us their way. They scorned us just for being what we are.” (Galway Bay) “They stole Trevelyan’s corn, so the young may see the morn. Now the prison ship lies waiting in the bay.” (The Fields of Anthenry). Indeed, if my experience of 51 years on earth has taught me anything, it is that the beauty of our species – with its tendency towards individuation, as permitted by language and the creative impulse – lies in the fact that no two of us are the same. Paradoxically, the obsession with “grouping” is a rejection of individuation – the very spirit of the artist, surely – in preference for a collectivist, homogenous view of homo sapiens. It won’t end well. It never does.

  • Ian Millard says:

    Google “Coudenhove-Kalergi Plan” and you will understand what is happening. This disgraceful action is just part of a whole agenda; another part of the agenda is the “Black Lives Matter” nonsense, but there is far far more *behind* both.

  • Sidelius says:

    It’s called wrongful termination. Seems irrefutable, in America lawyers would be lining up to take it. But is that a “thing” in Britain?

    • Colin says:

      My recollection of the original story is that the people involved are freelance musicians, and thus “contractors” who are “employed” as and when required, presumably on fixed length contracts for specific engagements or tours. They may not be “employees” in the usual sense of the word.

  • Anonymous says:

    Mark Beddy should resign from his seat on the LSO board or whatever seat he is on. Disgusting way to treat the musicians at ETO and the MU are not helpful despite the discrimination towards these sacked musicians. Bet they were middle aged and white, who are old pros and know the job. Sound like Mark Beddy, except he’s sitting amongst the feathered nest of the Arts Council. Have you seen the diversity on the ACE board?

  • Viola says:

    The MU would be much better off ensuring each recipient of the letter has registered a claim with ACAS before it is too late?