Internal Barbican politics caused conductor to be sacked

Internal Barbican politics caused conductor to be sacked


norman lebrecht

November 01, 2021

London musicians and academics are being urged to sign a protest to Jonathan Vaughan, interim head of the Barbican’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, over the dismissal of Peter Ash as conductor of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra.

Among other things, the orgganisers of the petition assert:

‘As you will know, Peter Ash’s contract was terminated abruptly last week. Information has come to light that suggests he has become an unwitting casualty of the internal politics of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Furthermore, we have received unconfirmed reports of financial difficulties that suggest that the LSSO’s funds have not been suitably ring-fenced within the Guildhall.’ 

Vaughan, the Guildhall and the Barbican have failed to respond to requests for clarification of Peter Ash’s abrupt dismissal.

The letter in full reads:

Dear Sirs,

This open letter is written on behalf of many of the London Schools Symphony Orchestra (LSSO)’s alumni, staff, current members and parents past and present.

The abrupt termination of the contract of Peter Ash, the LSSO’s Artistic Director for over 20 years, as reported by Norman Lebrecht in on 28th October 2021, has rightly caused alarm and upset amongst the LSSO’s large and supportive community. No explanation has yet been given. This is the LSSO’s 70th anniversary year, and Peter Ash’s 20th as Artistic Director, during which time many thousands of children have benefited from the musical, cultural and social enrichment that comes with being a member of the orchestra. Peter’s contribution, covering a period amounting to nearly 30% of the orchestra’s entire history, has been immense. It appears to us as members of the LSSO’s community that Peter is an unwitting casualty of the internal politics of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Related to this, we have heard unconfirmed reports that the LSSO may be in financial difficulties. If true, that comes as a great shock to us, as we are aware that the orchestra has over the years received generous donations from many parents and friends of the orchestra to support its activities. We would have expected this money to have been ring-fenced for the benefit of the LSSO. We believe that a detailed explanation of the LSSO’s finances is now urgently required.

The signatories of this letter wish it to be known publicly that Peter has our full support and that, under your leadership, GSMD appears to have scored a spectacular own goal by pushing the LSSO’s greatest asset out of his job, an action which we find incomprehensible and profoundly unsatisfactory.

Your faithfully,

Members of the LSSO community


  • Akutagawa says:

    Your elision of the Barbican and the GSM is slippery at best. The situation is bad enough without being compounded by mischief making prompted by animus.

    • V. Lind says:

      No kidding. While the GSMD website notes that they present a lot of programmes at the Barbican, the website of the latter, when searched for the GSMD, returned a “No Result” message.

  • Anon says:

    Nobody ever gets reinstated in these situations, despite petitions and popular support. The egos of executives don’t allow for their decisions to be reversed. I would love to be proven wrong.

  • Ruby Yacht says:

    I’d like to know why English conservatories pay their teachers half of what they earn in the USA. Don’t they do fundraising?

    • Vanilla Dinghy says:

      I’d like to know why American conservatoires (conservatories are something entirely different) pay their teachers double what they earn in the UK. Don’t they know they are obscenely overpaid?

  • Piano Lover says:

    With all these political issues,we can wonder where the music fits in all this…..
    What music shall they ask…..

  • Frank says:

    Please get it right – the Barbican Centre and the Guildhall School are separate organisations, though they work closely together under the auspices of the City of London Corporation.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      If they work closely together, there is a possibility that the Barbican (or someone of consequence at the Barbican) may have had a role in the dismissal. If that’s the case, NL would do a public service in elucidating the matter. As it is, we have an unfounded assertion conflating the institutions.

      Whoever was involved, it appears that there’s universal agreement that the termination of Ash’s contract was a terrible decision.

  • Mathias Broucek says:

    I fear we are rushing in with no knowledge of the facts. It’s of course possible that, as most people are assuming, this is an unwarranted and unfair termination. It’s also **possible** that he’s done something unacceptable that is not in the public domain.