London orchestra in new revolt at conductor sacking

London orchestra in new revolt at conductor sacking


norman lebrecht

June 27, 2022

Six months ago, we reported uproar at the London Schools Symphony Orchestra over the dismissal of its conductor Peter Ash. No reason has ever been given for his removal.

Now, parents of the musicians are telling Jonathan Vaughan, Interim Principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, that standards at the orchestra have gone dramatically downhill and that concerts are being cancelled.

The Guildhall, which has responsibility for the orchestra, is behaving like a pre-glasnost Kremlin.

Here’s the letter (you read it here first):

Dear Jonathan,
This is a letter from members of the LSSO community, including parents, students, alumni and donors, to voice our concern.

Since our last correspondence in November 2021, the London Schools Symphony Orchestra has seemed to be in a state of chaos. Under your leadership, numerous plans have been cancelled, and the organisation of the orchestra has been described by current parents as an ‘omni-shambles’.

We were of course devastated at the abrupt and still unexplained dismissal of Peter Ash, Artistic Director of the LSSO for 20 years, whom we note is still employed by CYM. We described him as the LSSO’s greatest asset, and his artistic vision and educational gifts are irreplaceable. However, in your last letter, you gave us your ‘assurance that the artistic and financial future of the LSSO is secure, and is of utmost priority to us going forward’.

Despite these assurances, the January concert, organised by Peter Ash to be an ambitious celebration of 70 years of the LSSO, was first dramatically reduced in artistic scope, and then postponed. The rescheduled concert saw the LSSO’s usual 20 first violins reduced to just six, and received little publicity. This week we can only react with dismay to the news that, having already abandoned Peter Ash’s 2022 edition of his international summer tour and replaced it with two UK concerts, you have now had to cancel these concerts, too. The reasons given by Geoff Harniess in his letter to LSSO parents are simply unacceptable, and are clear markers of the organisational and
artistic ineptitude that seem to be characteristics of the LSSO under the leadership of you, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and Geoff Harniess.

We suggest that something needs to change. We demand a full explanation, both of this year’s catalogue of failures on your part, and of how things will improve.
Yours faithfully,
Members of the LSSO community

See also: The LSO drops a children’s conductor


  • Bulgakov says:


  • Hugo Preuß says:

    This is what I love about British manners. The letter is utterly polite and polished. And yet there is no doubt that this is a punch in the face, leading to a full knockdown. Delivering a scathing all out attack in words you could use in an audience with the queen is an art nobody has managed as well as the Brits. Kudos. Or yours faithfully.

    • simon says:

      Norman, if only you knew and reported on both sides of the story rather than dragging the names of institutions and people through the mud. How would you feel if you received such a letter? Hopefully you never will.

      • UK Arts Administrator says:

        So what is the other side of the story? And why is the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s justification being kept quiet?

        I have no axe to grind either way – just would like to be able to hold a more informed view. If there is background that thousands of SD readers could read that apparently isn’t, for whatever reason, being divulged by GSMD, but to which you are party, maybe you could help support GSMD’s stance in this matter by sharing it.

      • Lucy says:

        Problem is that no one knows the other side of the story. There has never been any explanation (and Peter is still employed by CYM). Enlighten us Simon?

    • V.Lind says:

      “I mean, Lambert may be a perverse old idiot, but it’s more dignified not to say so in so many words. A bland and deadly courtesy is more devastating, don’t you think?”


      Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night

  • Una says:

    My young brother played the oboe in this years ago. It was a great training orchestra for school kids in the Inner London Education Authority in the times of Peter Fletcher. Perhaps it had got too ambitious for today’s financial climate.

  • Anthony Sayer says:

    Good letter. Hits home.

  • Concerned parent says:

    Rumours are flying that the LSSO are to be guided by the LSO Education department. Jonathan Vaughan is an ex Chairman and the orchestra has very strong links with the Guildhall. Shame for Peter Ash and the young musicians, all in the name of politics.

  • Галина Сухарева says:

    So odd to say “like Kremlin” when musicians are being sacked for their political opinions or forced to make statements on issues unrelated to music in the West nowadays.

    • Terence says:

      A fair point Galina.

      Sacked or forced to make undignified apologies for factually correct statements which don’t fit the PC narrative.

    • Chris says:

      I’m sure, somewhere in this orchestra, we can find the world’s smallest violin for you.