Just in: BBC drops head of classical music

Just in: BBC drops head of classical music


norman lebrecht

September 12, 2022

It has just been announced that Alan Davey, the civil servant parachuted into the BBC as head of classical music, is to leave the corporation next March.

He will have completed eight years of dumbing down.

The relief within the musical parts of the BBC is almost palpable. It may be that the announcement was timed to make as little impact as possible during a period of national mourning. Or it could be that Davey is being made to carry the can for the BBC’s timid and cowardly decision to cancel the Last Night of the Proms, instead of filling the occasion with music suitable for the national mood.

Either way, Davey is gone, and there is no downside to that. Before being recruited to the BBC by its wayward DG Tony Hall, Davey had been a senior official at the Department of Culture (DCMS) and chief executive of the Arts Council.

Here’s the statement:
Alan Davey to step down as Controller of BBC Radio 3

Alan Davey, Controller of Radio 3, BBC Proms, and BBC Orchestras and Choirs has announced that he will leave the BBC in March 2023 after over eight years in post. He leaves his role to concentrate on his work supporting arts and music organisations and to pursue his academic interests.

Alan began his post as Controller in January 2015 and in addition to his main role, he is the sponsor for the ambitious BBC Music Studios project, positioning the BBC at the heart of London’s brand new cultural quarter in Stratford. He is also champion for socio-economic diversity at the BBC, and serves on the European Broadcasting Union Classical Music Committee.

During his tenure, Alan has increased and stabilised Radio 3’s audience at over 2 million weekly listeners. He has introduced a number of themed seasons across the network, starting from 2015’s Northern Lights, a three-week festival inspired by the anniversary of the birth of Sibelius, to a season devoted to Twilight in October 2021.

New music has been cemented at the heart of programming, from Breakfast to Night Tracks. Radio 3 and the Proms have commissioned a wide range of new works, from composers ranging from Harrison Birtwistle to Anna Thorvaldsdottir. Series such as Open Ear, Exposure and The New Music Show have made contemporary music and the work of small venues accessible. In drama and speech programming, Alan has brought new strands such as The Listening Service to the station, and a dramatisation of the medieval Saga of the Volsungs when the network broadcast Wagner’s full Ring cycle.

Alan has also been committed to audio innovation, and has developed a new strand of adventures in sound. Listeners of ‘Slow Radio’ have followed cows in Connemara, a day in the life of Honey the dog and a series of sound walks including tracing Bach’s journey on foot across north Germany.Alan has ensured Radio 3’s position and visibility across BBC Sounds, commissioning separate playlists for younger listeners such as Classical Focus and the popular Mindful Mix, and introduced a number of mood-based programmes such as the forthcoming Ultimate Calm, fronted by Grammy-nominated Olafur Arnalds which airs in October 2022.

Radio 3’s well-established New Generation Artists Scheme has been close to Alan’s heart, nurturing young talent and offering broadcast opportunities to artists at the beginning of their international careers. In 2021 the scheme saw a record number of participants, with a new cohort and an extension for those already on it, in response to the devastating effect of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Alan was a key player in the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine response to Covid lockdowns, commissioning composers to produce new works for Breakfast, putting on plays postponed by Covid-19 and broadcasting live the first music from the Wigmore Hall while restrictions did not allow live concerts.

Under Alan’s leadership the BBC’s Orchestras and Choirs have come together for celebrations of their unique collective power and have expanded both their repertoire and their reach, now performing throughout all corners of the UK, as have the BBC Proms. The Performing Groups have focused on unfairly forgotten works, and the BBC Proms committed to programming 50% female composers by 2022.

Alan Davey says: “There is nothing like the combination of Radio 3, the Proms and the BBC Orchestras and Choirs anywhere else. Choosing when to move on is always tricky, but now is the time for me to hand over the role to someone else. They will inherit, to borrow a phrase, on a bad day the best job in Britain, and on a good day the best job in the world.

“Since Radio 3’s first day of broadcasting, it has known that the key to securing the future of music is in finding new talent and offering ways in to new audiences, and it’s the quality and expertise involved that makes the station so unique. Radio 3 endures because of its audience who live their lives by its rhythms and because of its staff and musicians who are endlessly inventive, committed and fun.

“On Radio 3 we play over whole 17,000 pieces of music a year and explore thousands more. We believe the greatest public service is found in showing, not just telling, of the riches of the arts. It has been an honour and a delight to lead this mission.”

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s Chief Content Officer, says: “Alan has brought extraordinary vision to Radio 3. Under his watch over the past eight years, Radio 3’s editorial ambition has flourished and Alan has skilfully, and with passion, led our classical activities in an ever-changing world – constantly exploring new opportunities to reach the widest possible audience for our classical music output. It’s been such a pleasure to work with Alan and I wish him all the best in his roles going forward and his continuing academic work.”

Before his time at the BBC, Alan served as Chief Executive Officer at Arts Council England (2008-2014) after an extensive career in the Civil Service where his roles included Head of Arts and Director of Arts and Culture at the DCMS. In the 2015 New Year Honours, Alan was awarded a CBE for his services to the Arts. He hold honorary doctorates from the Universities of Birmingham and Teesside. He serves as Chair of Governors at Trinity Laban, Vice Chair of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and a Board member of the Hall for Cornwall.

Alan Davey will continue as Controller of Radio 3 and the Proms until next spring. The BBC will appoint his replacement in due course.


  • Whogives Theirrealname says:

    There have been reports that the RAH cancelled the LNOTP, not the BBC, the clue being in the “Royal” bit. Is this not the case?

  • RPMS says:

    Three days ago you were more equivocal about the decision to cancel the last night, conceding ‘That was perfectly in order during ten days of national mourning when many other events are being put on hold.’ Now you judge it ‘timid and cowardly’. ‘Timid’ seems fairly consistent with your earlier judgment. ‘Cowardly’ less so. The latter is an over-used term. Everybody who commits an atrocity, whether through crazed ideology or mental disintegration, is now branded a ‘coward’ – an absurd use. This isn’t much better. Timidity is anxiety about doing the wrong thing, causing offence. Cowardice is knowing the right thing to do and being too fearful to do it.

    • Simone says:

      A well put distinction between timidity and cowardice but it is absolutely possible to display both and believe me there has always been plenty of cowardice about within Corporations. The word, if anything, should be heard more often.

  • Peter says:

    The length of a resignation statement or letter is usually in inverse proportion to real achievements.

  • Rodders says:

    The ‘last night’ is hackneyed anyway – Just saying ….

  • Anon says:

    Perhaps he wasn’t willing to be the one to axe half the BBC orchestras….you ain’t seen nothing yet folks

  • Hilary says:

    Could’ve been replaced with Royal related pieces by Britten, Tippett, Williamson , Weir and others? a shame to cancel concerts – -one feels coerced in the mourning.
    By the way, I’m sure Tippett’s glorious Suite for Prince Charles would get more performances if it had a better title!

    Alan Davey was no Drummond, Vyner or Glock.

  • Miss Dode-Caphonic says:

    The uk government is controlling this whole charade, like covid (ordinary flu) it’s all a theatre and there cannot be any loss of control, such as, for example the Russian or Romanian revolutions.

    • AKP says:

      I haven’t lost friends to
      ordinary flu before or have a friend left disabled by 101 days in intensive care because of ordinary flu

    • Hilary says:

      Mistakes were undoubtedly made in the response to it , but you’re propagating nonsense :

      Covid *isn’t*‘ordinary flu’ .

      • Paul Joschak says:

        But its IFR is no higher than ‘ordinary ‘ flu…

        • Hilary says:

          according to a study in New Zealend, the IFR for Seasonal Influenza is 17 times lower than that for Covid-19. This isn’t taking into account possible long-term health impacts from Covid.-19

    • amazonian says:

      Miss D-C, you are in the abismally undistinguished company of J. Bolsonaro, the ignorant and inhuman ruler of my unhappy country, in calling Covid-19 an ordinary flu.

  • Taras Bulba says:

    It’s good to know that Mr Rumbold found work after retiring from Grace Brothers.

  • Robin says:

    If Mr Davey is/was as good as the glowing account above one has to ask why is he to step down? Surely, someone who has “extraordinary vision” and has done so much stays in the job.

    • Tancredi says:

      I suppose there are many visions one may term ‘extraordinary’. All those circles of Hell I am sure could provide a niche for Mr Davey.

  • Mercurius Londiniensis says:

    I am not sure about the Last Night, but whoever ordered the cancellation of last Thursday’s Prom well deserves the Order of the Boot. The Philadelphia Orchestra was primed to play the Eroica. The noblest symphony of all would have been the best possible tribute to her late Majesty. Instead we got a minute’s silence, the National Anthem, and an unrehearsed performance of ‘Nimrod’. A poor substitute.

    • Armchair Bard says:

      Bang right, Merc. Lond. And that’s never mind the fact that the “Eroica” comes with its very own five-star funeral march.

  • TNVol says:

    Wouldn’t want to get between him and a smorgasbord.

  • Tancredi says:

    Hip hip hooray. One has HM to thank for a trailer and chat-free 36 hrs or so from Saturday.

  • CRogers says:

    I don’t about ‘cowardy’ but it was a terrible decision-a complete lack of good judgement-to cancel Last Night of the Proms. As has been said to adjust the programme slightly-what a terrific opportunity to pay the late Queen a tribute…..

  • Fsm says:

    I ‘discovered’ Radio 3 in last year or so and really enjoy the robust streaming content and variety and quality of offerings and sound of taped concerts it carries on it. It really is many cuts above other classical listening sites in practically all ways. If he is responsible for any part of it or just keeping it going strong, I thank him very much. Now I think I’ll see what’s on Through the Night or Composer of the Week.

  • Robin Blick says:

    50% of the BBC’s featured composers to be women by 2022. Selection and exclusion by genes instead of quality. I seem to recall that the Nazis banned Mendelssohn on the same grounds.