Britain’s top chorusmasters turn on the BBC

Britain’s top chorusmasters turn on the BBC


norman lebrecht

March 16, 2023

Leaders of the nation’s best-known freelance ensembles have issued a blast at Tim Davie and his hatchet crew for abolishing the BBC Singers. Among the signatories and Dame Jane Glover, a former Governor of the BBC, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor at the King’s forthcoming Coronation.

These are not Trafagar Square demonstrators; they are power players. and they are struggling to remain polite.

You read their letter here first.

To: Tim Davie, Charlotte Moore, Lorna Clarke, Simon Webb
As representatives of the UK’s freelance professional choral ensembles, we stand united in our utter dismay at the BBC’s planned disbandment of the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir, the BBC Singers, and a 20% reduction to England’s BBC orchestras.
The BBC’s new strategy for classical music says that “[the BBC] has a vital part to play in the British cultural landscape and a duty to future proof what we deliver for the public.” Given the great outpouring of public support in response to last Tuesday’s announcement, we urge you to “future proof” the BBC Singers and orchestras. In Germany there are seven radio choirs, but the BBC – which rightly prides itself on being a world-leader – is proposing to axe the UK’s only one. We find ourselves being asked by international friends why ‘we’ would self-inflict this reputational damage.

The decision is indicative of the persistent devaluation of choral music and the nation’s rich and excellent choral heritage, despite the great body of research which demonstrates the unquestionable benefits of singing, and the National Plan for Education’s vision “to enable all children and young people to learn to sing.” The BBC Singers has an incredible track record of introducing new generations of children to the life-enhancing benefits of choral singing, something that would be at the heart of their future activity.

As a sector we aspire to reach people from across all areas of society who have not had the opportunity to experience choral music, particularly children who are falling victim to the lack of music provision in schools. However, it is hard for many freelance choirs to match the regularity and scope of the BBC Singers’ output in this area and our impact is immeasurably stronger together. They are an exceptional role model and aspirational focus to anyone from all backgrounds.

The UK’s internationally revered choral sector operates within a fragile and interdependent ecology, with professional singers gaining experience and employment opportunities across the different ensembles. The BBC Singers is a critical part of that. Without a certain critical mass there would not be an adequate career path for our skilled singers, composers and conductors, and we greatly fear the message the disbandment of the UK’s only full-time professional choir sends to those considering entering the profession.

We recognise the financial pressures the BBC is under but fear that this decision is a false economy. Choral music is one of the things for which Britain has a genuinely world-leading reputation: students come here to study for it and our choral ensembles are invited to perform across the globe. Please do not let the dismantling of the BBC’s rich cultural heritage, built up over so many years, be your legacy.
Yours sincerely
Patrick Allies, Artistic Director, Siglo de Oro
David Bates, Artistic Director, La Nuova Musica
Harry Bicket OBE, Artistic Director, The English Concert
Philip Brunelle Honorary MBE, Artistic Director & Founder, VocalEssence
Professor John Butt OBE, Gardiner Professor of Music, University of Glasgow, Musical Director, Dunedin Consort, Principal Artist, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Andrew Carwood MBE, Artistic Director, The Cardinall’s Musick, Director of Music, St Paul’s Cathedral
Harry Christophers CBE, Founder & Conductor, The Sixteen
Laurence Cummings, Music Director, Academy of Ancient Music
Anita Datta, Artistic Director, the Swan Consort
Steven Devine, Principal Keyboard & Vice-Chair of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment Suzi Digby OBE, Founder & Music Director, ORA Singers, Co-Founder London Youth Choirs Eamonn Dougan, Director, Britten Sinfonia Voices, Associate Conductor of The Sixteen
Sir John Eliot Gardiner CBE HonFBA, Conductor, Founder & Artistic Director, Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras
Dame Jane Glover DBE (pictured), Music Director, Music of the Baroque (Chicago), and former Artistic Director of London Mozart Players
Tom Herring, Artistic Director, SANSARA
Michael Higgins, Artistic Director, Sonoro
David Hill MBE, Former Chief Conductor of the BBC Singers
Robert Hollingworth, Artistic Director, I Fagiolini, Reader in Music, University of York
Sarah Latto, Conductor & Co-Artistic Director, Echo
Stephen Layton MBE, Founder & Director, Polyphony, Fellow and Director of Music at Trinity College Cambridge
Rory McCleery, Artistic Director, The Marian Consort Paul McCreesh, Director, Gabrieli Consort & Players Sir Roger Norrington
Owain Park, Director, The Gesualdo Six
Andrew Parrott, Taverner Choir, Consort & Players
Ben Parry, Director, London Voices, Principal Conductor, National Youth Choir of Great Britain
David Parry, Conductor
Peter Phillips, Artistic Director, The Tallis Scholars
Nigel Short, Artistic Director, Tenebrae
Jeffrey Skidmore OBE, Artistic Director, Ex Cathedra
Barnaby Smith, Artistic Director, Conductor, Countertenor, VOCES8 and VOCES8 Foundation
Rachel Staunton, Artistic Director, London Youth Choirs
Stile Antico
The King’s Singers
James Weeks, Artistic Director, EXAUDI


  • Phoebe says:

    I see The Sixteen have written now, too

  • Peter San Diego says:

    To whom does the Davie-Moore-Clarke-Webb team report? This team’s ears are deaf, and one must hope that someone at a higher level still has ears in working order. At a minimum, one must hope that someone in the hierarchy still remembers what the function of public-service broadcasting is.

  • Music says:

    It’s a great letter, and excellent to have this support. But the fact they’ve called it the ‘National Plan for Education’, not music education, tells me not many of them have read it…

  • Loralyn Sponge says:

    This too will be ignored by the axe wielders. Just about the entire classical music community, national and international takes the time to garner signatures and write carefully worded letters which condemn the proposals of Davie, Moore, Clark and Webb. They will hide behind the most obtuse ‘ manager speak’ and claim that they are listening. But they’re not and they won’t. Until they are removed from their positions and replaced by people who really understand the BBC’S role in classical music provision this situation will not be resolved. When will the wheels begin to turn to initiate
    the vote of no confidence in this particular management team?

  • Giles says:

    The only letter that matters would be one written by the BBC’s Match of the Day “freelancers”, who between them are paid more than enough to keep the BBC Singers going. “We’ll take a pay cut to keep these excellent artistic professionals employed” would be the thrust of the letter. But it won’t be written, because the freelancers would have to first accept that (a) they are grossly overpaid and (b) there are others more worthy of the BBC’s cash.

  • Robin Blick says:

    Looking at this list, if this doesn’t do it, nothing will.

  • Jeffrey Norris says:

    Just cancelled my license fee

  • Voice of Desperation and Despondency says:

    The four in question have no idea what they are doing, don’t care about it and, if it all goes through (which it will, due to the die having been cast, I’m sure), their names should be remembered and their actions vilified at every opportunity, until the end of their careers and beyond.