Exclusive: Maestros attack BBC for abandoning excellence

Exclusive: Maestros attack BBC for abandoning excellence


norman lebrecht

March 08, 2023

The letter below is being delivered tonight to Tim Davie, the BBC’s director-general. The signatories are the BBC’s leading conductors:

To Tim Davie, Charlotte Moore, Lorna Clarke and Simon Webb:
We, the undersigned, read with disbelief Tuesday’s press release outlining the BBC’s plans to disband the BBC Singers and instigate 20% cuts across the English BBC orchestras.

The worldwide renown of the BBC Singers – the UK’s only full-time, professional choir – has been built over 99 years of groundbreaking, innovative work. To kill it off takes no time at all, but the ramifications of such shortsightedness are incalculable. This decision, if carried out, will be devastating not just to the choir’s present, uniquely-skilled members, but also to future generations of singers. And
even a quick glance at the list of world premieres given by the group begs the question – for which professional choir will our composers now compose? Wherever culture is taken seriously the BBC Singers are regarded as exemplars of what dedication, versatility and slowly-built foundations can achieve. To be willing to consign all this to the dustheap in favour of greater “agility” and “flexibility” displays a shocking disregard not only of how artistic excellence takes root but, furthermore, how the BBC’s great legacy across the arts is viewed and envied around the world.

Rewarding the outstanding work of our orchestras with bit-by-bit erosion is equally calamitous. Aside from the jargon, to claim that by cutting jobs you are somehow “reinforcing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s unique orchestras” is nonsensical. And what is the use of “doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives” if at the same time you reduce the number of secure jobs
available? Telling our best young instrumentalists that hard graft will gain them only freelance scraps is to misunderstand both their aspirations as well as the nature of a top-class symphony orchestra. The latter can only produce its best work in a stable environment – an environment forged by mutual understanding and a shared vision. To perform the widest repertoire to the highest standard cannot be
achieved otherwise. And so we beg you to reconsider making these irreversible, catastrophically damaging cuts.

Excellence must be fought for, and lovers of classical music must be prepared to fight with fierce determination for what they hold dear. Hence we would greatly welcome the opportunity to discuss the proposed plans in person and to enter into a real and genuine dialogue. Together, as guardians of the BBC’s legacy, we can surely forge a path forward – a path which secures the ability of the BBC’s
ensembles to deliver excellence for our present and future audiences. This is no less than they expect and deserve.

Ryan Bancroft – Principal Conductor, BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Jules Buckley – Creative Artist in Residence, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Semyon Bychkov – Günter Wand Conducting Chair, BBC Symphony Orchestra
Alpesh Chauhan OBE – Associate Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Bob Chilcott – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Singers
Sofi Jeannin – Chief Conductor, BBC Singers
Anna Lapwood – Artist in Association, BBC Singers
Sakari Oramo OBE – Chief Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra (pictured)
Dalia Stasevska – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Ilan Volkov – Principal Guest Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Ryan Wigglesworth – Chief Conductor, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra


  • Music Lover says:

    Bravi! May it work!

    • soavemusica says:

      BBC=Biased Broadcasting Company.

      I wouldn`t be surprised to see classical music cancelled, all musicians fired. Even then, the executives would be still needed.

  • Hal Sacks says:

    King Charles llI, a long time patron of the Arts should intervene and find a way to financially support the choir and all the Orchestras. The bust of Sir Henry Wood should be sorrowful.

  • trumpetherald says:

    Bravi!!!! Let the protest be loud and fierce,all over the world!!!!!!

  • Lucinda says:

    And will they all refuse to conduct for the BBC if the cuts stand? Hardly. I hope it works, but honestly, do you think the BBC, or ACE recently, were not aware of the isolated outrage their choices would make? Of course they were: the problem remains that the percentage of outrage is simply a minority of their audience. I wish i had a solution: but I feel the only real option is to look at the American system – where they are All looking – and begin accepting our beloved classical music arts must be privately funded again.

  • Dutchie says:

    Interestingly no signers from the BBC Phil?

  • Peter San Diego says:

    The absence of the BBC Philharmonic O and BBC Concert O conductors is glaring. Did they choose not to sign? Or did they feel they weren’t in a position to do so?

    The fact that the conductors appear to have found out about the cuts only via the press release speaks volumes about the callousness of the Davie-Moore-Clarke-Webb team.

  • Old Holborn says:

    An imminent walk out and threatened Proms boycott followed by Clark and Webb’s resignations would be a very good place to start.

    100 years of artistic significance.
    Once broken, never restored.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    Why don’t the choir members strike out on their own – self-manage, put together a board, seek funding? Any organization these days that is reliant on a sole organization for all of its support is foolish. How they didn’t see this coming is beyond me.

    • Loralyn Sponge says:

      It’s a publicly funded broadcasting group. It’s the only full-time professional choir in the country and benefits from the conditions of employment not readily available to other similar organisations.Through their own studio recordings and live broadcasts, they are able to reach a large audience, with specially devised projects for BBC Radio . They have an extensive repertoire, but being a publicly funded group, without the necessity of ticket sales, they are also able to commission new works, to benefit contemporary composers. Being a BBC group, they have been forbidden to seek sponsorship to bolster funds as this would impact unfairly on the activities of fellow musicians in the commercial sector. I hope that partly explains the group’s unique position in the cultural life of the country. Oh, and they are certainly not foolish.

      • NotToneDeaf says:

        Thank you, Loralyn, I appreciate your adding considerable context. My point is that the group WAS a publicly funded broadcast group. They now need to find their own way and that would likely mean changing some part of their mission to a certain degree. But at least they would still exist and I’m sure could find positive outlets for their talent. (Side note: Maybe some of these conductors who signed the letter could offer the first financial gifts towards that goal. Money where their mouth is. Yes, I know that will never happen . . . . I’m just fantasizing.)

        • Hacomblen says:

          It’s a naive proposition, if only because such a commercial venture would require a type of programme repetition that flies in the face of the innovation they’re famous for, and would have to pander to audiences’ tastes: yet another “early music” group, in other words. That’s quite apart from the practical impossibility of making it work anything like full time.

    • Toots says:

      Just like that? How easy… not. How could they also be called the BBC Singers if self governed. Your comment makes NO sense. Another free-lance self funded choir? Just what we need.. again NOT.

    • Una says:

      When the BBC axed the fabulous BBC Northern Singers based in Manchester in the 90s they then reinvented themselves privately as the Britten Singers, but that all failed.

  • Sam says:

    Why is Neil Ferris not one of the signatories here?

    Contract prohibits?

  • Down with the beeb says:

    Not sure I can remember ever hearing a BBC SO or BBC Phil concert that could be described as excellent. Ben Gernon and BBC Phil at the proms a few years ago (Brahms 2) was one of the worst concerts I’ve been to in the last 10 years. The idea that BBC ensembles can continue to exist in their present form when they were created for an utterly different media landscape is crazy. This letter is full of vapid generalities, without providing concrete evidence for what losing the BBC Singers will actually change in the UK’s musical landscape.

    • trumpetherald says:


    • Mister Bee says:

      No one in Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall last night to hear the BBCSO and Lionel Bringuier deliver orchestral playing of breathtaking accomplishment in a programme of Gershwin, Rachmaninov, Roussel and Ravel would agree with ‘Down with the Beeb’s’ observation. And Gernon and the BBCPO’s Tchaik 5 here in October 2019 was one of the most exciting I can remember, up there with Mravinsky and the Leningrad PO – but with better brass!…..
      Perhaps DWTB should escape the Metropolitan Bubble once in a while and listen to what we in ‘the Provinces’ are privileged to hear.

  • Jonathon says:

    Yet no signature from anyone at the BBC Philharmonic?

  • Alan says:

    I suspect this a tactic of the BBC… to do something shocking. Then it will say, “Look what happens with a frozen licence fee; and worse will come if the licence fee is scrapped in a few years’ time.” Classical musicians are an easy target. In my view, many managers and presenters in the BBC are paid far too much, and cuts could easily be made elsewhere, with hardly any effect on the output.

  • trumpetherald says:

    I hope,every conductor,every soloist at this years`Proms will voice their outrage and protest at their concerts…Lets hope Daniel Barenboim appears!!!!!

  • Aaron Proctor says:

    A calamitous case of the well- known phrase ” knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The philistines are upon us!

  • Walter says:

    An excellent letter! I noted this management-speak about agility which I’ve seen casually deployed elsewhere. I’m glad they picked up on it.

  • Walter says:

    I owe a lot to the BBC who partly funded my place at the National Centre for Orchestral Studies when I was just starting out. The NCOS replaced the BBC Training Orchestra which was a victim of past bad decisions.
    Another commentator here said they hadn’t heard a decent concert from either BBCSO or BBCPO so I went looking. Having found very little online I would suggest that now is a very good time to get some content out there. Almost nothing on their own website or YouTube from any recent work.
    Naturally I disagree about the quality of the orchestras themselves and even if standards had dropped this would only bring a need to regroup and revitalise.

  • Sam says:

    Gotta say, I live in the U.S., have worked in classical music for 25+ years, and have barely even heard of the BBC Singers until now. I’m truly sorry that these musicians are losing their jobs but this all seems like a mountain out of a mole hill.

    • Loralyn Sponge says:

      A 99 year old mountain of exceptional talent! This issue is no molehill.
      Living in the US it’s not surprising you haven’t had access to BBC licence fee payer’s radio and that’s a shame. Advertising their ensembles is near impossible for the BBC otherwise the commercial groups in the same sector understandably feel aggrieved and complain.

    • Dave says:

      Just to fill you in, Sam, the BBC Singers and the BBC orchestras are an important part of broadcast music, on TV and on radio, in the UK. These cuts are most definitely not a molehill here.

    • Warren stutely says:

      Difficult to believe you have never come across the BBC singers. They have done so much to promote both early and modern composers. Ever heard of Harrison Birtwistle Elliott carter ?????

    • Toots says:

      How utterly unempathetic of you. Just because you’ve never heard of them doesn’t mean that they are not world famous. Get your head back in the sand you monstrous ostrich!


    Looking at the list of signatories there’s a risk that each of their titles could soon be preceded by “Former”.

  • Observer says:

    Why is Anna Lapwood on this list?
    She is not a conductor even though she may claim to be. All this hype and spin about a jobbbing ambitious blonde female college organist has got to stop.
    She is no more special than any other blonde female organist and is certainly not experienced or qualified to jump on the band waggon of these far more eminent professional conductors who have signed this letter.

  • SingingReindeer says:

    Meanwhile, D_MS gleefully reminding us of the government’s £600m investment in school sport.

  • Jennifer Connor says:

    Excellent letter I hope it works

  • MMcGrath says:

    Brilliant initiative but likely to not move the needle. But why do we expect anything different from the nation that has been cutting the arts for years, endures a self-inflicted Brexit, still celebrates colonialism and moribund royalty, and has politicians worthy of comparison with America’s best with regard to cowardice (Cameron), dizziness (Truss), egomania (Johnson)…