Just  in: 700 composers lay into the BBC

Just in: 700 composers lay into the BBC


norman lebrecht

March 13, 2023

A call to reverse the abolition of the BBC Singers has been signed by many of the country’s leading composers – including Judith Weir, Master of the King’s Musick, and the foremost Scot Sir James MacMillan – as well as several international eminences.

Betsy Jolas, Esa-Pekka Salonen and Peter Eotvos are among the foreign supporters.

Full text below (clink on images to enlarge).


  • Annabel Sands says:

    Great names and marvellous letter but 700 composers, Norman, are you sure? Sounds like you might have added quite a few de-composers to make up the numbers.

  • MOB says:

    I doubt management will back down while twofaced Simon Webb is still in charge. He has form in ignoring musicians dating back to when he almost destroyed the CBSO a few years ago.

  • Des says:

    Abolish the BBC, since it no longer is fit for purpose in 2023 as per Lord Reith.

  • Doc Martin says:

    As Des says, Inform, educate & entertain that is what the BBC was set up to do. Clearly something has gone badly wrong with it over the years with successive DGs making a complete Horlicks of it.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      Yes, but abolishing the BBC, as Des suggests, is hardly the best solution: that would simply eliminate the singers and all the orchestras. The hard part is to successfully reinvigorate the “inform and educate” portions of the BBC’s mandate.

  • Wondering says:

    Apologies if this is a dunce question, but if they are so very exceptional can they not try setting themselves up independently? Could they not be self-sustaining through fees and ticket sales and perhaps patronage/sponsorship?

    • Ñame says:

      This just isn’t how the arts work. The arts aren’t a money maker, they’re a money loser. They require massive amounts of funding with very little promise of return on investment.

      What the arts do on the international stage is act as a form of soft power for different countries. As a form of entertainment, they create a bridge through which diplomatic relations can be facilitated between the peoples of different countries (ie we may dislike Russia’s government, but through our admiration of Russian composers and artists and writers we have a connection to their people which can separate the vile acts of Putin from being representative of the entire population).

      Artists are cultural ambassadors. Some make a great living and become international superstars, yet working behind the scenes to support them is legions of trained musicians and artists putting the mastery of their craft into practice to form a cohesive whole product. Soft powers don’t self sustain, they require government subsidy and investment. Therefore lies the importance of the BBC. It’s the only guaranteed salaried position in the London orchestral music industry (save for the Royal opera house), and employs hundreds of workers of all stripes in contribution to this soft power. It also fills the gap where the UK government has been otherwise unable and unwilling to provide subsidies for the arts and culture. The BBC being destroyed from the inside by Tory government plants is a clear statement from the heads of the network: that they fail to understand the importance of soft powers in international relations. In their foolishness, they will wipe thousands of workers from their income, and these workers (including the Singers) are just like you and I, trying to hold together a living.

      • Latrice says:

        this viewpoint is sweet to BUT SO OUT OF TOUCH with reality. what, are you 85 years old? you are living in a world that doesn’t exist anymore. This model has been dying for YEARS now. we can’t live in the past: I hate the cuts, too, but one has seen this coming over seats from the USA since Cats, Evita and Phantom taught London that the arts can be FOR PROFIT. We have to keep our nostalgia in perspective and find new business models that work in the evolution of our global industry.

      • Wondering says:

        Whilst it may be the accepted status quo that the arts don’t make money, it is clearly not true that the arts can’t make money. It is necessary to rethink how these things are done, particularly when the tax payer is already bled dry by furlough debts, etc.. It is not the responsibility of artists or arts organisations to provide soft power – particularly if nobody is prepared to pay them for it! In the absence of BBC funding, they should focus on their art, their paying audiences and how to make it profitable.

        It goes without saying, however, that the BBC could cut many other things instead of high arts funding. I no longer watch it or pay the licence fee because its output has been very disappointing for a long time.

  • DH says:

    The issue of the BBC Singers was addressed in the BBC’s Feedback programme on Radio 4 on Sunday 12 March – https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m001jstv about 9’05” in. Andrea Catherwood interviews Simon Webb. In my opinion, it could be fairly described as a car crash interview for Mr Webb – vague management speak throughout e.g. ‘there’s no plan to row back’; ‘there’s a narrow path through here and we have to find that path’ and so on. He could not find anything positive to say about the BBC Singers and is unable to quote any figures from, but refers us to, the BBC’s Annual Accounts.

    I’ve had a look at the BBC’s latest published accounts (for the year ended 31 March 2022). Here are some of the bottom line figures.

    At the end of the financial year the BBC had cash on hand of £717 million, a net increase of £245 million over the year. The cash surplus the BBC generated from its operations was £681 million. £271m of this was spent on investing activities and £165m was used to reduce the level of liabilities (681 – 271 – 165 = 245).

    The BBC is not supposed to maximise a ‘profit’ but should aim to make a ‘surplus’. Its total income for 2022 was £5,330m and its operating costs were £5,231m. Other gains and losses (including a tax refund of £20m) resulted in a bottom line surplus for the year of £206m.

    Public Service Broadcasting expenditure by the BBC totalled £4,071m for 2022. This included reported expenditure on Arts and Music of £31m (0.8%) and Orchestras and Performing groups of £25m (0.6%).

    Cutting 20 Singers at, say, £40,000 each and a Conductor at, say, £80,000 plus administration of £120,000 would reduce any of the above figures by 1.

  • Doc Martin says:

    I am pleased to report that The Choir at St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast which lost its music director Matthew Owens, has been resurrected as director of the Ulster Consort. I attended their excellent concert of Byrd, Tallis, Allegri, Lotti at St Malachy’s Belfast.


  • Unvaccinated says:

    It’s the government. They’re instructing organizations to make cuts because they printed money, maxed out for the fake pandemic – yes the rebranded flu that you all got brainwashed with. Cuts everywhere, TFL etc etc.