Ivors Academy warns BBC of ‘damaging consequences’ of classical music cuts

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The chair of the Ivors Academy Classical Council has written a letter urging the BBC to re-think proposed cuts to classical music performing groups, warning of the consequences for the future of music.

Last week, the BBC announced plans to scrap its in-house chamber choir, the BBC Singers, and reduce salaried orchestral posts across the BBC English Orchestras by around 20%.

The broadcaster confirmed the decision to close the BBC Singers will result in the loss of 20 posts.

Lloyd Coleman and Raymond Yui
Lloyd Coleman and composer Raymond Yui who is one of the letter’s 462 signatories (The Ivors Academy/PA)

It read: “On behalf of The Ivors Academy I write to express our fullest appreciation and support for every BBC Performing Group musician at this most difficult time.

“The BBC’s new strategy for classical music has been met with dismay not only by you, as employees directly affected, but also by us composers and music creators.”

Mr Coleman said the BBC is the largest commissioner of contemporary classical music across the UK and the performing groups “perform our work faultlessly” across the country.

The letter continued: “Only last year, The Ivors Academy commissioned a report that found 62% of Ivors Composer Awards past winners and nominees had been commissioned by the BBC or a BBC ensemble.

BBC Stock
BBC Broadcasting House in London (Ian West/PA)

“They occupy a unique place not only within the BBC, but in our national musical life as a whole, as the UK’s only full-time choir.”

The BBC previously said the plans follow a 2022 review looking at the classical sector and its role within it – and forms part of a new strategy for classical music which “prioritises quality, agility and impact”.

Mr Coleman said that while the “complete disbanding” of the BBC Singers has been the focus, the proposed 20% reduction in the salaried workforce of the BBC’s world-renowned ensembles also “causes concern”.

The letter, which included signatures from royal coronation composer Shirley Thompson, Sir James MacMillan and Ivor Novello-winning composer Robin Haigh, said: “Like their counterparts in the BBC Singers, musicians in the orchestras play a huge amount of new music with precision and verve.

“From the Symphony Orchestra’s excellent Total Immersion series, to the Scottish Symphony’s cutting edge Tectonics festival, the BBC ensembles serve composers in a way most other ensembles do not.

“Against the context of previous cuts to arts and music programming on BBC television and radio, the cutback of salaried performers threatens to undermine the consistent volume and quality of new music performances by these groups.”

Mr Coleman concluded the letter urging decision makers at the BBC to “think again”.

It added: “Your decisions will profoundly affect not only your loyal workforce of highly-trained, dedicated musicians, but have damaging consequences now and long into the future for composers, creatives, our music sector and culture.”

The BBC previously said that the move was part of a plan “to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK” and launch a choral development programme for new talent.

It also said it aimed to create “agile ensembles” that can work with “more musicians and broadcasting from more venues – up to 50 – in different parts of the country”.

Those working across three English Orchestras – Symphony, Concert and Philharmonic – will be offered a voluntary redundancy programme to reach the 20% target, it said.

The BBC’s new strategy also includes doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives, and creating a single digital home for its orchestras.

Mr Coleman later said: “As a community of composers, we unequivocally support our colleagues at the BBC affected by the proposed cuts.

“As world-class musicians they hold a unique place in our cultural life and underpin the careers of so many composers, allowing us to bring new music to audiences across the UK and internationally.

“Their loss would be deep and long-lasting, and we call on the BBC to re-think this decision.”

A statement from the BBC said: “Since 1922 the BBC has been an integral part of the classical music ecology in this country and abroad. For us to continue to be a leading force in the industry we need to modernise, making some necessary and difficult changes to the way we operate, and many models have been considered over the past few months.

“Whilst some may disagree with the tough decisions we’ve had to make in what are financially challenging times, we have developed the classical strategy carefully and diligently. We know this is a hugely tough time for everyone impacted.

“We will continue to do all we can to support those affected by these changes and to engage with the industry, and we are in consultation with the Musicians’ Union.”

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