Business News Media

BBC “suspends” decision to axe BBC Singers

By | Published on Friday 24 March 2023


The BBC announced this morning that it has decided to reverse its decision to disband the BBC Singers, its in-house chamber choir that was first launched in 1924. In a statement, the broadcaster said that it “will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers while we actively explore” alternative funding models for the choir.

While criticism of the decision to close the choir was far-reaching across the classical music industry, the decision to reverse the plan specifically comes following “intense discussions” with the Musicians’ Union.

“The BBC has received approaches from a number of organisations offering alternative funding models for the BBC Singers”, says this morning’s statement. “We have agreed with the Musicians’ Union that we will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers while we actively explore these options.

“If viable”, it goes on, “these alternative options would secure the future of the ensemble. We can also confirm the Singers will appear in this year’s BBC Proms”.

So, not an entirely secure future, but certainly a more positive outlook than before. Commenting on the decision, the MU’s National Organiser For Orchestras, Jo Laverty, says: “The weeks since the BBC’s announcement have impacted all the individuals affected in the most brutal way”.

“We are right behind every member affected, and as we enter negotiation we will be consulting our members in the Singers and BBC orchestras to ensure the outcome is as positive as possible for them all”.

MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl adds: “The outpouring of love for the BBC Singers and orchestras over the past few weeks has been incredible and we know our members are hugely grateful for all the support they’ve received”.

“We hope the BBC recognises the real quality and value they bring to the UK’s music industry, international music makers and fans, and BBC licence fee payers who will be keener than ever to see them in action live and via broadcast”, she goes on. “The work they do in music education is also crucial. They are frankly irreplaceable”.

Earlier this week, a group of over 18,000 amateur choir members added their names to the list of critics of the plans to shut down the BBC Singers, saying that “by killing off the UK’s leading professional choir, you will diminish us all”.

Acknowledging the strong feeling surrounding the proposals, the BBC’s statement continues: “We know that the BBC Singers are much loved across the classical community and their professionalism, quality and standing has never been in question. We have said throughout these were difficult decisions”.

“Therefore, we want to fully explore the options that have been brought to us to see if there is another way forward. The BBC still needs to make savings and still plans to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK”.

“The BBC, as the biggest commissioner of music and one of the biggest employers of musicians in the country, recognises it has a vital role to play in supporting orchestral and choral music”, it goes on.

Of course, there remain proposed cuts to three BBC orchestras too, which have also drawn criticism. Commenting on this, the BBC says: “We will continue to engage with the Musicians’ Union and the other BBC unions about our proposals on the BBC’s English orchestras. We are committed to meaningful consultation and to avoiding compulsory redundancies, wherever possible”.

Also commenting this morning was Independent Society Of Musicians’ Chief Executive, Deborah Annetts, who states: “We are delighted and relieved that the BBC Singers are not facing immediate closure. This is the right decision and we thank the BBC for listening to the sector”.

“The international outrage over the decision shows just how popular the BBC Singers are across the globe. We are concerned about the proposal to look at new models of funding and urge the BBC to find a solution that secures the long-term future of the group”.

“There are also other issues to resolve, including the decision to cut the three English BBC orchestras by 20%, which the BBC’s own previous reports have shown to be unviable, but this is a positive step”, she goes on. “We thank all the organisations and musicians and audience members who have taken the time to stand alongside the ISM and help to save the much-loved Singers”.

It remains to be seen what the “alternative funding models” on offer are, and if they can secure the future of the BBC Singers long-term.