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MU hits out a proposed cutbacks as BBC announces plans to revamp its classical music output

By | Published on Wednesday 8 March 2023


The BBC yesterday announced plans to revamp its classical music output following a review last year. The plans include more educational activity and a single digital home for the broadcaster’s various in-house orchestras.

However, accompanying moves to reduce the number of salaried positions in those orchestras and to phase out entirely the BBC’s in-house chamber choir have understandably got the most attention, especially from the Musicians’ Union.

Alongside talk of “creating agile ensembles that can work flexibly and creatively”, “reinforcing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s five unique orchestras” and “doubling funding for music education”, the Beeb admitted that its plans involve “reducing salaried orchestral posts across the BBC English orchestras by around 20%”.

And also “taking the difficult decision to close the BBC Singers in order to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK, working with a wide range of choral groups alongside launching a major choral development programme for new talent”.

However, it said, with the new plans the BBC will “invest more widely in the sector across the UK, whilst delivering savings that ensure we deliver high quality orchestral and choral music within a sustainable financial model”.

Saving money is part of the aim here – with the BBC at large needing to cut its costs – however, it insisted, “even were there no financial challenges, we believe these steps are the right ones to take to help ensure the future success of the sector”.

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s Chief Content Officer, said of the plans: “This is the first major review of classical music at the BBC in a generation. This new strategy is bold, ambitious and good for the sector and for audiences who love classical music”.

“That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to make some difficult decisions, but equally they are the right ones for the future”, she added. “Great classical music should be available and accessible to everyone, and we’re confident these measures will ensure more people will engage with music, have better access to it, and that we’ll be able to play a greater role in developing and nurturing the musicians and music lovers of tomorrow”.

The cutbacks are, of course, a cause for concern for the Musicians’ Union and its members. Confirming yesterday that the union is now in urgent talks with the BBC, MU General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: “The BBC is the biggest employer and engager of musicians in the UK and it plays a unique role in the ecosystem of our music industry”.

“From Glastonbury to the Proms, from Jools Holland to BBC radio, its coverage, support and promotion of British musical talent nationally and internationally is unrivalled”, she added. “It is because we appreciate the BBC’s role so much that these proposed cuts are so utterly devastating”.

“The BBC performing groups are vital to the BBC in our view”, she went on. “They are busy, they perform a wide range of roles across numerous high-profile programmes and events, and they also already contribute to music education”.

“The hundreds of singers and musicians they employ will be very concerned about their futures today and we will support them and stand with them to push back against these proposals. We will fight for every job. This will mean working with the BBC to look at alternative measures, representing affected individuals and also calling on the government to step in with more support”.

“Musicians have suffered greatly during the pandemic and with the rising cost-of-living”, she continued. “As a profession and as an industry, we remain in crisis. The government could protect organisations and jobs in the short term by extending the increased rate of orchestral tax relief beyond April. Going forward, they must also increase funding so that organisations can preserve jobs and continue to deliver the world-class music that Britain is renowned for”.