Maestros in turmoil over BBC’s cuts in classical music

Classical music masters are furious over the BBC’s decision to scrap Britain’s only full-time professional chamber choir and ax jobs for orchestral performers, warning the sector is grappling with a deepening funding crisis.

In the latest response to its own financial pressures, the company this week unveiled plans to abolish the 99-year-old BBC Singers and reduce by about a fifth the number of full-time orchestral posts across England.

The move is another blow to British classical music. Glyndebourne announced earlier this year that it could not tour as planned due to a cut in funding from Arts Council England. Cambridge-based Britten Sinfonia launched a £1m appeal this week to secure their future following the ACE cuts.

Established in 1924 as Wireless Chorus, BBC Singers is internationally renowned as a center for choral excellence. “The idea of ​​the choir stopping completely is really terrifying,” said Anna Lapwood, organist and conductor, director of music at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

She acknowledged the BBC was in a difficult financial position, adding: “It’s part of a bigger picture that we’re all really worried about.”

Leading musicians warned that it was becoming increasingly unsustainable for talented young people to pursue careers in the industry.

Nicholas Chalmers, one of Britain’s leading conductors, who led the BBC Singers at the Proms classical music festival, said: “It’s like we’re destroying the very fabric of our musical society.”

“The signal from above is that this can no longer exist and can be canceled with the stroke of a pen at a board meeting. . . We’re going to shut down orchestras, shut down choirs, and there won’t really be a vehicle for you as a professional musician.”

Deborah Annetts, executive director of the Independent Society of Musicians, said “most of the sector is really stunned” by the scale of the company’s cuts.

Sakari Oramo, Principal Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, wrote on Twitter: “I am disgusted by the BBC announcements. The removal of BBCSingers is an act of blatant vandalism.”

The BBC is looking for ways to save money after government ministers froze the television license fees that fund the company for two years, despite rising cost pressures.

Simon Webb, the company’s director of orchestras and choirs, told the Financial Times that “every part of the BBC has to respond” to a real reduction in royalty funding.

“A lot of challenging decisions are being made across the sector. My priority here is to respond in a way that asserts our position in the field of classical music. Our audience needs to get the highest quality music within the financial constraints we have.”

While the decision was “sanctioned within the BBC,” Webb added that the company began consultation with unions on the process on Friday.

Naomi Pohl, general secretary of the musicians’ union, said she was confident the BBC would reconsider. “I think they will have been surprised at the magnitude of the reaction.”

Pohl noted that the Singers had a relatively small budget. “It has a fantastic reputation, also for undertaking new work.”

The Singers were due to move into the BBC’s new facility in the East Bank development in Stratford, London. Webb said the project has stayed “on track.” Maestros in turmoil over BBC’s cuts in classical music

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