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Musicians express dismay at decision to axe BBC Singers

09 March 2023


The BBC Singers outside broadcasting house in London

The BBC Singers outside broadcasting house in London

A PETITION has been launched on the website change.org in an attempt to prevent the announced disbanding of the BBC Singers: the only full-time professional choir in the UK.

The BBC announced the closure on Tuesday, as part of its new strategy for classical music, which, they say, “prioritises quality, agility and impact” and “ensures every pound of licence fee funding works harder for the sector and for our audiences now, and in the future”.

A statement on the BBC website says of the decision: “It is essential that the BBC invests in more broadcast opportunities from a greater range of high-quality ensembles, and therefore the BBC has made the difficult decision to close the BBC Singers (20 posts) and invest resources in a wider pool of choral groups from across the UK. Enhancing and enabling emerging and diverse choirs is also key to engaging a wider and a future audience, so the BBC will establish a new nationwide choral development programme.”

The BBC Singers were founded in 1924. For decades, members provided the musical element, a psalm and two hymns, of the Daily Service. Based at the Maida Vale Studios, the Singers nowadays give free concerts at venues in London, and make regular appearances at festivals around the UK and beyond. Most of their performances are broadcast on Radio 3.

As well as the job losses, those behind the petition point to the BBC Singers’ history of commissioning new works from contemporary composers, from the BBC Christmas Carol Competition to other commissions from established and promising composers, work that would be lost.

It also points to the outreach work in schools, providing singing days and masterclasses to young singers and conductors from all backgrounds.

Dismay has been expressed on Twitter at the BBC’s decision. The mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly called it “a tragic day” in the Singers’ centenary year. “Another attack on the arts and opportunities for young singers,” she said.

The composer, conductor, and former King’s Singer Bob Chilcott called the proposal “shameful”. He said: “The BBC Singers is one of the leading advocates of choral music in the world, and their budget probably equals one sport presenter’s salary. The BBC corporate spin on it is beyond belief.”

The King’s Singers posted a message on Twitter: “We’ll absolutely be culturally worse off without them, and that’s to say nothing of the devastation for the skilled singers and staff, for whom this was their livelihood.”

The BBC’s chief content officer, Charlotte Moore, said: “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.

“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.”


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