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Orchestral Work During the Coronavirus Outbreak

Information for freelance and employed Orchestral musicians

On this page you will find information on what the MU’s Orchestral Department has been doing to pursue the best possible outcome for employed and freelance players. And updates from the individual Orchestras that we have been in contact with.

We currently have information from the following Orchestras, and will be updating as we know more:

We have been working hard over recent weeks to contact all Orchestras about their intentions towards freelance players during this unprecedented time in order to get some reassurances. Our concern for our freelancers’ livelihoods particularly is paramount at this time.

All the contract orchestras have been written to, to clarify their position on Extras and Deputies. The main discussions with our freelance orchestras are happening via the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) although some ABO members have come to us independently.

Reimbursement of cancellations

In the best-case scenarios for our freelancers, some organisations are honouring all confirmed dates in the diary. At the moment 28 days is what most companies can publicly commit to, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plans in place to reimburse any cancellations beyond that.

There is no one size fits all answer to mitigate these losses unfortunately, some organisations are better resourced than others and it is clear this situation will have a devastating impact across the sector.

Please be reassured that we are talking to funders and the government and working with individual employers and engagers to ensure the best outcome possible for you all. These talks will be ongoing as the situation develops.

Creating alternative opportunities

We have also encouraged companies to approach us about different ways of presenting “live” concerts and whether the union needs to take a more relaxed approach to media restrictions in regard to streaming and live streaming of concerts.

This would be on a case by case basis, and for instances when this would allow work to go ahead as opposed to it having to be cancelled. Our priority is to protect work and income for our freelancers, and there needs to be some concerted creative thought about how orchestral players can interact with audiences.

We have also had many messages of support from employed colleagues who are in favour of finding ways to work with managers and the Union to create freelance opportunities in their orchestras.

Adapting to the current situation

Whilst this message is focused on the freelance community, we know those of you that are employed will naturally be extremely concerned about the future of your orchestra.

The government’s announcement of the Job Retention Scheme is very welcome news and many companies are in the process of furloughing employees or have done so already. The MU is supportive of this and we are reassuring managements that we understand why this is a necessary action.

We have reassurances from all your managers that we will keep an ongoing dialogue with them about how we can pull together in this crisis. We need to concentrate on keeping up the visibility of our orchestras and talk about how your work can be adapted to the new environment.

Updates from the Orchestras

Below is a summary of the responses we have received. All companies have stated that more information will be made available regarding later scheduled activities once a decision has been taken, so this may not be the maximum freelancers can expect to receive from these companies.

All managements have expressed their deep concern for their freelance community and a wish to do as well by you all as they can.

We will update this advice on a rolling basis as more responses and updates come in.

BBC Orchestras  

The BBC have announced a 28-day cancellation period. In a communication from one of the Orchestra Directors we were told:

“The BBC position for self-employed freelancers generally has been that if we cancel an engagement with less than 4 weeks’ notice we will either honour the full engagement fee or pay 7 days’ notice, whichever is the lesser depending when the cancellation is communicated. As the freelance musicians have already been paid in excess of this policy it will not be possible, I’m afraid, to make any additional payments. It has been made clear to us that we do need to operate within the BBC’s corporate guidelines."

The BBC have now launched the BBC / Freelancers COVID19 Fund Page with the purpose of providing some temporary support in the form of an interest free loan for their community of Freelancers who are experiencing financial hardship as a result of cancellation of work and loss of income due to the COVID-19 pandemic only.

Key features of the fund:

  • Gross Paid Sole Trader Freelancers eligible for SEISS scheme can request a one-off payment up to £1,000. The BBC encourage freelancers to apply even if they think they do not qualify for the SEISS, as it will depend on why they cannot qualify for the SEISS scheme as to whether their application will be successful.
  • It is a time limited fund and will be open until 31st of May 2020

Eligibility Criteria:

  • You must have been engaged by the BBC within the last 12 months
  • You must have the right to work in the UK
  • Your hardship is related to the impact of COVID-19

What you can Claim, Engagement History and Repayment:

  • If you are eligible you can request a one-off payment of £1,000
  • Repayment required in 3 months after the government fund opens.

Application is made via a one-page request which outlines the request. This can be found on BBC/Freelancers page.

Extras and Deputies with the BBC Orchestras should put “paid by fast fee” in the contract box and BBC personal number box”.

Your engagement history will be used to verify eligibility if application is successful.

The BBC will work quickly to get your application reviewed and provide you with an outcome in 5 days.

Birmingham Contemporary Music Group

Activities are being rescheduled forward where possible.

“The cancelled work is this so far:

  • 29 March: Learning workshops. BCMG own-promoted. 2 musicians involved – to be asked to help create online resources as alternative.
  • 24 April: Schools concert. BCMG own-promotion. Musicians involved will be paid basic concert fee.
  • 2/3/4/10 May: Varese project. Part-BCMG own-promotion, part-engagement. Musicians involved will be paid 50% basic rehearsal and concert fees.
  • 16/17/18 May: University of Birmingham Workshop. UoB booking, cancelled on UoB instructions. Seven musicians involved – all will be paid.
  • 30 May: University of Cambridge Workshop. Cambridge booking. 1 musician involved – will be paid.

All other work is postponed at the moment, and we’re working with partners to reorganise when it’s possible to do so.”

Birmingham Royal Ballet / Royal Ballet Sinfonia

Freelance musicians engaged to play with Royal Ballet Sinfonia for the Royal Opera House performances of Swan Lake and performances of Swan Lake in Plymouth will receive pay for any cancelled calls/performances up until the end of April 2020.

More information will be made available regarding later scheduled activities once a decision has been taken.

Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra

Bournemouth have confirmed in the first instance all fees will be honoured until Easter.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

The CBSO have provided the following statement:

“At the moment we have cancelled all concerts until at least 19 April.  We will decide about future concerts on a rolling basis, in line with government advice.

Our provisional plan is now as follows:

  • 1. For all the players booked for the recent cancelled tour (12 – 24 March), we will pay full fees – but without doubling and other ancillary amounts, as the work did not take place
  • 2. For players booked for the next 3 weeks (until Sunday 12 April), we will pay full fees – without travel, doubling or porterage
  • 3. For players booked for the following 3 weeks (Monday 13 April – Sunday 3 May) we will pay 50% of the fees (again without travel, doubling or porterage) unless we resume rehearsals and concerts on 20 April (or the following week), in which case we will of course pay the normal rates + ancillaries where appropriate
  • 4. For players already booked beyond 4 May, we will convert all bookings to pencillings as of tomorrow.  If the rehearsals and concerts do take place, we will of course reconfirm this work and pay it in full in the normal way.  If any players choose to remove themselves from these pencillings, that will of course be fine as with any pencilling.”

English National Ballet

ENB can honour the following payments:

  • Basic pay for 56 people (46 orchestra members plus 10 extras) for the rehearsals
  • Extra performances/sessions
  • Basic pay for the week 1 performances at Sadler’s Wells
  • Basic pay for the week 2 performances at Sadler’s Wells
  • All relevant media payments
  • All relevant management and administration support payments

They are not able to make payments for Doubling or porterage.

This covers all performances within a 28 day period of cancellation, ENB are seeking further advice on the Government’s Job Retention Scheme and if and how it may apply to the orchestra.

English National Opera

Extras and Deputies will be paid for all work that they were booked to do over the 28 days from Tues 17 March.

English Touring Opera

ETO have announced the cancellation of the Spring 2020 Tour and made this statement:

“You will receive all fees you are due for all performances/the full period of your contract in full.  These will be paid out in instalments in accordance with the existing payment schedule. This is based on the assumption that you are unable to obtain work to replace your engagement with us or any part of it.  In the event that you obtain replacement work in the period, we would expect you to let us know and refund us an appropriate amount to reflect those other earnings.  

We will make no further travel and subs payments.You have been paid travel and subs relating to performances up to and including ST JOHN PASSION in Northampton on 3rd May.  We will recover travel and subs payments relating to cancelled performances by deducting the relevant sum from your remaining fee payments.  However, if there are any expenses you have already committed for travel and/or accommodation from Poole onwards for which you cannot be refunded, please send us the relevant documentation and we will reduce the deduction we make accordingly.  It would be very useful if you could give us an estimate of any such non-refundable costs as soon as possible so that we know how much we need to allow for this.”


The Hallé have formally announced that we will not be performing in public until, at the earliest, June 6th. They have confirmed they will honour all firm bookings with freelance players up until the end of May.

London Symphony Orchestra

In the short term it is the LSO’s intention to pay basic concert and rehearsal fees to all extras and deputies for LSO own promotion engagements for which they have been booked.

There will be no fees payable for any cancelled tours as the LSO will not be receiving payment due to “force majeure” rules. This is up to and including the 14 June, the last London concert of the season.

Opera North

Freelance musicians engaged to play with Opera North will receive pay for any performances cancelled within a 28-day period. Due to a raft of small-scale work coming up, this covers all bookings until June.

Multi-Storey Orchestra

Musicians can claim 100% of the fees for the cancelled projects they were booked for.

“The orchestra are hoping to carry out alternative activity in lieu of this booking once we know what it is possible. If this happens and you are interested and able to take part, we would love to transfer your booking for this summer to this activity. However you would not be obliged to take part – your invoice will be paid either way.”

Northern Ballet Sinfonia

To date, the Northern Ballet Sinfonia have been paid their Freelance earnings for the final week that was worked before the national lockdown. The next two weeks that would have been worked have also been paid in full. 80% of Northern Ballet employees have been furloughed and the Company will be applying to the Government scheme to reclaim the 80% of salary up to £2500 per month which will help to a degree. It had been hoped that given the nature of the close relationship with the orchestra that a similar scheme would be offered for Freelancers particularly as NB can clearly demonstrate the actual loss to the players of not being able to pay the contracts that were in place. The system for freelancers is not as straightforward. NB are also exploring with HMRC if the special circumstances around the way the players are engaged can in fact be lined up as if they were employed rather than Freelance in order that they be furloughed and the Company recoup 80% of the wage bill directly. More detail will follow on this as the scheme is better explored.

With Freelance support for players of 80% of lost profits up to £2500 per month coming directly from HMRC in due course, NB are committed in the first instance to still pay players 20% of the fees that would have paid as a top up and therefore giving them parity with employees. The two weeks that have already been paid that were not worked should be considered a down payment towards this further 20%. Any player suffering extreme financial hardship in the shorter term should be in touch with the Company directly, who will support if they are able to do so but at the moment the company is dealing with short term cash flow problems due to lack of income from the spring tour.

Arts Council England will also announce shortly a scheme for National Portfolio organisations (NB is an NPO). The criteria is unclear at this stage for this pot of funding but if ACE come up with sufficient money to replace the £1million pounds already lost in box office income, NB are very willing to look at the possibility of diverting some of that money to pay as much of the work that has been cancelled to the orchestra as is commercially sustainable for them, in line with ACE’s request to sustain a Freelance workforce as a matter of priority. ACE are to be in touch on this issue after Easter.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Freelance musicians who have cancelled performances within a 21-day period will be paid a full payment (plus any expenses committed) and anyone cancelled between this 21 day and 42 day period will receive 50% payments. The RLPO have also now guaranteed that any activity after the 42 days notice, up to and including 31 May 2020 will receive a minimum payment of 50% of fees.

Royal Northern Sinfonia

Freelance musicians engaged to play with the RNS will be paid for any cancellations up until 16 April which is within the 30-day notice period. 

Royal Opera House

The ROH is closed to the public until 19 April in the first instance, and rehearsals are suspended for the same period. It is possible that the closure period could be extended. The ROH will honour calls for freelancers booked up to 27 April.

In terms of wellbeing freelancers will have access to the free Care First service. The ROH will be sending access to the information shortly.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Freelance musicians engaged to play with the RSNO will be paid 100% of their fees for any cancelled performances up until the end of April 2020. 

The RSNO have released the following statement:

“In a previous message to those booked for recording sessions on 1 and 2 April, we notified that these would be cancelled and 50% of basic fees would be paid in line with our usual cancellation policy. The RSNO has come to the decision to go above our usual cancellation policy, and to pay 100% basic fees to self-employed players for any sessions from these recordings that they were booked.

“We a currently awaiting further updates about the subsequent weeks in April, however in the event of further cancellations, the RSNO has also committed not to invoke force majeure at this time and to pay 100% basic fees for any cancelled sessions on the following projects:

  • Composers’ Hub 14 April
  • Classic FM Hall of Fame 15-18 April
  • Season 4 (Beethoven 4) 21-25 April

So, for just over one month from now, every RSNO self-employed player will still have the same income they would have had.”

Scottish Ballet

A new cancellation clause was added to players contracts, by agreement at the beginning of March as follows:

“Cancellation: In the event that Scottish Ballet, or a hosting theatre, is advised by an official government agency to cancel a rehearsal/performance/season due to circumstances beyond our control, Performance/rehearsal fees for confirmed and contracted dates will be honoured. Please note that under these circumstances, Touring Allowance, Porterage fees and Travel costs will not be paid.”

This means that every musicians' contract issued for the Swan Lake tour (whether listed player or not) will be honoured up to an including the last scheduled performance on 2 May.

Currently Edinburgh Festival Theatre and His Majesty's Aberdeen are officially cancelled. Eden Court and Glasgow Theatre Royal remain on sale but it is unlikely at this stage they will go ahead. Scottish Ballet have clarified that all scheduled calls, including rehearsals will be paid out. However, they are not in a position to pay the seating calls, doubling/augmenting or touring allowances.

Scottish Opera

Fees to Extras and Deputies will be paid for the cancelled working sessions during the contracted weeks of work.

Sinfonia Viva

Freelance players engaged by Sinfonia Viva for the following engagements which have been cancelled or postponed will be paid as follows:

Bridlington, Thursday – Saturday this week: The last element of this education project has been cancelled. The orchestra have agreed with partners to honour fees in full.
Elders project in South Holland: This project was due to start at the end of the month and run through to the beginning of May. The start of this has been postponed. The orchestra are honouring all fees for players confirmed to be working on this project
Derby Cathedral – 25 March: As stated above this concert has now been cancelled. We are honouring all fees in full for this
Fees for cancelled and postponed events include holiday pay but not travel or other ancillary payments.
Ulster Orchestra
From 20 March, 28 days’ notice at 100% of fees will be paid, and the subsequent 28 days at 50% of fees.
Welsh National Opera

Freelance musicians engaged to play with the WNO Spring Tour will still receive payments for all cancelled performances up until the final scheduled performance on 9 May 2020.