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MU Responds to Leaked Documents on Future of BBC Performing Groups

The Musicians’ Union responds to leaked documents about the BBC Performing Groups published by classical music blog Slipped Disc.

Published: 04 April 2023 | 2:31 PM
Close up of hands playing violin
The MU will continue to consult its members and keep them fully informed of developments. Image credit: Shutterstock.

Classical music blog Slipped Disc has released a story referring to an “official document” that reveals, in Norman Lebrecht's words, “what the BBC really plans for its orchestras”.

The MU can confirm having sight of these documents, which we believe may have been an earlier version of the proposals announced by the BBC on 7 March.

They include combining the BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Symphony Orchestra to create a "single pool" of musicians in London, and reducing "the core-salary base of the BBC Philharmonic, creating… a world-leading talent development programme in partnership with the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM)."

It is our understanding that these two alternative proposals were shared with us by the BBC in error.

Neither proposal has been discussed with the union in any meetings we have attended with the BBC about the future of its Performing Groups.

Written assurances from the BBC and Royal Northern College of Music

The MU has since received written assurances from BBC Head of Orchestras and Choirs Simon Webb that, “[The BBC does] not propose to create a single pool of musicians from the BBC Concert and BBC Symphony Orchestras. As discussed during our consultative meetings we do envisage those ensembles working together to develop the freelance pool of players available to the BBC in London."

He goes on to say, "Whilst I can confirm that we do plan to launch a new partnership with the RNCM this is not related to our proposed changes to the roles with the BBC Philharmonic.

“I would like to reiterate the BBC’s continued commitment to strengthening its public purpose for classical music whilst reaching a sustainable financial model for its six Performing Groups. We remain committed to meaningful consultation with the MU and other staff unions," Webb continues.

The MU has also received a message from the RNCM which states, "Any discussions with the BBC regarding talent development and professional experience for students pre-date, and are wholly unrelated to, the recent announcement of a reduction in salaried musician posts at the corporation."

Undermining members’ faith in the BBC even further

Musicians’ Union General Secretary Naomi Pohl said: "The musicians employed by the BBC's Performing Groups have had a terrible month since the BBC made its ill-advised announcement proposing to close the BBC Singers and make 20% job cuts in its English orchestras.

“Since then, nothing material has significantly changed. There are still no concrete plans for the future of the BBC Singers and our members’ jobs at the BBC Concert, Philharmonic and Symphony orchestras are still under threat.

“These additional proposals, which seem to have been shared in error, have further undermined our members' faith in the BBC and have made engaging in meaningful talks more difficult still.

“The MU will continue to consult its members and keep them fully informed of developments. In the meantime, I encourage all our members and everyone who loves music at the BBC to email Tim Davie and the BBC Board using our template letter.”

Take action now to protect jobs in the BBC’s Performing Groups

The MU is asking all members and supporters to email the BBC Director General Tim Davie and the BBC Board, calling on them to:

  1. Maintain the BBC Singers as a full-time employed BBC Performing Group with a bright future
  2. Withdraw proposals to make 20% cuts to jobs in the BBC Concert, Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras
  3. Commit to maintaining all six Performing Groups as an essential part of the BBC’s public service remit

It includes space for you to explain why you care about the BBC Singers and orchestras. It also covers key arguments for protecting and maintaining the BBC Concert Orchestra, Philharmonic Orchestra and Symphony Orchestra.

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