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Sign Our Letter and Show Support for ETO Musicians

English Touring Opera’s recent decision has equated to half the orchestra losing their roles, join us in standing up to the mistreatment of our musicians by signing our letter to the ETO board.

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By Jo Laverty Published: 22 November 2021 | 12:32 PM Updated: 22 November 2021 | 1:28 PM
Empty red seating in a concert setting
It is so important that collectively we show support for these members and stand up to any and all mistreatment of our musicians. Photo credit: Shutterstock

You will probably have heard about recent events instigated by English Touring Opera (ETO) and that a number of musicians have been told that they will not be booked for the 2022 tour. This equates to half of a loyal, experienced orchestra losing their roles.

Members of the MU Orchestra Section are joining together to do something about this and to hold ETO to account. The number of signatories on this letter to the ETO board is so far at 300 and growing by the day. We would like to offer our thanks to all of those that have signed so far.

We are now asking you to add your name to the signatories of this letter in support of the ETO musicians. The MU plan to deliver a hard copy letter to the Chair of the ETO board on Thursday in person, so please add your name by Wednesday 24 November at 4:00 pm to be included.

Your name will be published on the letter to the board, but if the MU choose to publish the letter further, names will be omitted and only numbers of signatories mentioned. I hope this reassures you that we will respect your privacy, whilst asking you to join this cause.

It is so important that collectively we show support for these members and stand up to any and all mistreatment of our musicians.

You can let us know that you’d like your name to be added to the letter by completing this short form.

The letter

Dear Mr Beddy,

We the undersigned are writing to you as members of the Orchestra Section of the Musicians’ Union. This Section is made up of over 3,000 orchestral musicians working full time for a UK orchestra or freelancing across a number of orchestras.

We are writing to you about the recent decision made by English Touring Opera in regard to the orchestra. First and foremost, that a large proportion of an orchestra have lost work that they have been loyal to and planned their work and family life around for years or even decades. This is a particularly brutal and unnecessary blow to a group of highly skilled and experienced players at a time when the industry and musicians’ livelihoods are only just beginning to rebuild.

We also have concerns and questions about the process (or apparent lack of) that ETO followed and who is responsible for the decisions that were made.

As you know, on 9th September ETO Director, James Conway wrote to 14 regular ETO players stating that they were not required for the 2022 tour. The letter stated: “English Touring Opera is committed to increasing all kinds of diversity in its team, and while there have been appreciable, steady advances on stage in this area, we have prioritised increased diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the firm guidance of the Arts Council, principal funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most of the trust funds that support ETO.”

The issue is not ETO being proactive about diversity, and we celebrate any positive progress that can be made in that area. The issue in this instance as mentioned above, is about the process, or lack of process that ETO have followed.

The recruitment process was conducted behind the back of the orchestra and the Union. None of the existing players were invited to audition and those that found out about the auditions by chance, and enquired about participating, were reassured they did not have to audition. All of the current members of the orchestra were actively excluded from the process.

The MU has recognition with ETO and a Collective Agreement governing the terms, conditions and pay for the orchestra – why did ETO not consult or inform the Union of these plans? The MU is in talks with many other UK Orchestras about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and could have advised ETO as well.

We have some specific questions for you as Chair of the ETO board.

1. Can the board advise whether Arts Council England or any of the other trust funds instructed ETO to act in this way?

2. Were the ETO board aware that there were plans for such a wholesale restructure of the orchestra, many of whom have been playing with ETO over decades or years?

3. As mentioned above we now know that open auditions took place in summer 2021 from which all current ETO players were excluded. Can the board advise as to what criteria was applied to choosing candidates for audition?

4. Can the board advise what positions in the orchestra were being auditioned?

5. Can the board advise why current members of the orchestra were excluded from the process?

6. Does the board think that a fair and inclusive process was followed and justify as to how they hold that belief?

We are concerned that the fallout of ETO’s decisions and actions, has been and continues to be damaging to all the musicians involved: whether they lost work, have been invited back and feel dreadful for their colleagues or have been offered work for the first time and are wondering how inclusive an environment they are being invited into.

At the same time, I hope we can be clear that we are not seeking to damage ETO in return. We very much hope ETO seeks to resolve this situation and continue to provide great opera and create work for musicians and other artists. But these questions do need to be answered and the situation resolved. We have serious concerns for ETO’s future otherwise.

Alex Gascoine, Chair of the MU Orchestra Section said:

“On behalf of all orchestra musicians in the UK, I am deeply disturbed to hear of the way a number of extremely talented and experienced musicians have been treated by a company which they have shown immense loyalty to over many seasons.

“English Touring Opera has built a great reputation and delighted audiences for years by producing outstanding productions. The orchestra at ETO has been at the artistic core of these performances.

“Making progress in equality, diversity and inclusion is vital for the future of our industry. To suddenly stop booking a number of highly talented and experienced musicians as a result of “firm guidance from the Arts Council” cannot possibly further the case for more diversity in our industry.”

Your response to all the questions posed in this letter can be sent to us via the MU [The letter then lists the email addresses for Jo Laverty, National Organiser Orchestras and MU General Secretary Horace Trubridge.]

Yours faithfully,

Names of signatories will be added here, add yours by using our short form.

Find out more

If you have not followed the story and the MU’s actions on this situation so far please see our previous news stories:

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