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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
Craig Simpson

BBC Singers may be privatised after corporation U-turns on choir

The BBC Singers choir - BBC
The BBC Singers choir - BBC

The BBC Singers may be “privatised” and made independent of the broadcaster with the help of major donors after a backlash over cuts to classical music.

Broadcast executives announced on Friday that they would back down on cost-cutting plans to disband its 99-year-old choir.

The move had prompted prominent musicians such as Sir Simon Rattle to consider boycotting the Proms and the BBC are now seeking to save the ensemble by offloading it.

The licence fee-funded Singers may effectively go private and be taken on by an organisation outside the corporation, which would be able to maintain its funding and keep the choir together.

It’s possible they would keep their current name and BBC branding.

Discussions about a new model for the ensemble are now ongoing after two competing offers to fund the Singers were submitted to the BBC’s leadership, both of which are understood to be from musical organisations with “significant private financial backing”.

This had led to speculation that help may come from one of Britain’s leading conservatoires, such as the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which had previously stated that its “doors are open” to discuss the “catastrophic” plans to scrap the Singers.

Other organisations of a similar size and with large turnovers and lists of donors, such as the Royal College of Music and Royal Academy of Music, have also been suggested as possible contenders to run the under-threat ensemble.

All members of BBC Singers were to be made redundant in September - Mark Allan
All members of BBC Singers were to be made redundant in September - Mark Allan

Insiders at the BBC have suggested that the Singers could be set up as a separate charity, with a board of trustees responsible for expert oversight and fundraising, and a private donor or company providing the necessary funding, which stands at around £1.3 million a year.

The current bill for the Singers together with the other “English Performing Groups” like the broadcaster’s in-house orchestras – funded through the licence fee – stands at £25 million a year.

A similar cost-saving model to the one now being considered for the Singers has been used by the corporation in the past, with the Big Band operating under the BBC name while being formed of freelance instead of salaried musicians, and funded separately.

‘We want to fully explore the options’

A spokesman for the BBC said: “We have agreed with the Musicians’ Union that we will suspend the proposal to close the BBC Singers, while we actively explore these options. If viable, these alternative options would secure the future of the ensemble.

“We know that the BBC Singers are much loved across the classical community and their professionalism, quality and standing has never been in question. We have said throughout these were difficult decisions.  

“We want to fully explore the options that have been brought to us to see if there is another way forward. The BBC still needs to make savings and still plans to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK.”

Pressure had mounted on the BBC after the Musicians’ Union threatened to mobilise a boycott of King Charles’ Coronation and over the broadcaster’s new classical strategy,  which as well as disbanding the Singers aimed to cut the budgets of its Concert, Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras by 20 per cent.

The Telegraph revealed that Sir Simon, Britain’s pre-eminent conductor, was also considering a boycott of the BbC Proms, along with other internationally-renowned figures in classical music, prompting internal nervousness at the compromising over the decision to axe the Singers. 

‘Most brutal’ impact

The Musician’s Union has welcomed the BBC’s work to set up the Singers independently. It is understood that the BBC cannot accept private funding for an in-house ensemble.

Jo Laverty, national organiser for the union, said: “The weeks since the BBC’s announcement have impacted all the individuals affected in the most brutal way.

“We are right behind every member affected, and as we enter negotiation we will be consulting our members in the Singers and BBC Orchestras to ensure the outcome is as positive as possible for them all.”

The Guildhall, Royal College of Music and Royal Academy of Music have been contacted for comment.

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