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Sofi Jeannin conducts The BBC Singers: the ensemble’s future is still in jeopardy

BBC SINGERS’ FUTURE IN QUESTION

PLANS TO DISBAND THE BBC SINGERS have been put on hold, the BBC announced on 24 March.

On 7 March, the BBC announced its plans to close down the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir, as well as cutting a fifth of salaried posts in the BBC’s England-based orchestras.

The broadcaster said the decision was part of a new strategy that arose from its classical review in 2022, and that the restructuring would enable the corporation to double its funding for music education and launching training initiatives, create a single digital home for its orchestras, and ‘work with a wide range of choral groups alongside launching a major choral development programme for new talent.’

The announcement provoked national outrage, including an open letter of protest signed by more than 700 composers, as well as a petition which at the time of going to press had been signed by more than 150,000 members of the public.

The announcement that the broadcaster would reconsider its decision came in a statement issued on 24 March, which said:

The BBC has received approaches from a number of organisations offering alternative funding models for the BBC Singers. 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 can also confirm the Singers will appear in this year’s BBC Proms.

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. Therefore, 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.

The BBC, as the biggest commissioner of music and one of the biggest employers of musicians in the country, recognises it has a vital role to play in supporting orchestral and choral music.

We will continue to engage with the Musicians’ Union and the other BBC Unions about our proposals on the BBC’s English Orchestras. We are committed to meaningful consultation and to avoiding compulsory redundancies, wherever possible.

The history of the BBC Singers stretches back to 1924, when the ensemble was formed as The Wireless Singers under the directorship of Stanford Robinson (see Choir & Organ, January/February 2009). The ensemble appeared under different names over the coming decades, finally settling on the BBC Singers in 1972. Chorus masters have included such luminaries as Leslie Woodgate, Peter Gellhorn, John Poole, Simon Joly and Stephen Cleobury. In 1992 Michael Emery was appointed senior producer for the BBC Singers; David Hill was appointed chief conductor in 2007, to be succeeded in 2017 by Sofi Jeannin (see David Hill’s interview with Sofi Jeannin in the April issue of Choir & Organ). The BBC Singers have also had a series of guest conductors and associate composers, and have commissioned more than 100 works over the course of its history. In 2013 and 2015 the ensemble was C&O’s New Music partner. bbc.co.uk/singers

6 CHOIR & ORGAN MAY 2023

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