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The Observer view on the BBC silencing its Singers | Observer editorial

Axing musicians and its chamber choir won’t make the broadcaster richer, but will make the nation poorer

When the BBC unveiled its new classical music strategy last week, it did so using what can only be described as a thick and unappetising soup of W1A management speak. Its latest masterplan would, it said, “prioritise quality, agility and impact”. So far, it has not explained what this might mean in reality; there is vague talk of “investing” in unspecified education projects. What we do know, however, is that the money to do this will come from the paltry savings made by the axing of the BBC Singers, the UK’s only full-time professional chamber choir, and 20% of the salaried musicians in its several orchestras.

Coming after Arts Council England’s decision last November to cut funding to (among others) English National Opera and the Britten Sinfonia, the music world has reacted to this with understandable fury. Sakari Oramo, the Finnish conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, called it “blatant vandalism”. Neil Tennant, of the Pet Shop Boys, professed himself “shocked and disappointed”. Dame Sarah Connelly, the celebrated mezzo-soprano, described it as “crass, ill-informed and appallingly handled”. John Rutter, the composer and conductor, pointed out that Latvia, a country with a population of fewer than two million, manages to support a 24-strong full-time chamber choir. In response, the BBC wheeled out Simon Webb, recently appointed head of orchestras and choirs, to defend the move. His excruciating prevarication spoke for itself.

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