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BBC Singers sacked – and reprieved

13 March 2023

The BBC Singers, cancelled after 99 years. Photo courtesy Peter Davoren.

Musicians, concert goers and radio listeners have united to condemn the BBC’s decision to close the BBC Singers. That is part of a plan announced on 7 March to cut around 20 per cent of jobs in BBC orchestras and music ensembles.

The BBC Singers can trace its origins back to 1924; centenary celebrations were due to begin later this year. It is the only full-time professional choir in Britain, outside cathedrals, and also carries out educational work.


The BBC Singers has an international reputation. Its repertoire ranges from early to contemporary music, with a distinguished record of commissioning new work from both established and up-and-coming composers. They were the only BBC ensemble to be nominated for an award at this year’s Royal Philharmonic Awards,

The core of twenty full-time singers will be sacked, and the pool of two hundred freelance singers on whom the BBC Singers can draw will no longer be offered work.

‘The closure is a week before the start of the 2023 Proms season.’

The choir is a fixture at the BBC Proms concert series each summer at the Royal Albert Hall. The closure will take place a week before the start of the 2023 Proms season. This timing might be aimed to save face and to prevent expressions of support for the BBC Singers by the Proms audience.

The Musicians’ Union has pledged to fight for every job. ASLEF, BECTU, Equity and the Writers Guild have all expressed support and solidarity.


The reaction from other professional musicians has been strong. A group of conductors and artists in residence working with most of the BBC’s Performing Groups have written an open letter to the BBC condemning its disregard of how artistic excellence comes about. They have called on the BBC to reconsider the plans and to discuss openly how the BBC can to continue to produce excellent music.

On 10 March Martyn Brabbins made an impassioned speech at the end of a performance by the English National Opera, itself under threat from Arts Council cuts. He said “If we follow the implications of what the Arts Council have asked us to do, what you heard and saw tonight will be in massive jeopardy. Do everything you can to support us.”

Update – reprieve

After a swift and widespread response to the closure announcement, the BBC went into discussion with the Musicians’ Union. The result was a reversal of the decision to close the BBC Singers on 30 September after all. The MU continues to discuss the 20 per cent cut to BBC orchestras.