Musicians could boycott King Charles’s Coronation in backlash to BBC choir cuts

BBC Singers
BBC Singers

The BBC could put coronation concert plans at risk by pursuing cuts against its in-house choir and provoking a union-led musical boycott, it has been claimed.

Broadcast executives’ announcement that they would be disbanding the corporation’s 100-year-old professional choir, the BBC Singers, and making its members redundant has provoked a backlash from the UK’s classical music community.

Musicians could be mobilised to protest these job losses by boycotting King Charles’ Coronation and refusing to play during celebratory concerts if the BBC does not temper its plan for cuts.

The Musicians’ Union representing the under-threat BBC Singers, and members of the broadcaster’s Concert, Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestras which are being downsized, has indicated that all and any action may be considered in the dispute with the corporation.

Naomi Pohl, the union’s general secretary, has said that it will not rule out “some form of collective action if the BBC maintains its position on mass redundancies”.

Potential for strike and protests

Ms Pohl has confirmed that the 2023 Proms could be a target for potential strike and protests if the dispute is not resolved, and it is understood that union-led action across Britain’s classical music sector could also disrupt plans for the King’s Coronation in May.

The occasion is set to be marked at Westminster Abbey by performances by a specially created Coronation Orchestra, a group conducted by eminent conductor Sir Antonio Pappano and drawing its musicians from the many ensembles King Charles himself patronised as the Prince of Wales. This includes the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, and the Royal Opera House Orchestra among others.

There are also plans for a special Coronation Concert at Windsor Castle which is set to be staged and broadcast live by the BBC.

With thousands of members across Britain’s choirs and orchestras, the Musicians’ Union is understood to represent professionals within the ensembles feeding into the Coronation Orchestra, and may seek to organise this membership to boycott celebrations in protest at BBC cuts, and refuse to take part in the performances connected to the Coronation.

Any official strike action from Musicians’ Union members will be limited to those affected by the BBC’s new classical music strategy which aims to disband the Singers, bringing about the compulsory redundancy of the 20 choir members.

The BBC is also aiming to cut the budgets of its Concert, Philharmonic, Symphony Orchestras by 20 per cent, raising internal concerns that these ensembles, already struggling post-Covid, will be weakened beyond the ability to function and ultimately have to be disbanded.

These plans have caused consternation among the UK classical community, and 200 choirs have written an open letter in The Times urging broadcast executives to reconsider, stating: “By killing off the UK’s leading professional choir, the BBC is diminishing us all.”

'We need to modernise'

A BBC spokesman has said that the corporation is in consultation with the Musicians’ Union about the planned job cuts, adding that cuts were necessary as part of a process of modernisation.

He said: “For us to continue to be a leading force in the industry we need to modernise, making some necessary and difficult changes to the way we operate, and many models have been considered over the past few months.

“Whilst some may disagree with the tough decisions we’ve had to make in what are financially challenging times, we have developed the classical strategy carefully and diligently.

“We know this is a hugely tough time for everyone impacted. We will continue to do all we can to support those affected by these changes and to engage with the industry, and we are in consultation with the Musicians’ Union.”