Sir John Eliot Gardiner, described as one of the world’s greatest conductors, has said cuts announced by the BBC are both “draconian” and “appalling”. The BBC Singers choir was announced as one of the casualties of the money-saving spree earlier this month, which Sir John said demonstrated that the corporation’s “top brass” does not care about classical music. He is among several high-profile figures, including members of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s cabinet, to criticise the BBC’s decision to axe the choir that has been running for almost a century.
The Baroque specialist, who will conduct 20 minutes of music at the pre-service concert of King Charles III’s coronation, slammed the “big wigs” at the corporation who he said had made these decisions without consulting musical professionals.
The 79-year-old, known for his Bach performances, made the comments while being interviewed by the BBC said that the corporation’s bosses “don’t give a flying fig” about classical music.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on March 18 following the news that he would be conducting at West Minister Abbey over the Coronation weekend in May, Sir John said: “I am sure [the coronation] will be a real celebration at a time when the powers that be are making some appalling draconian cutbacks.
“There’s been a wave of protests over the last months in outrage against the latest cuts by the government in funding for music and performing arts.”
He continued: “Now only this week the BBC top brass have decided to axe the BBC singers, which is a scandal. This is Britain’s only salaried professional general choir, and they are cutting 20 per cent of musicians in their in-house orchestras as well.
“Even though these big wigs at the BBC made these decisions without consultation, you would at least hope they might have listened to what professional classical musicians really think about these cuts.”
Sir John is not alone in his indignation. Former culture secretary Oliver Dowden and ministers have backed the decision to save the BBC singers during a Cabinet meeting yesterday, according to the Telegraph.
A Government source said the cost of the Singers, which is a “special part” of what the corporation does, is not “not a vast amount of money”. The cost is said to be less than the £1.3million salary of the BBC’s top-earner and football pundit, Gary Lineker.
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Cellist Julian Lloyd Webber has also criticised the cuts that will also see a 20 percent reduction of roles in the three BBC’s Concert, Philharmonic, and Symphony Orchestras, questioning “what the BBC still stands for”.
In an article for the Radio Times, he questioned: “Has it given up any pretence of public service broadcasting? And, if so, why does it continue to receive our licence fees?”
As part of its “new strategy” for Classical Music, “prioritising quality, agility and impact”, published on March 7, the BBC announced it was scrapping the BBC Singers which has been singing since 1924.
Instead, the corporation said it would be investing resources into a wider pool of choral groups from across the UK.
A petition, called Stop the planned closure of the BBC Singers, has now attracted more than 140,000 signatures in a bid to halt the plans.
It is appealing to Director General Tim Davie and other senior BBC staff to reconsider its “devastating and damaging decision”.
It reads: “The number of people affected by the planned closure of the UK’s only full-time professional choir is significant. Firstly there are the 20 professional singers and additional administrative staff whose jobs and livelihoods will be taken away.”
The choir, based at the BBC Maida Vale Studios, would give free concerts across London and at various festivals both in the UK and abroad. The majority of its performances were broadcast on BBC Radio 3.