Following last year’s classical review looking at the sector and the BBC’s role within it, the BBC today sets out a new strategy to strengthen its public purpose for classical music, delivering the best music to a wider audience, with a significant new investment in music education. The new strategy ensures every pound of licence fee funding works harder for the sector and for our audiences now, and in the future.

At the heart of the plan, the BBC commits to:

  • Creating agile ensembles that can work flexibly and creatively, working with more musicians and broadcasting from more venues – up to 50 – in different parts of the country, and reducing salaried orchestral posts across the BBC English Orchestras by around 20%
  • Reinforcing the distinctiveness of the BBC’s five unique orchestras, artistically, educationally and geographically serving their own audiences whilst fulfilling their collective role in providing the widest range of content across Radio 3 and BBC platforms
  • Doubling funding for music education and launching new training initiatives, providing more opportunities for people to engage with classical music, building audiences and creating extraordinary experiences.
  • Creating a single digital home for our orchestras, giving audiences access to the full range of our high-quality orchestral content, including new and archive performances, educational content and concert listings.
  • Taking the difficult decision to close the BBC Singers in order to invest more widely in the future of choral singing across the UK, working with a wide range of choral groups alongside launching a major choral development programme for new talent.

The BBC, as the biggest commissioner of music and one of the biggest employers of musicians in the country, has a vital part to play in the British cultural landscape and a duty to future proof what we deliver for the public. At a time of very real financial challenges across the orchestral and choral sectors, the BBC has reviewed how it invests in resources to deliver the best possible value for the licence fee payer. A key part of this is the BBC’s role in music education, and how we must invest more and create stronger partnerships to develop future talent.

The strategy invests more widely in the sector across the UK, whilst delivering savings that ensure we deliver high quality orchestral and choral music within a sustainable financial model. Even were there no financial challenges, we believe these steps are the right ones to take to help ensure the future success of the sector.

Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s Chief Content Officer, says:

“This is the first major review of classical music at the BBC in a generation. This new strategy is bold, ambitious, and good for the sector and for audiences who love classical music. That doesn’t mean that we haven’t had to make some difficult decisions, but equally they are the right ones for the future. Great classical music should be available and accessible to everyone, and we’re confident these measures will ensure more people will engage with music, have better access to it, and that we’ll be able to play a greater role in developing and nurturing the musicians and music lovers of tomorrow.”

Future-proofing BBC Ensembles

Building on the founding principles of the BBC orchestras as flexible and adaptable, we are creating agile ensembles that can work creatively, bringing in more musicians when needed and broadcasting from more venues in different parts of the country. This flexibility will enable our orchestras to perform the full range of repertoire, from intimate smaller scale works to the largest full-scale symphonic and choral pieces. A voluntary redundancy programme will open across salaried posts in the English Orchestras (BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra and BBC Philharmonic Orchestra), aiming to reduce salaried orchestral posts across the BBC orchestras by around 20%.

Across the nations, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and The Ulster Orchestra will continue to play an essential broadcast role for the BBC, delivering distinctive orchestral performances and education programmes. As the changes are made across the English groups, the Head of Orchestras and Choirs will work with the Orchestra Directors of the Nations’ Orchestras to consider whether there could be any lessons for the Nations’ Orchestras.

With increased agility and flexibility, all BBC Orchestras will bring the best of classical music to a wider range of venues, performing and broadcasting from up to 50 new performance venues from the 2024/25 season.

Investing in music education

Working closely with external and internal BBC partners, including BBC Radio 3, Autumn 2023 will see the launch of a major nationwide music education offer which aims to reach every school in the UK through online, broadcast and live performance. The BBC is doubling its current investment in music education to kickstart the process and further details of the offer will be announced later this year.

Investing in a new digital home

The BBC will create a new single digital home for its orchestras, giving audiences access to the full range of high-quality orchestral content. This will include new and archive performances, educational content and concert listings.

Investing in choral singing across the UK

Choirs, from amateur to professional, form an integral part of the UK’s thriving music scene. It is essential that the BBC invests in more broadcast opportunities from a greater range of high-quality ensembles, and therefore the BBC has made the difficult decision to close the BBC Singers (20 posts) and invest resources in a wider pool of choral groups from across the UK. Enhancing and enabling emerging and diverse choirs is also key to engaging a wider and a future audience, so the BBC will establish a new nationwide choral development programme.

Championing the distinctive five BBC Orchestras

The BBC Orchestras hold a special place in the cultural landscape of the UK, with many concerts across the country featuring the world’s best soloists and conductors. They are at the heart of the world’s biggest classical music festival, the BBC Proms, and they deliver a range of music and repertoire at the highest possible level. The BBC will build on the success of its orchestras, increasing agility and flexibility through its new working model which puts access and visibility at the fore.

East Bank will be the new home for the BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus from 2025, with tailored flexible studios being built on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park as part of new cultural quarter in East London, alongside the V&A, UCL, London College of Fashion and Sadler’s Wells. The BBC Concert Orchestra’s administrative base will be at East Bank, and discussions are ongoing to find a home for them outside the M25. The BBC Philharmonic continues to have its home in Salford, alongside a raft of Radio 3 programmes which will move there in 2024/25, further strengthening a new hub of excellence for classical music rooted in the North. We are committed as ever to perform and broadcast from all corners of the UK.

As part of the delivery of these ambitious plans, Simon Webb, the BBC’s Head of Orchestras and Choirs, will convene a new Classical Advisory Group of industry leaders from across the classical music sector outside of the BBC. The group will advise on strategic decisions and sector-wide engagement, as the BBC orchestras fulfil their public service remit supporting a thriving classical music sector in the UK.

The strategy builds on insights pulled together as part of the 2022 Classical Review, and that can be accessed here.