orchestra black and white

Musicians Union pens open letter to Culture Secretary

The letter explains just how wide an audience the UK’s classical music sector reaches, how much employment it provides and how COVID-19 has put it under threat.

Maya Radcliffe
  • By Maya Radcliffe
  • 15 Jun 2020
  • min read

The Musicians Union have written an open letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.  

The letter, co-signed by Association of British Orchestras, BPI, Ivors Academy, Music Publishers Association and PRS for Music, highlights the importance of the UK's classical music sector and to seek support for its future.

‘Each year, UK orchestras play to over 4 million people in over 3500 concerts and performances in the UK and give over 400 concerts in 40 countries across the world’, the letter reads. 

It continues: ‘They also play an important role in music education and in communities, reaching 700,000 children and adults in education and community settings each year, and are increasing their work in health and social care particularly for people with dementia. This work is under immediate threat as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. With venues closed both in the UK and abroad, income from concerts, tours, recordings and commercial activity has evaporated.

The letter goes to explain to that unlike European orchestras, British orchestras receive just 30 percent of their income through public funding, making them considerably more vulnerable. 

It reads: ‘With continued unavoidable expenditure on core management staff and overheads, and no income coming in, reserves for many orchestras will be exhausted in the coming months.

'Orchestras need to know that they can get back into business safely and viably; to create an income stream for themselves, musicians and composers from concerts in the UK and abroad. Composers and publishers of classical music also need to know that commissions and performance royalties will return. Royalties from live performance are at risk of significant decline as a result of the closure period which looks likely to extend until at least the end of the year if social distancing remains in place. This will have a devastating impact on composers and music publishers.'

Musicians Union’s requests are as follows:

  • Provide additional financial support for the sector which will replace Box Office income until such a time as audience figures recover. This financial support package must benefit the full classical music eco-system: venues, performers, composers and technical staff to name but a few.
  • Publish a realistic timetable for the lifting of restrictions on mass gatherings to help the sector plan for a safe and viable return to live performance.
  • Urgently facilitate the development of workable sets of guidance to enable both live performance and orchestral recording in studios to return.
  • Extend the Job Retention Scheme beyond the end of October, and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme beyond the end of August.
  • Amend Orchestra Tax Relief rules as a matter of urgency to enable claims on digital concerts.

Read the letter to Oliver Dowden in full.