UK classical music sector highlighted in letter to Secretary of State

The MU, Association of British Orchestras, BPI, Ivors Academy, Music Publishers Association and PRS for Music have written an open letter to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport


The letter highlights the importance of the UK's classical music sector and to seek support for its future. It 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. It goes on to explain how support from the Government is essential, and exactly what kind of support is being called for.

The letter

Dear Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport,


The UK’s classical music sector is hugely valuable to cultural life, playing an active part in communities, delivering artistic excellence and showcasing British talent around the world. The sector supports a vast eco-system of creators and performers and a network of venues, music publishers and record labels. It also provides a boost to the local economy wherever an orchestra makes its home or visits on tour.

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. They employ or engage over 4,500 musicians and commission hundreds of new musical works each year. 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.

Unlike orchestras in European countries, which receive upwards of 80% of their income from public funding, the average for British orchestras is just 30%, meaning they are far more reliant on earned income to survive. The Government’s business support measures for orchestras are welcome and have allowed salaried musicians to be furloughed through the Job Retention Scheme and many, but not all, freelance musicians to benefit from the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme. However, 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.

During the Covid-19 crisis, orchestras have continued to engage their audiences through digital content and have provided online resources for young people, at their own expense. But this can never replace the power and income generation of live performance. 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. It is also vitally important that studios can return to orchestral recording as soon as possible to restart this element of the classical sector’s lifeblood.

Like other areas of the creative industries that rely heavily on live performance, the classical music sector needs its own recovery strategy, with a realistic timetable and clear encouragement from the Government to the general public, of all ages, that it is safe to attend concerts. Opening at 30% capacity under social distancing will not work without huge subsidy.

Our asks to the UK Government are to:

  • 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.


Paul Clements, Chief Executive, Music Publishers Association

Crispin Hunt, Chair, The Ivors Academy

Andrea C. Martin, Chief Executive, PRS for Music

Mark Pemberton, Director, Association of British Orchestras

Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive, BPI and BRIT Awards

Horace Trubridge, General Secretary, Musicians’ Union

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