BSO Resound © BBC Proms

£6m monthly losses threaten survival of British orchestras

The Musicians’ Union (MU) and the Association of British Orchestras (ABO) have joined forces to persuade the UK government to provide immediate additional funding for self-employed musicians affected by the continued shutdown of live performances.

While over one thousand employed musicians have been furloughed, an equivalent number of freelance members, and with many thousands of additional musicians, have relied solely on the Self Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS). However, Industry research shows that 30% of freelance musicians have not benefited from this scheme. A further cause for concern is that the last payment under the SEISS will be in August, yet a return to concerts with full audiences is not expected until 2021.

In addition, though the government’s Culture Recovery Fund will be used to provide life support for arts organisations until they can reopen fully in spring 2021, it is not clear which orchestras will benefit from the Fund and in the short term there will be no help for the many freelance musicians who depend on earnings from concerts and recordings.

ABO Director Mark Pemberton said:

‘Our members reported earned income of £70m in 2019 and therefore over six million pounds a month is being lost in cancelled performances for a sector that was already struggling from the years of austerity. The many thousands of freelance musicians who have helped to make UK orchestras world-renowned are on their knees hoping that the government will finally recognise their plight, and step in with much needed funds to tide them over until the concert halls can reopen.

A very, very bleak future

‘Our own research suggests that up to a third of freelance orchestral musicians have been unable to access the government’s Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and with no work on the horizon, they are contemplating a very, very bleak future.’

Horace Trubridge, MU General Secretary, said:

‘The MU and the ABO are both deeply concerned about the future of the UK’s orchestras and the highly-talented musicians who rely on that work and who are at the heart of this key sector. For our orchestral members the ship is sinking and there isn’t a lifeboat in sight. This government either doesn’t understand the damage that is being done to the orchestral sector, or it doesn’t care.

‘We have repeatedly called upon the government to offer a lifeline to freelance orchestral musicians, but they simply choose not to listen.’

Header photo: Bournemouth Symphone Orchestra Resound conducted by James Rose at the 2018 BBC Proms © BBC Proms

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