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English Touring Opera drops 14 white musicians in woke drive to ‘increase diversity’

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English Touring Opera drops 14 white musicians – including many who have played with the company for 20 years – in a vigilant drive to ‘increase diversity’

  • English Touring Opera fired half of orchestra in crackdown on diversity
  • At least 14 musicians have been told they will be out of contracts by spring 2022
  • ETO said they were told by the Arts Council England to make diversity changes
  • Said by Council they have not advised Touring Opera to fire musicians










The English Touring Opera has dropped 14 white musicians in a vigilant drive to increase “diversity” in the company.

The musicians, aged between 40 and 66, have been told they will not be contracted with the company in the spring of 2022, citing diversity guidelines from the Arts Council England, the Sunday Times reported.

The musicians, who officially work as freelancers, may be dropped from the opera season season-by-season, but many have been with the company for 20 years and consider it permanent employment.

The Arts Council England has hit back at ETO, which funds it at a cost of £1.78 million a year, saying it has never encouraged the company to lay off musicians.

“We have not instructed the English Touring Opera to send this letter,” the Council said. “We are now in talks with ETO to ensure that no funding criteria have been violated.”

The English Touring Opera has dropped more than half of its musicians in a brutal effort to increase diversity in the company (photo, an ETO production of Falstaff by Giuseppe Verdi)

ETO director James Conway wrote to musicians and told them the company is “going through some significant changes,” including “increasing all kinds of diversity in the team.”

He said the opera would prioritize “more diversity in the orchestra” as “steady progress” has been made in this area on stage.

Conway added that the decision was “in line with the established guidelines of the Arts Council.”

The move was condemned by the musicians’ union, which said it was “shocked” by the letter.

“This equates to almost half the orchestra losing its part,” it added. “Many of the members who have been told they will not be booked until 2022 have been performing at ETO for 20 years or more.”

ETO did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.

ETO director James Conway wrote that the opera would prioritize

ETO director James Conway wrote that the opera would prioritize “more diversity in the orchestra” as “steady progress” has been made in this area on stage (pictured, Ronald Samm as Olim in a production of The Silver Lake)

There are currently no non-white musicians in the orchestra, which will resume shows next month.

The orchestra tours cities across the UK with live productions and educational projects, reaching nearly 50,000 people a year, according to the website.

It is the final blow to musicians, who were unable to work for most of the pandemic and were forced to rely on grants and loans.

Musicians said they had hoped to return to work in the spring 2022 season, providing a chance to repay debts accumulated during the pandemic.

The ETO has said it will consider the musicians for future productions and praised the “commitment and achievement” of all freelance players.

The opera returns next month with a production of Handel’s Amadigi.

The ETO has said it will consider the musicians for future productions and praised the 'commitment and achievement' of all freelance players (photo, an ETO production by Cosi Fan Tutte)

The ETO has said it will consider the musicians for future productions and praised the ‘commitment and achievement’ of all freelance players (photo, an ETO production by Cosi Fan Tutte)

The full letter from the English Touring Opera:

Dear …,

I am writing to inform you that the English Touring Opera is going through some significant changes in the coming seasons.

Some of these changes will directly affect the composition of the freelance orchestra that will be touring.

It seems likely that ETO will not be able to offer you a freelance assignment in the spring of 2022, even though we would like to leave the door open for freelance assignments in the future.

The orchestra has always changed from season to season – just as the company on stage and backstage has changed regularly – but for a number of reasons, quite a bit will change now.

As you know, the company has appointed a new music director, Gerry Cornelius. Gerry will, as you would expect, be involved in advising on freelance orchestral assignments; he has been tasked with working with Phil Turbett on shaping the modern orchestra, and there have been recent auditions to inform that work.

English Touring Opera is committed to increasing diversity of all kinds in its team, and while significant, steady progress has been made on stage in this area, we have prioritized greater diversity in the orchestra. This is in line with the established guidelines of the Arts Council, the main funder of ETO’s touring work, and of most trust funds that support ETO.

I deeply appreciate the commitment and achievement of all the freelance players who have achieved such high standards for ETO during my tenure with the company.

I know that all those players have differentiated in their work with other groups, in their education and in many other areas. I also recognize that the past 18 months have been extremely difficult for freelance artists and technicians.

I know you probably won’t read gratitude in this post, but I assure you I’m grateful for what you’ve brought to ETO in the seasons you’ve played so far.

James Conway

Director

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