About the BBC Orchestras

Discussion in 'Jazz / Commercial' started by lonelyangel, Jan 17, 2004.

  1. lonelyangel

    lonelyangel Pianissimo User

    Nov 8, 2003
    Larry Gianni asked me to try and explain a little about the BBC and its role in providing employment to musicians, for the benefit of those in the former colonies and else where. :)

    The British Broadcasting Corporation is probably the largest employer of any broadcasting network or media organisation in the whole world. To say it is government funded is not strictly true. In the UK, if you own a TV you have to pay an annual license fee of around $150 which is ring-fenced to directly fund the activities of the BBC in providing programmes for all of its national and international TV stations as well as national, international and local radio stations. This system, whilst not perfect, does insure some freedom and independence from political and commercial bias and - I think I am right in saying that the corporation receives little or no support from general taxation.

    Twenty years ago or so the BBC had symphony orchestras in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff, and Belfast, as well as the BBC big band based in London, The Northern Dance Orchestra in Manchester, The Radio Orchestra (big band plus strings and woodwind), The Top of the Pops Orchestra (from a time when pop singers knew how to perform live on TV), The BBC Concert Orchestra (specialising in light classical music) and I think something similar based in Birmingham too. In addition there were several ‘in house’ band leaders who provided full time employment for a host of session musicians both in classic variety/ light entertainment?chat shows and in the studios recording incidental music for TV dramas, documentaries and signature tune sessions.

    With the proliferation of satellite and cable stations (News 24, BBC 3, BBC 4, BBC Repeats R Us etc) and the advent of synthesisers and home computer based recording studios the budget for music has been cut and cut and cut, so that what remains are just the bare bones.

    The surviving orchestras, 4 I think, have to run on a more or less profitable basis - at least covering a large percentage of their costs through commercial endeavours. The world renowned BBC big Band has kept the name, but is no longer a full-time salaried job and operates on a session by session, piecemeal basis.

    This reduction in the amount of work for the orchestras that do remain has also impacted on the freelance session scene as the BBC orchestras are forced to tender for commercial work in order to survive. They can use their economies of scale and what little subsidies they do have, to put in very competitive quotes for studio and concert work.

    In London as in other parts of the world the music business is getting smaller year on year. The problem is hard felt in London because there is such a wealth of talent concentrated in a small area - there just isn’t really the work to go around.

    I guess it is the unstoppable march of ‘progress’. I am often struck by the impact that recorded sound in movies had upon musicians. In every single silent movie house in the country there would have been an orchestra, a band, or at the very least a pianist and then suddenly one day - Bang! - ‘the Jazz Singer’ is released. End of story.

    Extra contributions, corrections and queries welcome.
  2. JackD

    JackD Mezzo Forte User

    Nov 30, 2003
    Manchester / London
    It is sad, but at least we still have what we have.

    I think BBC4 is more of a good thing that a bad one - I was at a concert the other day at the QEH (Feinstein Ensemble doing the complete Brandenburg Concertos) and it was being filmed for BBC4. The Cage concert (4 minutes 33) this Friday at the Barbican was also broadcast live.

    It's good to see some real music being broadcast.

    Incidentally, an indication of how there is an excess of talent in London - I saw Jay Phelps, the trumpet player with Tomorrow's Warriors (a band who will be shortly playing with Wayne Shorter over here, and who are the house band for the jam sessions at the Jazz Café) pretending to play behind one of the people from "Fame Academy" on Top of the Pops.

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