ENO’s music director quits over cuts

Martyn Brabbins has resigned as music director of English National Opera in protest at swingeing cuts to the orchestra and chorus.

The company is proposing to cut 19 jobs in the orchestra and put the remaining musicians on part-time contracts on which they would lose 40% of their pay.

Image ©Hyperion-S-Perry

Leaving abruptly after seven years in the post, Brabbins said that he "cannot in all conscience continue to support the board and management’s strategy for the future of the company". He said his decision was made after the internal announcement of severe cuts to the company for the forthcoming season.

The cuts after Arts Council cut all its subsidy with a promise of some funding if ENO relocated to the regions. A compromise was reached with the company agreeing to. establish a new base outside London but keeping its London home at the Coliseum and performing in it. ENO has now been given until 2029 to transition to a new model, with a base outside of London, and ACE given ACE has £24m to support its plans.

"Although making cuts has been necessitated by Arts Council England’s interference in the company’s future” Brabbins said in a statement, “the proposed changes would drive a coach and horses through the artistic integrity of the whole of ENO as a performing company, while also singularly failing to protect our musicians’ livelihoods. This is a plan of managed decline, rather than an attempt to rebuild the company and maintain the world-class artistic output, for which ENO is rightly famed."

In response, ENO said it had been surprised at Brabbins’s abrupt departure. “As a member of the ENO’s senior leadership Martyn has been party to all key discussions at all stages and the extremely difficult decisions that have to be made by the Board and Management in constrained financial circumstances.  

“After nine months of negotiation with Arts Council England, the ENO has reached a position where we are confident we can maintain a substantial level of operatic work – as opposed to the original reality of total redundancy across the entire company (following Art Council England’s previous decision to remove the ENO as a National Portfolio Organisation in November 2022).”

Jo Laverty, the Musicians’ Union’s  national organiser for orchestras, Jo Laverty said ACE had put ENO in an impossible situation. “Rather than ’levelling up’ we’re seeing arts organisations cut performances and creative output. It’s a dire situation and extremely bleak for our affected members.

 "ENO management were clear that it was the support and campaigning of the unions that helped them achieve their improved ACE funding settlement. To now be faced with these proposed cuts to our members’ jobs is devastating and we can’t accept what’s on the table. We weren’t naive to the likelihood of changes but the extent of these proposals will send shockwaves through the music community and ENO’s audience."

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