The ballet company’s spring tour of Romeo and Juliet could potentially be its last with a live orchestra, as rising costs and loss of funding mean the musicians’ jobs are on the line


Photo: Fleck Fletcher |

Northern Ballet Sinfonia musicians campaigned outside Leeds Grand Theatre in December 2023 to protect their touring work

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Musicians in the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, the orchestra of Northern Ballet based in Leeds, are campaigning to protect their touring work and keep Northern Ballet music live.

Rising costs and the loss of a main sponsor and an Arts Council England grant impose the threat of the ballet company removing the orchestra from live performances and replacing it with recordings, a move that was described as ‘cultural vandalism’ by the Musicians’ Union.

The lack of jobs for the musicians, already on freelance contracts, coinciding with the cost of living crisis, means that the musicians’ livelihoods are under threat, with some having to use foodbanks to survive.

Leader and violinist of the Northern Ballet Sinfonia, Geoffery Allan, outlined that many musicians had been performing and touring with the orchestra and company for two or three decades and that although small in numbers, the quality of players enabled the performance of large-scale works extremely effectively. He lamented the loss of touring resulting in lack of work for its members.

’This is devastating news for the members of the Sinfonia whose livelihoods are under threat,’ Allan told The Strad. ’We, along with the Musicians’ Union, have been campaigning vigorously to save the orchestra, and we have been very heartened by the tremendous support from our audiences and our colleagues, both in the UK and abroad. [Right now,] no solution has been found and a short spring tour of Romeo and Juliet will be the last performances we give this year, or as far as we know with any certainty, ever.’

The violinist said it presented a disastrous situation for the wider cultural life of the country, as other orchestras and companies face similar problems. The English National Opera (ENO) is currently fighting to protect 19 jobs and save ENO as a full time company with a full time orchestra and music staff. It announced a move to Greater Manchester by 2029 from its current central London base, as a condition from its £24m Arts Council England grant. As part of its response, the ENO musicians and music staff plan to strike on 1 February, coinciding with the opening night of The Handmaid’s Tale.

’It presents a bleak future for young musicians wishing to pursue a career in music, and audiences will have a greatly diminished experience in the theatre with the lack of spontaneity which performance to tape engenders,’ said Allan.

Allan urges people to support the Keep Northern Ballet Live campaign, by signing their online petition and to write to their MPs. As of Friday 26 January, the petition has garnered 14,000 signatures of its 15,000 target.

Keep Northern Ballet Live petition:

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