The BBC Singers have been much in the news recently, first with news of their imminent disbandment, and then - following widespread criticism of this decision - a reprieve.


They will also be performing at the 2023 BBC Proms. But just who are the BBC Singers?

Who are the BBC Singers?

They are Britain's only full-time professional chamber choir.

Where are they based?

They are based at the BBC's Maida Vale Studio in London, but perform all over the UK and abroad.

When and how were they founded?

In 1924 a choir was brought together by the BBC for a performance of Rutland Boughton's Immortal Hour. Known then as the 'Wireless Chorus', it was soon established as a full-time professional choir. A few years later, in 1927, the BBC plucked some members from the Wireless Chorus for performances that required fewer singers. These became known as the 'Wireless Singers', later (in 1934) renamed as the 'BBC Singers'.

Is that the end of the story?

No. That same year, the Wireless Singers were split into two octets: Singers A, who specialised in less standard repertoire, such as Renaissance polyphony and madrigals; and Singers B, who sang light music and revue numbers. Singers A were generally paid about £1 more than Singers B.

It wasn't until 1961 that the A/B division was scrapped and the choir reemerged as a single force of 28 voices under yet another new name: the BBC Chorus. Finally, following the appointment of John Poole as chorus master in 1972, the choir reverted to its previous name, the BBC Singers.

Who is their current chief conductor?

The Swedish choral conductor and mezzo-soprano Sofi Jeannin, who is the first woman to hold the post with this choir. But the choir also works with several guest conductors, who have included Bob Chilcott and the early music specialists Peter Phillips (founder and conductor of the Tallis Scholars) and Robert Hollingworth.

What kind of repertoire do they sing?

Over the years they've built up a reputation for performing new music, and have premiered more than a hundred works, among them pieces by Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett, Iannis Xenakis, John Tavener, Peter Maxwell Davies and Richard Rodney Bennett, to name a few. But their repertoire is diverse, encompassing over five centuries of choral music.

Any notable alumni?

Yes, many, including the tenor Peter Pears, who was a member of the choir when they premiered Britten's A Boy Was Born in 1934. He went on to become the composer's lifelong partner. Other past members include the mezzo soprano Sarah Connolly and the composer Judith Bingham.


Why were they recently in the news?

On 7 March 2023, the BBC announced its decision to close the choir later in the year as part of its 'new strategy' for classical music. However, following fierce opposition from musicians, the public and politicians, the decision was reversed on March 24. The choir has resumed its place in the 2023 BBC Proms programme.


Hannah Nepilova is a regular contributor to BBC Music Magazine. She has also written for The Financial Times, The Times, The Strad, Gramophone, Opera Now, Opera, the BBC Proms and the Philharmonia, and runs The Cusp, an online magazine exploring the boundaries between art forms. Born to Czech parents, she has a strong interest in Czech music and culture.