Aldeburgh Festival - A classical treat if you pay enough

Members increasingly get first shout for tickets at events such as the Aldeburgh Festival. Join or prepare to queue for returns, says Jessica Duchen, although the organisations rely on public money

The other day, public booking opened for this year's Aldeburgh Festival. Helen Hayes, who runs a recording studio at the nearby Potton Hall with her husband, dashed to her phone, hoping to book seats to take their small son to hear the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. It wasn't to be. "I've just tried to book for the CBSO Rattle concert and it is sold out – before public booking opens!" she declared on Facebook, adding: "Talk about access to music... and they get most of the public funding for music in this area. Elitist? Classical Music?"

So what happened? Well, Aldeburgh's Snape Maltings concert hall seats a modest 800. The 16,000-odd Friends of Aldeburgh Music receive priority booking. And everyone wants to hear Sir Simon Rattle in action.

Non-members can keep phoning the box office and hope for returns. The alternative is to become a Friend and receive priority booking. More and more arts organisations are starting up schemes like this. You pay an annual premium to be first in the queue, and you will probably be rewarded with a range of treats, newsletters, dress rehearsal tickets or meet-the-artists receptions. It's an excellent way for an organisation to reward their loyal followers, build income and create closer engagement. And the bigger the organisation, the more complex the structure of Friends membership.

Aldeburgh is relatively simple. You can pay £5 to join the e-mailing list, or £15 for snail-mail; either gives you a "brief opportunity to book tickets before they go on sale to the general public". Or you can become a Friend for £65 per annum, with access to a Friends priority booking period, plus regular newsletters and special events. Donate more than £100 and your name can be listed in the programme.

The Royal Opera House was running a Friends scheme long before Facebook's founder was born. There, you currently pay £79 per annum to be a Friend, or a range of fees up to £1,680 per annum which makes you a Friend Premium Level 2. The Wigmore Hall – which has a Friends membership of some 25,000, while the hall seats fewer than 600 – will sign you up as a mailing-list member for £15 (again, some priority booking), a Friend for £35 or anything up to a Patron Friend for £500.

Public funding is so uncertain at present that about half the organisations who have applied for money from Arts Council England may be turned away; therefore we can probably expect annual premiums to rise. There's little alternative: with costs increasing and subsidy shrinking, venues must explore all possible avenues towards becoming more self-sufficient.

The question raised by Helen Hayes, though, is still about public access for public money. It's both the blessing and curse of the UK's "mixed model" of arts funding: private and public money rub shoulders in our cultural organisations' piggybanks, supporting everything from star performers' fees to education and outreach activities. Juggling different expectations and vested interests is a thorny task for those running the shows; they have to make them all things to all people.

Most are now heavily reliant on money from private sponsorship and, crucially, from fans. Christopher Millard, a spokesman for the Royal Opera House, points out: "The Friends represent our core audience and we value them tremendously." Similar sentiments emanate from John Gilhooly, artistic director of the Wigmore Hall: "If people are coming to 30 concerts a year, showing that level of engagement and loyalty, then of course we have a strong loyalty to them," he says.

The public money received is significant, but as a proportion of annual turnover it is shrinking. The Wigmore Hall received £360,000 this financial year, which goes towards 400 concerts and a programme of 385 education and outreach events; the hall itself raised more than £1m via donations, ticket sales (average price £14) and the Friends scheme.

According to Millard, of the ROH's turnover of £106m, this year £28m comes from ACE: "For every pound of state funding, we raise three ourselves," he says. Still, the ROH has more capacity than most to explore new ways to reach a wider public: big screens, cinema broadcasts, TV, radio, internet. The cinema broadcasts have been hugely successful.

But what about actually getting in to see a performance of the most oversubscribed shows – for instance, Plácido Domingo in Simon Boccanegra last year, or pretty much anything by Wagner? "We hold back 20 per cent of the seats for non-members," Millard confirms, "as well as 67 day seats for each performance."

At Aldeburgh, things are slightly different. "We used to hold back day seats," says Aldeburgh Music's chief executive, Jonathan Reekie. "But there's a big difference between a venue in a big city and one like ours in a rural area – day seats don't work when you're in the middle of nowhere." His advice to Hayes is to be first in the queue on 28 May, "returns day" – a chance to buy returned tickets provided you turn up in person.

The Wigmore's sell-outs of big-name performers' recitals to Friends are rarer than they look. "We only had two concerts last year that sold out to members only, out of a programme of 400," says Gilhooly. "Even at Jonas Kaufmann's performance of Die schöne Müllerin last autumn, everyone in the lengthy returns queue was able to get in." For Aldeburgh, Reekie emphasises the cutting-edge, contemporary nature of most festival programming: "Very few of our events sell out to members only," he insists. "This particular CBSO concert is the exception rather than the rule."

But is there not a duty of access to a tax-paying public? Here's the twist: for that Simon Rattle concert, maybe not. The Aldeburgh Festival is one part of a year-round, principally educational programme for the umbrella Aldeburgh Music. "The bulk of Aldeburgh Music's public subsidy goes towards our educational initiatives," says Reekie. "The Festival takes relatively little. That CBSO concert is supported by corporate sponsors and the box office. It has no public subsidy at all."

So there we go. Most arts organisations take access extremely seriously and do all they can to increase it. But if public money is far exceeded by private, it can be no surprise if loyalties sometimes swing towards the donors. As subsidies reduce, this is bound to happen more often. Venues will build financial support from core audiences, which is fine. But for the casual visitor or first-time concert-goer, getting a ticket may grow more difficult. Stump up for membership, or get ready to queue.

Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
TV
News
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
art
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
books
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

    Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

    The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
    Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

    When two worlds collide

    Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?