Promoter urges new rules on orchestra ticket sales

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One of the country's leading classical music promoters yesterday called on the Arts Council to issue new guidelines on ticket sales following The Independent's investigation into the way orchestras were giving away free seats.

Raymond Gubbay, who has worked in the commercial classical music sector for 30 years and promotes shows at the Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall and Barbican Centre, in London, said: "There is an official cover- up that turns a blind eye to what is going on."

As reported yesterday, thousands of tickets are either given away free to hospital staff in the capital or sold for a nominal pounds 2. Official returns of seats sold can include either or both the free seats or the pounds 2 voucher seats.

The marketing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra admitted that figures issued by his orchestra were "bums on seats" figures, including tickets that were given away.

Some pounds 2 vouchers for other organisations, including the London Symphony Orchestra, have been given to staff by the hospital chef revealed by The Independent yesterday.

Arts Council statistician Denagh Hacon confirmed yesterday that any transaction in which money was exchanged - including these vouchers - counted as paid attendances for the publicly issued statistics.

Mr Gubbay said yesterday: "There should be new guidelines laid down by the Arts Council on what counts and what doesn't count in the statistics. If we have guidelines saying that tickets given away or sold at a notional value don't count then we will get a truer picture. At the moment the marketplace is distorted."

He added: "This does not happen with commercial promotions of classical music. If we do get a bad patch and can't fill a hall we would rather the artist saw it. We're not playing to egos.

"Basically what's happening at the subsidised concerts is all to do with boosting statistics and playing to egos. And it implies that the subsidised sector is doing rather better than it is."

David Whelton, managing director of The Philharmonia orchestra, which refuses to give away tickets, has called on the Arts Council to review all the orchestral grants. He called the present system "an unethical application of Arts Council subsidy".

An Arts Council spokeswoman said yesterday: "We know that `papering the house' [the practice of giving away tickets] goes on and we don't like it. But we are happy that the figures we get from the orchestras are for paid attendances."

The revelations about the orchestras' ticketing procedures could not come at a worse time for them.

Next month the Secretary of State for National Heritage, Virginia Bottomley, will announce the annual government grant to the Arts Council, and the council will debate how to distribute it.

Council members are certain to raise the question of attendances at London's orchestral concerts and the way official figures are collated, when they decide whether to increase or reduce the grants to individual orchestras.

Mrs Bottomley would only say yesterday: "This is a matter for the Arts Council."