Concert-goers put parking before light shows want comfort, not light shows: Surveys suggest audiences are not in tune with debate about orchestral dress codes. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
FEWER people are going to classical music concerts, not because they have tired of the music, but because of a lack of proper car parking, free programmes or pre- performance talks.

A two-year review of national orchestra provision, conducted by the BBC and the Arts Council, found that 18 per cent of adults listen to orchestral music, either on disc or on the radio, but only 11 per cent attend concerts.

Surveys for the review suggested concert-goers were not in harmony with the current debate among big symphony orchestras about stopping musicians playing in dinner jackets, and having light shows and big screens at concerts. They were more eager to have spoken introductions to concerts and better car parking.

Gavin Henderson, chairman of the Arts Council music panel, said: 'Orchestras that decide to dress differently or introduce video screens to concerts might put off as many existing customers as they attract new ones.'

Among the audiences surveyed, 38 per cent wanted more open-air performances in the summer, 28 per cent good parking facilities, 27 per cent a free programme included in the ticket price, 27 per cent smaller-scale concerts at closer venues, and 20 per cent spoken introductions to each piece of music.

Nicholas Kenyon, head of Radio 3 and a member of the review panel, said: 'Ten per cent of the adult population listen to Classic FM at some stage every week and 6 per cent to Radio 3. There is a clear opportunity to bridge that gap and increase the small core audience for professional orchestral concerts.'

The desire for more concerts at local venues is also significant. Although 348 venues were used to stage professional orchestra performances in England and Wales in 1991-92, three-quarters of those venues, the review reveals, staged fewer than five performances during the year. There was a huge concentration of activity in a very few places.

Thirty one per cent of concerts take place in London while only 5 per cent take place in the East Midlands.

Mr Kenyon said that geographical distribution was 'extraordinarily skewed', with the amount of public money per head of population spent on music provision favouring London.

In the capital, 62.4p per head is spent on orchestras; in the North- west the figure is 36.4p; in Yorkshire and Humberside it is only 17.7p.

BBC and Arts Council-funded orchestras accumulated debts of pounds 1.9m for 1993-94, according to the review.

The document, which will now go out for consultation, does not address the question of whether there are too many orchestras in London, but it does, for the first time, look at the provision of orchestras funded by the Arts Council and by the BBC, and review panel members say the final report following the consultation period will inevitably have some effect on future funding policy.

However, Dennis Scard, general secretary of the Musicians Union, attacked the review, saying: 'We have got an uncanny knack in this country of looking at things long- term while orchestras are dying short-term.'

He said his union had been lending money to orchestras - pounds 250,000 to the London Philharmonic. He added: 'It is quite disgraceful that our orchestral heritage is dependent on the workers.'

The chairman of the LPO's trustees, the property magnate, Elliott Bernerd, and another trust member, Jackie Rosenfeld, have resigned. It is understood that there was a clash with the orchestra management, which wishes the trust to concentrate more on fund- raising.

A spokeswoman for the orchestra said the LPO was pounds 250,000 in credit, although the pounds 250,000 loan was outstanding.