True Gripes: Musical anorexia: Concert ticket prices are far too high

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Growing up in London is an education in itself - or at least it was, when I was doing it, in the Sixties and Seventies.

Along with the Third Programme, later Radio 3, my musical education was enhanced no end by the incredible amount of live music I was able to hear. From the Proms, to recitals at the Wigmore Hall, BBC Invitation concerts at the Maida Vale Studios, and symphony and choral concerts at the Festival Hall and opera at Sadler's Wells, my diet of music was rich and varied.

And above all, for an impecunious schoolboy, the great thing was that nearly all these events were either accessible at a very modest price (even if it was in the stratospheric gallery at the Albert Hall - do I really remember paying 3/6d to stand up there?), or in some cases, actually free.

Sometimes I had to walk to concerts to save on bus fares, but even that I remember as a pleasure, in London, in those days.

But what would things be like if I was growing up, mad about music, in London now? A problem seems to have surfaced recently with ticket prices for classical music events.

Nowadays, even to attend a concert by an unknown young artist may cost pounds 5 or more, and anything even slightly more prestigious will leave you little or no change from pounds 10. And this for the cheapest seats] All very well if you're in regular employment with a disposable income. But, as we all know, many people are not currently in this enviable position.

Does this mean that they are thereby no longer in need of cultural or spiritual nourishment? I think not. The reverse, if anything. Yet promoters often seem indifferent to this need. Even popular, high-profile events with substantial sponsorship like, for example, the recent Covent Garden Festival, present a worrying example.

With the cheapest seats at pounds 10, pounds 12 or even pounds 16, what chance does your average student or unemployed person have of attending, given that this might represent the amount they have to spend on food per week? Is the unconscious assumption that those who cannot afford culture do not deserve it?

And this is not an isolated example. Even the BBC has followed suit; their much-vaunted 'single price' concerts at the Festival Hall sound all very well, but when the single price is pounds 9, they suddenly seem less attractive. At least the Proms, though, have retained a realistic lowest ticket price, even if you do have to stand.

And concessions are not what they were. Nowadays promoters on the South Bank, for example, have a mere option of offering concessions, and even when they are available they are often ungenerous. As an occasional concert organiser myself, I know the problems of financing music events these days.

But in a matter like this, gestures are not enough.

Either we believe that good music is for everyone, and adopt a pricing strategy to reflect this - even if it means that the better-off subsidise the less well-endowed (and why not?), or we succumb to the insidious philosophy that sees music and the arts purely as a form of after-dinner entertainment for the well-heeled, or an extension to the corporate hospitality routine. I grew up in a society which still saw culture in idealistic terms; as something of importance to the community and to the nation as a whole, which, like public libraries, green spaces and decent housing, should be available to all.

An awful lot has happened in this country since then (don't we just know it?), but have we completely lost touch with those ideals?

If 3/6d (17p) gave a music-obsessed school-kid access to great music in the Sixties, just how much should his hypothetical successor have to fork out nearly 30 years later?

And does anybody care?

Comments