Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The Queen's Hall - Keep It Live Appeal (and some friendly advice)

I love the Queen's Hall. There are any number of reasons for this, not the least of which is that it only takes a couple of minutes for me to walk there, door to door. I've had some truly magical experiences there too: it is where I first encountered Christian Zacharias (in a magical festival concert with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra) and Paul Lewis as he gave accounts of Beethoven's op.79 and Hammerklavier sonatas that I've never heard the equal of. Indeed, the fact that for Paul Lewis's cycle between 2005 and 2007 I sat in the front row, for under £12 a concert, and had an experience about as good as if he'd been playing in my living room (probably much better since my living room might have been a little overwhelmed) is a good demonstration of the hall's intimacy, part of what makes it so special. It is also the home of my local band, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. It's not just classical, of course: I've heard some cracking jazz there too. I remember Jacques Loussier's trio sweeping me away with their rendition of the 5th Brandenburg concerto and standing in the gallery, for three hours and not being bothered by the lack of a seat, listening to the incomparable Chic Corea (the tickets purchased in a last minute whim as I passed the box office on the way home). They do all kinds of other music, and I've even been to a stand-up gig there once. It's a very special place.

It isn't perfect though, the seats are pretty uncomfortable, save in the centre stalls (where if you're not in the front row the sight isn't ideal). The FOH facilities are, shall we say, less that ideal, though work on the bar areas in recent years have made them better than they once were. Still, there is room for improvement, not to mention the fact it all costs money to run. Fortunately, the Council's threatened closure of a few years back seems to have receded.

So, why am I mentioning all this? Well, the other month I got a flier through the post for their Keep It Live Appeal, which makes many of these points and more. Being a conscientious soul, I have just got round to sending them some money (and you can too here). Partly, as with all charity, this was altruistic, but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't also very selfish: I like having a good concert hall round the corner from my flat and I want to keep one there. The problem is this: enlightened self-interest only gets you so far when raising money.

So it was something of a surprise when I got the leaflet from the Queen's Hall. It made all the arguments that it is a great venue and needs to be preserved and developed, but it didn't actually offer anything save the warm fuzzy glow of having done the right thing in exchange for giving. I hope, therefore, that the Queen's Hall won't object to some friendly advice comparing their efforts with other arts organisations.

I have given more to the Royal Opera House over the last two years, despite the fact I go there much less. This isn't because I necessarily like it more, or because I think it needs my money more, or I feel it's generally more deserving (I don't, and I think it would not really notice if my Direct Debit was stopped). My giving to Covent Garden is extremely selfish - it gets me onto the bottom rung of their Friends scheme and means I have access to the second tier of priority booking. This is important since there are usually only a few performances I can attend of each production. I do live several hundred miles away after all, and it means I have easily been able to get tickets to Don Carlos, Tristan and other sell-out shows.

The point is this: as much as anything, I view my Royal Opera donation as part of the ticket price. Many other arts organisations do something similar, and my impression is that it works, why wouldn't it. Give people something they want - a greater chance at the tickets they want - and they'll pay for it. There are other perks too - orchestras tend to offer special concerts for subscribers and donors, my Royal Opera money also gets me the chance to go along to rehearsals and it used to be (though I can't find any mention on their website now) that if you gave the Philharmonia enough money you got an annual dinner attended by Charles Mackerras.

If all that fails, you can always appeal to vanity. I was struck when visiting the Metropolitan Opera a few years back that the money required for what was then maximum priority Edinburgh International Festival wouldn't even have got you a mention in the programme. Many people like to get their name in the programme by supporting the arts and this can be a good source of cash. Even I'm not immune (those who look carefully at the Aldeburgh festival programme will see me there - though I also view them as a local venue in a similar light to the Queen's Hall so I give largely for those reasons too), had I had enough money I would have been sorely tempted to get my name on the boardwalks that surround the Maltings, but £1,000 was too rich for me.

Lastly, it's always good to make use of inertia. I have some arts related donations that get made less regularly than others. Why? Well, they don't offer DD (which I set up and then forget about, and thus keep giving virtually in perpetuity), so I sometimes forget to renew the donation or just don't get round to filling in the form, visiting the website or, in the case of the slightly archaic Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, remembering where on earth my cheque book is since it must be about a year since I last had occasion to write one.

There'll always be people who give to the Queen's Hall because they love it and it's the right thing to do, but I fear there is a market that they aren't tapping into. And, for entirely selfish reasons, I think they should give it a try.

If they want motivation, I think they have only to look at the success of the Aldeburgh Music appeal for the development of several new performing, rehearsal and artists' spaces. In the space of a few years they raised £15m, it was so successful that the scheme grew more ambitious during the course of fund-raising, this despite being in the idyllic middle of nowhere in rural Suffolk. Surely in the capital of Scotland, the few hundred thousand pounds the Queen's Hall is chasing should prove no problem at all, perhaps sights can be set higher. To my mind, their various levels of support provide a superb template of how it can be done.

Hopefully that way I'll continue to enjoy great live music two minutes from my front door for many years to come.

1 comment:

  1. As luck would have it, The Bournemouth Symphony now take direct debit. 21st century, here we come!

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