NCH rows: stop the squabbling and focus on the fundamentals

Disputes at the top level of the NCH are overshadowing more immediate concerns at the ground level

Wed, May 21, 2014, 01:00

I’ve drawn the matter to the NCH’s attention on numerous occasions over the last 10 years or so. I’ve spoken to the fire authorities about the issue of seats in venues making exit difficult, and they confirmed it would be a matter of concern. There is a rolling programme in place to fix the seats, but damaged seats always remain, and, after seeing someone stumble over one of them and thinking about the consequences in an emergency, I made a formal complaint to the NCH at the beginning of April.

The NCH’s Simon Taylor told me that “we need to find sufficient gaps in the hall’s very busy schedule to enable the necessary work” and “the majority of the faulty seats (including all those in the stalls) will be removed for repair on April 16th and 17th and will re-installed in time for the Good Friday concerts on April 18th”. But, weeks after that date, the work – it is the province of the Office of Public Works, which maintains the fabric of the building – still had not been done. Spats among board members would seem a minor issue in relation to the fundamental safety of the people who pay to attend events at the hall. Shame on all concerned.

Worth paying for a season ticket?

Some of the hall’s most stalwart supporters have been muttering into their coffee of late about other matters. One of them even told me that when they saw the details of the latest season they wondered whether it would be worth their while paying for a season ticket.

There was a lot of negative feedback about the March appearance by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Simply put, people didn’t seem to feel that the quality of the playing warranted the ticket prices of €30-€70. The RTÉ NSO’s subscription concerts are priced at €10-€35, and the message I was picking up was that the Bournemouth orchestra simply wasn’t worth the extra cost. Much as I enjoyed Kirill Karabits’s account of Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, I wouldn’t disagree. The playing of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet was pretty rough. And as much as I enjoyed Michael Collins as a clarinettist with the City of London Sinfonia in April (€20-€55), his conducting was lacklustre, and the concert as a whole came nowhere near the standards of the Irish Chamber Orchestra under Jörg Widmann nine days earlier (all tickets €20).

This doesn’t strike me as a sustainable model, and there’s no doubt that the steam has gone out of the international orchestra series in recent years. Simon Rattle’s fabulous Haydn Creation with the Choir of Enlightenment and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was in a choral series. The reduction from 21 concerts last year to 16 this year is also a matter of concern at a time when the hall is seriously upping its game in non-classical areas. It seems like someone has taken their eye off the ball.

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