Cash-strapped National Concert Hall told to reflect on ‘music tastes’

Principal venue for classical concerts in Republic records a loss in excess of €41,000

The NCH receives approximately €2.8m in State funding per year. Photograph: Mark Stedman

The NCH receives approximately €2.8m in State funding per year. Photograph: Mark Stedman

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The National Concert Hall (NCH) must consider the “changing nature of music tastes” in future programming to reduce financial losses, the venue’s board has recommended.

The NCH, which is the principal national venue for classical music concerts, recorded a financial loss of €41,272 last year, though this was less than anticipated.

At a board meeting on November 28th last head of finance John Nolan said reduced ticket sales, higher expenditure, and a decrease in donations and fundraising were the main reasons behind the financial losses.

The minutes of the meeting, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, say it was then “recommended that in light of this, consideration must in future be given by NCH programming to the changing nature of music tastes and solid deliberation be accorded to the effects of competition for audiences in certain music genres promoted by NCH with competing commercial promoters”.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the NCH, which receives approximately €2.8 million in State funding per year, said it is the “home of music in Ireland and classical repertoire will always be a core element of our music offering”.

Many forms of music

However, the venue said it has “diversified and expanded its programme of concerts to cover many forms of music”. American pop artist Laurie Anderson, German singer Ute Lemper and novelist Roddy Doyle are among some of the artists featuring on the upcoming programme, it said.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra said a move away from the concert hall’s traditional programming would be “very disappointing news” and a “significant loss” to the sector . “The Irish Chamber Orchestra has struggled to find a permanent performance space in Dublin that works acoustically and have also found it difficult to secure dates in the concert hall over the past number of years,” a spokeswoman said.

Allin Gray, director of the Irish Association of Youth Orchestras and a board member of the European Orchestra Federation, said it is important the NCH continues in its remit of cultural institution. “As part of a movement that is growing participation in classical and orchestral music, we feel spaces should be preserved for all types of music so that we have a full variety of musical expression in Ireland,” Mr Gray said.

‘Classical music’

“The NCH was so called as a cultural institution rather than a commercial enterprise and we strongly feel it should continue to pursue its remit as such.”

He added: “That doesn’t just mean classical music or art music or whatever other labels we might use, but it does mean that it’s not just a space available to the highest bidder.”

Evonne Ferguson, director of the Contemporary Music Centre, said that given music by composers from Ireland is diverse, vibrant and internationally recognised, she would welcome “a substantial increase in the National Concert Hall’s programming of works and commissioning of new works by composers from Ireland.”

CMC would also like to see an increase in the number and variety of funded collaborative projects between the composers it represents and the NCH, she added.

NCH’s financial losses for 2019 were considerably lower than estimated in the months leading up to year-end. In November, the financial deficit was expected to be €91,045 by year-end, down from an almost €200,000 deficit that was forecasted in May, board meeting minutes state.

A spokeswoman for the NCH said the losses were minimised further due to strong sales in the last quarter of the year, including the hosting of 45 main auditorium concerts in December alone. Attendances for 2019 totalled 324,671, the highest since 2014.

“Coupled with this, significant efforts were made by [THE]board, management and staff to mitigate against higher losses previously forecast, including a number of cost-saving measures and tight budgetary control,” the spokeswoman said.