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THE QUESTION. Should admission to the Liceu opera house and the Auditorium be within everybody's reach ?

The admission fees to Barcelona's newest musical facilities have triggered off a certain swirl of polemic regarding the policy to be followed by the Auditorium and the Liceu opera house in the near future. We therefore decided to bring up the matter to three interested parties - Ferran Mascarell, managing director of the Barcelona Institute of Culture, musical critic Agustí Fancelli, and opera lover and regular "Liceu-goer" Montserrat Vives - who, being widely different in their respective approaches, gave us widely contrasting answers. However, the background to their lines of reasoning echoes with questions such as : Who is - or should be - actually paying for culture ? What is the limit to be set on private business manoeuvrings within public cultural facilities ?

 

Ferran Mascarell
Managing director of the Barcelona Institute of Culture.

Within everybody's reach ? Naturally. The Liceu opera house, the Auditorium, the Palau de la Música concert hall, as well any other public cultural facility, ought to be within reach of all segments of the public. Any such facility - either new, old or renovated - should set itself an aim and undertake to pursue an appropriately coherent managerial policy. One of the constituent objectives of the Auditorium - as well as one of the objectives set by the new Liceu opera house - is not only to keep their regular audience interested, but also to increase the number of concert goers by introducing innovations aimed at winning over new audiences, a course of action that obviously implies that the management must pay close attention to the latest tendencies and the evolution of demand among music lovers, and act accordingly when preparing their programme of musical events.

That is a perspective both institutions identify with in their planning patterns, which is to say that they have a clear vision of the aforementioned objectives and that - through season ticket offers and different other formulas, each of them within its own sphere of activity - they have undertaken to pursue a managerial policy aimed at winning over new audiences. And where are these new audiences to be found ? Within the city, obviously enough. There is a whole generation of creators of cultured or popular music, there is a whole generation of interpreters and promoters and, above all, there are large numbers of music lovers and people who have had very few opportunities to enjoy live music performances and who account for such a sizeable segment of the population that this fact would suffice in itself to justify the construction of a large new building like the Auditorium. Those are the people to whom musical institutions should be directing their attention, taking their requirements and wishes into consideration and making efforts to fulfil them. This requires a type of management driven by high cultural ambitions and a genuine open-mindedness. Neither that segment of potential audience nor anyone else would understand or agree to a situation in which a new musical establishment of that importance would not be managed according to the highest standards and aspirations, and through true co-operation between the public administrations that, on the citizens' behalf and using public revenue, have made its construction possible. (...)

 

The space for music between the private and the public sector.
by Agustí Fancelli, journalist and music critic.

(...) The private promoters who organize concerts in Barcelona have a logical answer ready : we shall hire seats to the public wishing to attend our concerts so that we and the artists we represent might be able to earn a living on the receipts from admission fees and the paltry subsidies provided by the public administrations. This is a typical entrepreneur's answer. On the other hand, there are seats in the stalls for which you have to pay 23.000 pesetas, a record high where prices in Spanish cities are concerned and something considered so scandalous by the locals that it is a cause for "public concern". The truth is that the whole thing sounds awfully wrong, more particularly so at the present time, when the politically correct approach it to view music as a cultural good of general interest, which is to say that it should be put within everybody's reach. However, someone has to pay for music; whether the public institutions or the ordinary citizens, someone has to bear the costs of musical events. And, as we do not want to lapse into misleading demagogy, we'd also like to point out that, in fact, the great majority of concerts held in our country or in its capital city are not so exhorbitantly priced. The many concerts given by the "Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona i Nacional de Catalunya" (the Barcelona-based Catalonia National Symphony Orchestra), in spite of its baroque high-sounding name that could lead us to think otherwise, offer very reasonable prices, and we are talking about a group of professional musicians whose performances are of quite a high standard.

It is possible that what is happening in this country is in part a consequence of a long-standing lack of dialogue between the public institutions and the private sector, whose relationship has always been plagued by misunderstandings, suspicions and peculiar fears. The word "subsidy" itself has become absolutely discredited in common language, as some people suspect that a lot of fiddling is going on in that particular sphere, whereas others consider that subsidies are mere crumbs which are not sufficient to get anyone out of a really difficult situation. (...)

The administrations control public equipment and facilities, they make decisions concerning the programmes of musical events and eventually hire out the buildings to cover care and maintainance costs. The former activity serves clearly cultural purposes while the latter is an operation of a strictly financial nature. The people who form the music market as such should be allowed to express their own views about the matter : if there is an increase in the number of seats on offer, then, in principle, prices should be lowered. It is not right that, because the different administrations are currently in power in the same spheres, they should decide to come to an agreement that would exclude the market itself, leaving potential customers without the capacity to exert influence over the situation. Every cultural centre should be run according to managerial criteria aimed at making the maximum use of existing resources and finding ways to render its service offer more attractive than the others.

I can easily picture the private promoters' delighted grin after reading this last paragraph. I would be delighted myself if they would continue to smile if the Administrations asked them to lower the prices of the tickets in exchange for a reduction in hire charges. Public Administrations are perfectly entitled to make that request by virtue of their first mandate, the objective of which is, among other things, to improve the cultural and musical standard of the population.

(...) And to those who are wondering why they should pay for such "elistist" events as classical music concerts, I would just point out that, for instance, the construction of the Horta Cycling Track has also been financed with public money, so that we all contributed money to it, including those who have never ridden a bicycle in their lives. Such monolithic attitudes carried to extremes can only result in futile monologues.

 

Making the maximum use of new facilities.
Montserrat Vives Malondro, a Liceu Opera House habituée for the last forty years and a member of the "Grup de Liceístes del quart i cinquè pis" (Association of regular "Liceu-goers" with seats on the fourth and fifth floor).

The Auditorium is a large concert hall in which practically all spectators have a good view of the stage and ticket prices are reasonable, even though the cheapest seats are precisely those from which visibility is poorer. But that there should still be such seats in a 21st century concert hall is unacceptable. It is true that there are also seats that do not command a good view of the stage at the famed Palau de la Música, but we ought to remember that the Palau is a horseshoe-shaped theatre which was built at the very beginning of the 20th century, at a time when concert audiences were quite aware of that shortcoming and accepted it. However, such conditions should not be tolerated in a modern building.

As regards the Liceu opera house, it actually ceased to be within everybody's reach the day a former managing director had the bright and quite "democratic" idea of numbering the seats in the so-called "general" rows and reserving them for season ticket holders, a decision that, for all practical purposes, resulted in the suppression of the only free seats to be found within the theatre. The current management team seems to have done its best to counteract and right that wrong by offering alternatives such as turns of attendance for non-subscribers, cut-price tickets and "mini-suscriptions" for shorter periods of time... We have also been informed that there will be reasonably priced tickets for special performances held in the "Foyer", at eleven p.m. for late-working people and even on Sunday mornings, for children.

(...) If there's a will to attract young people to cultural spectacles and current attempts are not coming anywhere close to success, you cannot say that it is because it is expensive to attend cultural events. I am pretty fed up with that cliché... Just do a rapid calculation about the amount of money a young boy or girl spends in one weekend on cigarettes, discotheques, drinks and petrol. If they don't go to classical music concerts or to the opera, it is because they are not interested. Schools ought to provide an appropriate musical education, there should be a better diffusion of cultured music by the media (because, when they eventually broadcast an opera, they seem to do it on the sly, quite late at night, as if they did not want to annoy their regular audience) and, of course, prices should also be more reasonable. But, above all, what is lacking here is a truly attractive offer and the right "culture medium" on which the youths' interest in music might grow. (...)