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Jessica Duchen
Friday 11th February 2011
How friendly are Friends?

No, not Facebook... This is about our leading cultural institutions and their membership systems. Friends schemes are a wonderful thing if you're in them; and as public subsidy shrinks we'll be seeing more and more developing. But with demand for membership starting to outstrip the supply of seats, the most sought-after events can sell out before booking has opened to the general public.

Now, in an ideal world, I personally would like the government to support the performing arts wholeheartedly, delivering high-quality performances and making low-cost seating available to all at the same modest price. Museums are free; why not music? But this is looking increasingly like a pipe-dream, at least in Britain. Instead, here is what's happening, as written by muggins in today's Indy:

The other day, public booking opened for this year's Aldeburgh Festival. Helen Hayes, who runs a recording studio at the nearby Potton Hall with her husband, dashed to her phone, hoping to book seats to take their small son to hear the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. It wasn't to be. "I've just tried to book for the CBSO Rattle concert and it is sold out – before public booking opens!" she declared on Facebook, adding: "Talk about access to music... and they get most of the public funding for music in this area. Elitist? Classical Music?"

So what happened? Well, Aldeburgh's Snape Maltings concert hall seats a modest 800. The 16,000-odd Friends of Aldeburgh Music receive priority booking. And everyone wants to hear Sir Simon Rattle in action.

Non-members can keep phoning the box office and hope for returns. The alternative is to become a Friend...

Read the whole thing here.

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About Jessica Duchen

Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.

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