12/07/2013 - 11:29

Trust to stage Concert Hall revival

12/07/2013 - 11:29


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Trust to stage Concert Hall revival

For 40 years, the Perth Concert Hall has taken centre stage in the eyes of parochial Western Australian arts lovers.

Its acoustics are widely considered to be the best in Australia, outshining the more famous Sydney Opera House and attracting a high calibre of performers from across the world.

However, while the Concert Hall remains the venue of choice for classical music in Perth, the inability to attract a wide variety of concerts has led to a decline in audience numbers.

Annual performance figures reveal the number of events held and total attendance at the Concert Hall have fallen substantially over the past decade.

Almost 260,000 people attended concerts held in the main auditorium in the 2003-04 financial year; by contrast, just 157,381 attended concerts in 2012-13.

Perth Theatre Trust chairman Peter Blaxell, a former WA Supreme Court judge whose organisation oversees the state’s premier arts venues, has sought to turn the Concert Hall’s fortunes around since taking on the role at the beginning of this year.

“The starting point is to look at the current financial model,” Mr Blaxell told Business News.

“The government is putting up about $9 million a year to keep these venues going.

“To my mind that’s not a very satisfactory situation and we’ve somehow got to find a way of either reducing our expenses or increasing our gross profit so that the contribution of the government doesn’t have to be so large.

“That then might free up some money for us to finance some more programming.”

Mr Blaxell said operational inefficiencies at Perth’s arts venues meant they struggled to compete with their counterparts in other states in attracting big-name events.

“When you look at the equivalent trusts or organisations that run the venues in other states, they have very big programming budgets and they have the funds to bring in international plays, concerts and things of that nature,” he said.

“They can spend money and to some extent be promoters themselves; we’re not in a position to do that.”

A big challenge for the Concert Hall will be in attracting promoters to host more contemporary music events at an increasingly isolated venue.

While Northbridge has emerged as a cultural hub, encompassing the State Theatre Centre, Art Gallery and a raft of late-night venues, the Concert Hall casts a lonely shadow on St George’s Terrace, with few nearby dining and entertainment options.

Another key constraint, Mr Blaxell said, was that the trust’s venues were obliged to accommodate resident arts companies ahead of other users.

The Western Australian Symphony Orchestra receives the pick of the dates at the Concert Hall for its performances and rehearsals, leaving few suitable options for promoters.

“I think we’ve got to find ways of being more flexible,” Mr Blaxell said.

“It doesn’t make any sense to my mind that we have to give priority to a rehearsal by WASO when we could have some other fully-attended event there.

“We do get some contemporary music events but, in my opinion, not nearly enough, and I’d like to see more.”

The trust has engaged an independent consultant to interview stakeholders and assess the merits of the trust’s contractual arrangements with venue operator AEG Ogden, with an eye towards reducing operating costs.

A report is due to be handed down in the coming months.

Mr Blaxell said the trust was weighing up the merits of a hybrid model under which it could take a more hands-on role in arts venues while contracting out specialist functions such as ticketing.


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