Recently I had the privilege of attending the opening night of the Brandenburg Orchestra and Choir’s Mozart the Great in the glorious Recital Hall at Angel Place, nestled amidst the bustle of Sydney CBD life. The evening was an extraordinarily moving experience, a convergence of sacredness, creative genius and that palpable humility that emanates from truly talented artists. I was fortunate to take my seat in the third row directly in front of the stage, not on the floor but raised just enough to have the view of a bird. When the three 18th century basset horns sounded their angelic song from the balcony above, it was as though spirited wrens in a bell tower visited, to treat us with a song of the soul. This was just the beginning.
Brandenburg’s wonderfully charismatic Artistic Director, Paul Dyer, usually chatty and humorous, was solemn, softly so, and had cleverly arranged the music so as to simultaneously excite and pay reverence. The first part of the concert was a moveable feast of instruments and sets, bite-sized morsels of delicious Mozart pickings, some quirky and cheeky, others serenely restful. Following the intermission the audience was ushered in to resume their place at the pew for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor. The Choir, and soloists Sara Macliver and Fiona Campbell, put on a magnificent performance, stunning in fact, gripping and powerful. And there I was, basking in the glory of Mozart, whom I’d really not been acquainted with in any deep intimacy before, nor to any of the other many great classical music composers. It was an initiation of sorts, but gentle and poignantly engaging.
Throughout the performance I would shift in my seat restlessly, irritated almost because I was the guest of my close friend, whose father had passed on his complimentary tickets to the Opening Night performance as he was unable to attend. Of course I was filled with gratitude for the entire experience, but given how powerfully moved I was as a newcomer to Mozart, I couldn’t help imagining how much better it would be if all the wealthy people had to pay to attend opening night to these grand cultural events.
It bemused me that the complimentary tickets would not be issued to the great many folk who could never afford to attend, and who probably wouldn’t even think to attend, as like me, they are not particularly drawn to the full appreciation of classical music. It does beg the question. What if those numerous people could have that same experience, an introduction that unfailingly taps a part of our humanity that no matter who you are and what your music tastes, you can’t help but be inspired and moved? If you make the rich people pay and give the free tickets to those who ordinarily would never have access to this kind of performance, at worst you waste a few seats, at best you sow the seed of a life-long love of, and engagement in culture and the arts. Australia Council for the Arts’ Queensland Artsupport Manager, Fiona Maxwell, led a New York philanthropy leadership tour in 2012. In her subsequent feature report of 30 May 2012 in Artery, she keenly points out “in Australia on opening nights, most tickets in the house are given away for free. In New York they charge twice as much and make it a gala event”.
There is a strong case against offering free tickets to donors, benefactors, supporters, politicians, Board members, journalists and would-be promoters of a cultural event. The other pertinent benefit of encouraging newcomers to such previously unattended experiences is that of donor cultivation. In reading the list of donors and contributors to the Brandenburg in the back of the program, I realised that cultural philanthropy was not just for the wealthy, and for a small annual contribution I could actually help sustain the small but brilliant organisation and their artistic endeavours. I reckon I’d give twice as much if I knew my philanthropic contribution was also going to support people who are dis-engaged, and from disadvantaged communities in gaining access to the same magnificence I experienced that lovely Sydney autumn night. Oh the diversity in the philanthropic ecosystem this could nurture.