MRC f*cks it up.

Thus far, my posting on this blog has been a bit of a Melbourne Recital Centre love-in. And what can I say? The inspired programming of that particular venue has symbolised for many a sort of coming-of-age for Melbourne. Chamber music has never quite had a venue in this city that’s represented anything more than an acceptable compromise. Melba Hall is too small and, well, weird, Hamer Hall is too big and sounds stupid when you put a solo lutenist onstage, BMW Edge is too noisy, Collins St Baptsist Church is too churchy (read ‘pew-y’). In the meantime, Melbourne’s players have been getting better, younger, and more numerous. Melbourne’s music education institutions have been turning out some really remarkable performers (particularly, it has to be said, the VCA before it was assimilated, Borg-style, by empire-building Melbourne University bureaucrats) who have been struggling in an absurdly decentralised chamber music culture to forge a career. It hasn’t been easy.

While there are still ensembles that desperately need to be brought into the fold (ELISION, Golden Fur, e21, Ludovico’s Band), it’s a remarkably positive sign that ensembles as diverse as Speak Percussion, Latitude 37 and the Freshwater Trio all now have a home that’s able to do them justice, and provide a focal point for Melbourne’s growing scene. (If you are interested in reading [what I’m sure is a journalistically bowdlerised version of] pianist Anna Goldsworthy’s thoughts on Melbourne’s growing scene, then clicky.)

Except that the MRC appear to have f*cked it all up!

I get the impression that the $1.5m shortfall is due to low sales in the Elizabeth Murdoch Hall, which I find surprising, because you don’t need to have put together many funding applications to know that you never bank on getting a big audience to things. A big part of that is that precisely this sort of thing will happen. Meanwhile, concerts in the Salon regularly seem to be selling out. So much so that, in squeezing as many seats into that tiny space as possible, audiences are routinely placed too close to sound sources, necessitating the handing out of earplugs at concerts. So it seems that Elizabeth Murdoch is too big, and the Salon is too small.

Anyway, all of this is just background to the story that ensembles are having their gigs cancelled. The basic details are in the story. But it’s fair to say that being so administratively inept that contracts arrive months late shouldn’t be able to be used as a way of screwing musicians out of said contract.

The MRC has been an administrative nightmare to deal with from the word go. My own interactions have been thankfully minimal (or maybe I’m just jealous?), but have been like pulling teeth (with the notable exception of the artistic side of things). Also, their approach to ticketing, complaints and customer service has been Not Good. A composer friend of mine had to argue his way into his own concert. A performer friend of mine was finally able to convince them the day before the concert that two complementary tickets was not quite enough to share between the five people involved in the concert.

This is an amazing building, and a remarkable opportunity for this city. It’s far too important to be put at risk by incompetent management and an approach to customer service that makes McDonald’s look like friendly night out.

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