Edinburgh Festival opens to half-empty hall

Edinburgh Festival opens to half-empty hall


norman lebrecht

August 07, 2022

Opening night review from Hugh Kerr:

This was the opening concert of the Edinburgh Festival. Normally on a Saturday morning it would have been a very full hall, yet the Queens Hall was a little over half full. We were not short of warnings to Fergus Linehan, the festival director, that raising concert prices and stopping the discounts for most pensioners would adversely impact on attendance figures. It’s not just for the opening concert but the story is that there are very few sold-out concerts during the festival and even the operas have lots of seats available. Fergus has claimed that Edinburgh is cheaper than many European festivals, which is true but that’s because they are often very expensive. Edinburgh is in danger of becoming a similarly elite festival for the better off, in comparison with for instance the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden where you can get upper slips tickets for £10. This compares with £32 for the cheapest upper circle seat for ‘Russalka’ at Edinburgh.


Read on here.


  • Nick BC says:

    I recently looked at Tattoo ticket prices. They ranged from £252 to over £1000….. per ticket! Is it any wonder there are gaps in audiences?

    • Iain says:

      Wow. But is it possible that the Tattoo is used to subsidise other events in the festival?

      However, it’s a bit hard to accept in a country that, these days, harps on about its egalitarianism.

  • Anon. says:

    Usher Hall was sold out for Carmina Burana last night.

  • Declan says:

    “The final work was a Nonet.. by a nineteenth century French woman composer, Louise Farrenc, whose work has been largely ignored until the recent focus on women composers. It was pleasant, though sounding more a Viennese than a French composition, but it wasn’t outstanding and sometimes there is a non-discriminatory reason why works are neglected historically.”

    You really want a reason why the hall was half empty? Identity politics is so boring and patronising, especially when it trumps merit!

    • Hugo Preuß says:

      Right. The empty seats were totally (or mostly) unrelated to the high price tag, to the general economic situation, or to the pandemic still going on.

      No, it was a protest against wokeness! People looked at the program and immediately decided that the work by Farrenc lacked merit! Thanks for enlightening us.

      BTW, Louise Farrenc is a phantastic composer. Fortunately, by now her works are readily available on CD. Definitely worth a try!

      • Declan says:

        I’ve had a belly full of Farrenc thanks, both privately and professionally and it is exactly as described – ok but utterly mediocre. It has been force fed to audiences by the self-appointed egalitarians (who like yourself remain superior enough to lecture us about what is good and we should listen to for our own good) for entirely political reasons.
        Social engineering has never, is not and will never work. You think my point was this was a protest against woke? Then you missed the simplicity. People don’t pay for what they don’t want.

  • Norman says:

    Thank goodness many of the concerts are broadcast on Radio 3

  • CRogers says:

    I have been a regilar Ed Fest goer for at least ten years-a fortnight each year. But all added up-travelling, accomodation and tickets is over stretching my budget. So for me it is an elitist festival at present.

  • Michael Lloyd says:

    Well doom and gloom from Norman, as usual. . Most would say the opening concert is the evening performance at the Usher Hall. Which was packed for a spectacular performance of Carmina Burana. Earlier in the day the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra was sold out. Tonight the Usher Hall again packed for the Philharmonia. And this despite Covid fears keeping people away!

  • Kurt Kaufman says:

    Considering the average age of the attendees that can afford the cost of tickets, together with the current potential health risks involved in attending a concert/opera/theater performance, it doesn’t look promising. You’d think they’d offer VERY inexpensive seats to try and fill the halls. It’s depressing to perform for a half-empty hall. Cheap tickets are a far better idea than papering the hall, the alternative, and is much better for the morale of all involved, including the audience.

    • pure fool says:

      But there a r e tickets available on the day at £8 a head to under-26s (exactly the sort of people the festival needs to be encouraging, surely?), disabled people, recipients of pension credit, universal credit and various other categories of concession.
      The original review constructs an argument based to a large extent on the evidence of one half full morning concert that happened to contain two fairly unfamiliar works, assigning it the bogus status of the festival’s “opening concert” in an attempt to bolster the argument.
      “Doom and gloom”, as another poster commented. The four events (three concerts and an opera) I’ve attended so far have been full or very nearly so.
      It came as no surprise that there was further specious “reasoning” in the review of the performance, where the author belittles a fine composer, praised by Schumann and Berlioz, on the strength of one work he considers “pleasant, though sounding more a Viennese than a French composition [is this a fault?], but it wasn’t outstanding”, so of course that must be the reason her work was neglected until recently.
      By the way, I’m not aware of any connection between the EIF and the Tattoo, other than that they happen at the same time, but I stand to be corrected.

  • Nick2 says:

    Was it not during Linehan’s tenure that opera goers at the Festival were treated to that ghastly Christophe Honore production of Mozart’s sublime Cosi fan tutte which he set in 1930s Eritrea and started it with a rape scene during the overture? It was thought to be so provocative and sexually explicit for Edinburgh audiencs that refunds were actually offered prior to the Festival opening.

    Looking back, I note that a “spokesman” for the Festival gave as an excuse in an article in The Scotsman that the production had come from the recent Aix-en-Provence Festival, adding “The fact is we didn’t know exactly what it was like until we saw its premiere in France last month.”

    For any Festival director to admit there had been no prior consultations on a major element in the Festival, even though planning in Aix must have been going on for many months with the concept itself revealed well over six months in advance, was a massive disgrace. No doubt Linehan will leave Edinburgh with the customary knighthood.

  • christopher storey says:

    A death wish appears to have overtaken the Festival . What’s better – 1 £32 seat sold with 2 unsold , or 3 £15 seats sold ? The financial sense is obvious, ( except it seems to Fergus Linehan ) not to mention the gain in atmosphere with a fuller hall

  • Gustav9 says:

    The second concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival has only sold an embarrassingly small number of tickets. The programme of works by Gabriela Lena Frank, Szymanowski and Florence Price has proved to be death at the box office. The Philadelphians repeat the First Symphony by Price at the BBC Proms. Here it is preceded by an attractive first half of works by Rachmaninov, Chausson and Saint-Saëns, but even so, ticket sales are poor.

    • henry williams says:

      if the eagles. springsteen. ZZ top
      were appearing it would sell out.
      just one of those names would be enough

    • Doug Grant says:

      Before being implicitly critical of the music of Florence Price, please listen to it. Twice. You might then decide it is very well worth the money!

    • Nick2 says:

      Isn’t this now one of the Festival’s major problems? In days gone by, it could choose which international orchestras to present and, to a large extent, what each would perform. This was especially true in the sort of curated Festival by its directors like Lord Harewood. Nowadays, directors are limited to international orchestras which are touring anyway and the works they will also be performing elsewhere.

      Will there ever be another Festival like 1962 when Britten and Shostakovich were present, the former to conduct one of his works, the latter as a special guest as no less than 25 of his compositions were being presented?

  • Peter Hokland says:

    Attending an otherwise wonderful noon concert with the brautkgam-hoppe-poltera trio I can attest to the facts that 1) prizes are ridiculously high, and 2) hall was marginally more than half full. Shocking fact: a mother with a toddler was let in after 1st. movement of the Fanny Mendelssohn trio. He started uttering loud screams at the beginning of the slow movement (if you doubt me, listen to the concert again on bbc3!) before the mother left with him. Manager on duty said that the policy of the festival is to let everybody in, who has a valid ticket (!). Well, this small guy was sitting on his mothers lap Is this the quality the festival is aiming for?