Update: This letter has been published, slightly edited, in Today.
I am writing in response to the report “Esplanade reaches out to young” (ST Aug 16) on reasonably priced arts events targetted at toddlers and students. While the Esplanade should be commended for these contributions to the arts education of youths, they are not as helpful on another important front of arts education. One of the most important ways in which youths become interested in the arts is by watching artistic performances. One particularly inspiring performance has the power to seed an interest that lasts for life, while ten uninspiring performances may simply lead the audience to think that the art form concerned is overrated. Therefore, if we are sincere about wanting to educate the young about art, it is insufficient to ensure that there exist some events, of however low quality, that students can afford to attend. World-class performances are much more likely to show students the true potentiality of art, and hence inspire them to pursue it further. At the top of the list of experiences that got me hooked to classical music are a couple of mind-blowing performances by foreign orchestras at the Esplanade that took place about four years ago. Then, one could attend those concerts for about $30. If I was a student today, however, I would not be able to afford the tickets for performances by foreign artistes at the Esplanade this year. The cheapest tickets for all of the Russian National Orchestra’s non-gala performances and Dmitri Hvorostovsky’s solo recital cost $58. Lang Lang’s piano recital has a minimum ticket price of $68, as does the Soweto Gospel Choir’s concert. The cheapest student tickets available for the Wiener Staatsoper’s concertante performance of Le Nozze di Figaro cost $40.
But surely an organisation that claims to promote arts education must provide affordable opportunities for poor students to attend potentially life-changing artistic events. It is probably no coincidence that artistically thriving cities offer extremely cheap student tickets for performances by both visiting and resident artistes. For a more robust analogy to the Esplanade’s pricing for foreign acts, I looked up the ticket prices for performances by visiting artistes at various major artistic centres. At the Barbican in London, you can watch Dmitri Hvorostovsky and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra for £9, less than half the $58 the Esplanade is demanding for Hvorostovsky’s recital here. At the Royal Festival Hall, you can watch, amongst others, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra for £5.50 each if you are a student. The Concertgebouw in Amsterdam offers last minute seats for EUR7.50 to people under 27 years of age, regardless of who is performing. Carnegie Hall in New York City and Orchestra Hall in Chicago offer US$10 student tickets for all non-gala events. At Vienna’s Staatsoper and Musikverein, you can get standing tickets for EUR3.50. If these venues can provide such concessions to students for visiting acts, why can’t the Esplanade?