I bought a ticket to the English Symphony Orchestra’s concert at the National Gallery last night. It was an opportunity to hear something new (a violin concerto inspired by works by Maggi Hambling entitled Wall of Water) and to listen to an old familiar – the first band I worked with fresh out of University twenty-odd years ago.

My path to the concert wasn’t smooth. I tried to attend the event last Friday evening, strolled into the gallery in a slightly fractious mood as I was unable to find the actual event. One of the attendants pointed out that I was a week early. Not since school have I turned up so early for something (my Mum once dropped me off at school a week before term actually started – I’m still traumatised).

Last night – the night the concert was scheduled – presented different challenges. I was delayed because of trains from south east London. Discovering I’ve left my Oyster card at home, I shell out £7.20 for a return ticket to central London. The usual Hither Green to Charing Cross service is seriously curtailed due to building work at London Bridge. So, I take the Canon Street service instead, got off at London Bridge, took the tube to Westminster and walked the rest of the way to the National Gallery instead. The walk was nice, if a little pressured. I ended up getting to the National Gallery at 6.37pm.


No matter, I thought. The billing for the concert led me to believe (and as it turned out, two other people there with me thought the same) that there was a discussion of the new work before the performance. The event listing also contained the words “the performance will be proceeded by a discussion of the work”. I took this to be a typo and interpreted the line as “the performance will be preceeded by a discussion of the work”, meaning there’ll be a pre-performance talk, then we’ll get on with playing it.

Not so, it seemed. I leap down the steps to the Sainsbury Wing Theatre only to be followed by two gallery staff smiling as I pass them, one of them saying “Oh, here we go. Another latecomer.”

A lady at the bottom of the steps says, “You can’t go in. The performers have just stepped onto the stage. They’ve asked that absolutely no-one goes in after they’ve got onto the stage.” I point out that there is a discussion in the event first. “No there’s not,” she replies, “the performers are on the stage now.” I push the point saying, “the event is billed as a discussion ‘proceeded’ by a performance.” She replies with, “The performers have asked that no one goes into the auditorium once they are on the stage. I am articulating those instructions.” I point out again the erroneous billing information which illicits the same response. I point out that she’s said the same thing twice now and I’m getting a sense that I’m not actually being heard after which she captures my email address (and that of another man who complains of having made the same assumption as me) for ‘commenting purposes’. I make a point of saying that I realise it isn’t necessarily her fault. She then apologises. (As an aside, I usually hate it when people apologise – its usually done unnecessarily. Or its done disingenuously.  Or, as on this occasion, it’s just misplaced – an apology really can’t achieve anything.) I thank her for her apology adding that whilst her offer of allowing me access to the post-performance discussion is kind, it’s also redundant – I came for the music, not the words.


I walk away from the National Gallery narked at myself, the poor proof-reading on the ESO website* which in part misled me into thinking that it was a pre-performance talk followed by a performance and hugely disappointed I have shelled out £7.20 on a ticket I didn’t need to spend money on.

Added to that, an unenlightened latecomer policy means I couldn’t get in (even quietly) at the back of the auditorium. What adds piquancy to this experience is that I’m a backer of the struggling band in question and have featured its conductor on the blog, a man who is a) lovely and b) injecting new life into the group of players. Recognising that myself makes me feel closer to the band, and yet in this moment for a whole variety of reasons (one of which I should take responsibility for myself – I should have left half an hour earlier) I feel slightly alienated by the experience.

I turn to Twitter. I start tweeting @ESO a range of messages outlining my gruffness until a colleague from work points out I’m tweeting the European Space Organisation who are probably unlikely to have a policy on latecomers to concerts anyway as its not their really their area of expertise. I delete those tweets and send another batch to @EnglishSymphon. The fact I’ve been able to fire off nearly 1000 words on the subject nearly 24 hours later leads me to believe that I’m still probably fuming a bit about the whole experience.

There are three lessons here. Concert billings need to be clear-cut – typos or ambiguous language will lead to misunderstandings and ultimately disappointment. A draconian door policy does the venue not the artists playing there little for reputations. And of course, if you’re going to a concert, best get there a good half hour before. Oh, and remember your Oyster card.

* 24 hours later I realise that the National Gallery had the listing correct, detailing what would happen when. But, my route in was via the ESO’s site which led me to believe something a little different. Yeah, I know its only a total of £13.20, but still its the principal.

UPDATE: On Sunday 1 February 2015 English Symphony Orchestra conductor Kenneth Woods responded to me on Twitter.



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