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Untold story: how IOC always means empty seats

We’ve received a fragment of musical history involving the International Olympic Committee from Ed Smith, who was chief executive of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the time Symphony Hall was opened. Ed writes:

During the opening of Symphony Hall on 12 June 1991 by HM the Queen and the first official concert, the self-important International Olympic Committee was meeting in Birmingham to determine the venue for the 1998 Summer Olympics.

“They must all be given tickets for the Opening Concert” we were instructed.

“Are you sure they will want to attend a concert of a new work by Mark-Anthony Turnage and 80 minutes of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony – albeit with the CBSO and its Chorus under Simon Rattle?” we humbly asked.

“All shall have tickets” came the imperious reply.

Come the performance, acres of unoccupied red seats were seen on the live BBCTV transmission as a result of these grandees finding a Balti or some other Brummy delight more palatable than a symphony concert.

Thank goodness we had a second performance for those who really wanted – and paid for- their first experience in what was to become one of the world’s great concert halls.


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  1. Rather the 1998 Winter Olymics. There were no Summer Olympics in 1998, and the venue of the Winter games was indeed decided in Birmingham 1991.

  2. Didn’t the previous head of the IOC insist on being addressed as “Your Excellency”??
    Doesn’t surprise me one whit. Don’t know what their allocation is currently (reduced from Beijing, apparently!), but whoever has the next Games should tell this rabble Limpit family they get two tickets for specified events. Ticketing is a very weak spot – only now are they thinking about e-ticketing, for heaven’s sakes.

  3. Petros Linardos says:

    Who instructed that all IOC members should have tickets? What if they had been asked to pay? I am sure that the IOC members could afford the tickets.

  4. Kenneth Griffin says:

    Birmingham City Council (or its predecessor) had bid unsuccessfully to host the 1992 summer Olympics and presumably wanted to keep the IOC sweet in case of any future Olympic bids. The 1991 Birmingham visit would have been an ideal opportunity for Birmingham to show itself off to the IOC and any non-compliance with IOC requests would have been perceived as a snub, which would have prejudiced Birmingham’s chances of future venue selection. Obviously, actually attending this concert wouldn’t have appealed to most IOC members, as Ed Smith knew, but I’m sure the City would have had no option but to invite them!

    I’m sure you all realise that local government support for the arts, such as Birmingham’s for Symphony Hall and the CBSO, is part of a wider strategy than simply subsidising minority-iinterest music for that small percentage of the population that wants to attend to it.

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