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BBC free Prom sells out in 35 minutes … amid swell of complaints

Last night the BBC announced that one of its summer Proms would be free.

This morning, as the phone lines turned red hot, the Proms was revealed to be the National Youth Orchestra’s performance of Beethoven’s 9th symphony. Many failed to get tickets for the old roof-raiser. And many who succeeded came away unhappy with the scheme. Here’s writer and musician Alice McVeigh:

alice mcveigh

Can anybody tell me who, at the Proms, is responsible for choosing to make (of all the possible Proms) the National Youth Orchestra Prom, with about ten choruses included due to Beethoven’s 9th, the only FREE prom? I can’t complain on my own account: 35 minutes hanging on the phone listening to rubbish music this a.m. procured Simon and me (not an exaggeration) the VERY LAST two tickets, but think of the disappointed grandparents etc. all over the country. Sold out in 35 minutes. And I bet there are other NYO PARENTS who weren’t as lucky as we were, either. It was ALWAYS going to be sold out. Why didn’t they pick a Prom NOT involving zillions of talented kids, that was never likely to be a sell-out?

I don’t know what they use for brain cells, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure that (a) lots of very gifted kids (b) an enormous choir and (c) one of Beethoven’s hotter symphonies might just possibly manage to sell out regardless. What about beefing up the audience for one of those no-hoper Proms featuring groups (however stunning) wildly unsuited to the venue, featuring modern composers less well-known than Turnage, or featuring haggard middle-aged musos who have long since lost the will to live?
But no, intent upon upsetting every National Youth Orchestra parent in the country, they maliciously decide to choose the National Youth Orchestra. As I write there are probably grandparents in rural Wales weeping into the tea, sturdy northern fathers shocking their partners with language usually reserved for work, and terse City workers dictating letters to the Times.
Now I was personally lucky. I hung on the phone for 35 minutes, thinking of my horn-playing daughter, and the woman who finally relieved my aching ear-drums from the musical rubbish with which they were being assaulted said, ‘No, afraid they’re all sold out. . . No wait, there’s one seat, rather far back, I’m afraid, and after I’d leapt on the seat (figuratively speaking) with joy, she spotted another. So really and truly, I oughtn’t to be moaning. But I do moan, because it seems to me that it doesn’t take a novelist’s imagination (duh) to assume that there might be a modicum of interest in a concert like this. And I feel for the grandparents, though Rachel has none. And it’s raining so Wimbledon will probably not happen. So, that’s my rant of the day, with thanks to Norman, and God bless the National Youth Orchestra and all who sail in her, especially in the Proms.
(c) Alice McVeigh/Slipped Disc
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  1. Milly Wood says:

    Surely this is enabling many, who wouldn’t be able to buy a ticket, to hear these amazing young performers. It also makes it more accessible for relatives and/or friends of performers to come along. I’m sure that the BBC has allocated a ticket for each NYO player and NYC singer to ensure that those parents collecting their child at the end of the concert can at least hear them perform.

  2. Alan Robertson says:

    As a fellow NYO parent, (unsuccessful in obtaining tickets) I agree entirely with Alice McVeigh’s comments.
    When I first learned that the NYO Prom was to be a free concert, I lobbied NYO about giving an allocation of free tickets to each member of the orchestra and choirs, and was extremely disappointed when it was announced that RPO had decreed that only one ticket per member would be made available, and I’m not at all surprised at the outcome this morning. I just hope that the tickets have all gone to genuinely interested parties, and that the surplus tickets can be be redistributed amongst the families of the choir and orchestra members, and that London’s ticket touts haven’t got in on the act.

  3. Milly Ferrins says:

    I agree that it would have been great if two tickets per performer had been allocated, but – with so many performers on stage and a limit on audience numbers – surely it’s better to encourage members of the general public to these events rather than parents who can hear their child any day of the week?

    Only four tickets were available to each applicant so I hope the touts have been thwarted.

    • Elisabeth says:

      I really have to take issue with this odd concept that parents can hear the National Youth Orchestra or National Youth Choir any day of the week!

  4. Elisabeth says:

    Looking at my Facebook news feed, I can see quite a few NYO and NYC parents who weren’t successful – I feel so sorry for them. I can see why it should be a free Prom as it gives good access for families who otherwise would never be able to go, but surely the ticket allocation for parents should have been sorted out.

    • Rupert Damerell says:

      With such a piece, and with this orchestra, it would be good to have them repeat it in Hyde Park, free for all.

  5. We should congratulate and thank BBC for making a Prom that would “manage to sell out regardless” free for all. And, as other people as mentioned, let’s not forget that anyone wanting to get in on the day can simply queue and “Prom”.

    • Milly Ferrins says:

      Ah, a voice of reason at last. Thank you.

      • Alan Robertson says:

        That’s all very well for people living in or near London, but living in Glasgow, and with my mother and mother-in-law (both over 80) even further away, and willing to travel 500 miles for the once in a lifetime opportunity to see their grand-daughter perform at the proms, queuing all day in the hope of obtaining a prom ticket is not really on.

        • Elisabeth says:

          @Alan, you *may* be able to get ambulant-disabled tickets for your mum and mother in law if you ring the RAH box office Access line. These are tickets for people who definitely need someone with them but can actually walk (with assistance). It is possible they have put some aside for this purpose. Might be worth a try. Plus, if either of them use a wheelchair then you may find it easier to get tickets. Good luck.

          • Alan Robertson says:

            Thanks Elisabeth

            I’d feel a bit of a fraud trying this approach, as neither really need assistance, but I very much appreciate your suggestions.

  6. Alice McVeigh says:

    Alan Robertson is absolutely right. Lots of people, middle-aged (like me!!!) and of course, older, grandparents or not, CAN’T queue for a Prom, especially a queue as long as this one’s going to be. This isn’t ‘a voice of reason’ but a voice of someone very young and fit who hasn’t thought things through.

    Alice McVeigh (author of the article)

  7. PS I also can’t understand anyone thinking that National Youth Orchestra parents ‘can hear their children any day of the week,’ is relevant to the discussion. Yes, I can hear my daughter playing endless exercises and arpeggios and maybe a bit of Strauss every day, and so can everybody, but this is absolutely nothing LIKE hearing a sensationally accomplished orchestra (all under 19!!!!) playing masterpieces of the repertoire with professional assurance and inspirational enthusiasm. (Alice McVeigh)

    • Michael Schaffer says:

      Indeed, and it may be even more important for the young people to have their parents there.

    • Mark Shulgasser says:

      Alice, you’d surely feel much better if you gave your tickets to Alan Robertson, and stood in line yourself, no?
      Just think of the once-in-a-lifetime joy of those two old ladies, now WEEPING into their teapots, brutalized by their surly men-folk up north. Stop moaning and do the right thing!!!!

    • Alan Robertson says:

      Just back from holiday to find my fears confirmed by an email from NYO that many parents have failed to obtain tickets, with only a paltry total of 10 tickets to be redistributed by ballot. Also a quick internet search revealed at least two outlets ( and selling tickets at vastly-inflated prices ranging from £35 to £75.

  8. “haggard middle-aged musos who have long since lost the will to live”

    And what would your upper age limit be for Proms performers, pray tell?

  9. It’s not their fault if they look haggard! That’s the profession for you.
    Yours, haggard and middle-aged, Alice
    PS My upper limit is Casals.

  10. Ghillie Forrest says:

    No stake here as I am across an ocean and not a parent, but I think, given that the concert was to be free, two tickets per participant should have been made available to them. Most kids have two parents. And the opportunity to hear one’s own child perform in the Proms, at the Albert Hall, or doing the 9th, let alone al three together, can’t come along very often.

    I feel sorry for those families who will not get in, beaten out in many cases by those who honed their phone-booking skills by earlier experience getting tickets for Madonna or Justin Bieber. And the concern, for those who ache to go, is that many will just pass at the last minute due to the heat, the rain, the cold or whatever is in the air that day just because the tickets were free.

  11. From what I remember of NYO back in 2010, parents were not allocated tickets, but were given priority booking for the summer performance at Snape Maltings (which also typically sells out), so I do not think this is really a reasonable cause for distress (that said, Snape is much less accessible by public transport). I have, on occasion, been unable to hear concerts involving friends of mine on account of the former having sold out; it is just a fact of life. After all, professional orchestras do not expressly allocate tickets for friends of each individual player.

    For my part, I would be interested to know from whence the subsidy for this free concert will be coming: the BBC; the NYO (which already subsidises its regular scheme of £5 tickets for under-25s, I think); or some third party? If it were the NYO, and in view of the fact that the NYO charges not inconsiderable fees to most of its participants, I wonder whether offering free tickets is really the most responsible thing for it to do?

    • The most distressing thing about this situation is the rest of NYO’s summer concerts take place in Ireland, so parents can’t even go to Snape or Birmingham like normal if they missed out

  12. Perhaps this is my unfamiliarity with the overall scheme of the Proms, but what I see here is that they made one of the concerts free, and now people are complaining about WHICH one was made free. Who am I supposed to sympathize with here?

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