NEWS: West Australian Symphony Orchestra makes a run for Perth venue

by Victoria Laurie

this article is published by The Australian

A BATTLE is looming over the Perth Concert Hall as the West Australian Symphony Orchestra seeks to wrest management of the under-used classical music venue from the hands of the state-controlled Perth Theatre Trust.

The orchestra’s bid is prompted by the government’s decision two weeks ago to terminate a private contract with venue manager Ogden AEG, ending its 16-year monopoly over five major performance venues — including the concert hall — in Perth.

The Perth Theatre Trust, which contracted out all the venues to Ogden in 1998, will resume management next year.

But WASO chief executive Craig Whitehead says the orch­estra wants to bid against PTT for the concert hall management. He says it is being thwarted by the WA government’s refusal to permit access to financial information about the outgoing Ogden’s contractual arrangements.

“They’ve talked about a fair and equitable process but we’re locked out of the process,’’ Whitehead says.

“We think we can do a cheaper, more professional job, but to present the best business case we need up-to-date commercial figures.”

Revealing WASO’s takeover ambition for the first time publicly, Whitehead has told The Australian WASO is the obvious candidate to run the concert hall since it is the venue’s major user. “We also have extraordinary staff with artistic planning expertise and outstanding management skills. We want to turn the concert hall into the home of music in Western Australia.”

A government-instigated review last year of Perth’s public performing venues was triggered by lacklustre occupancy rates and complaints from user companies that they were too expensive to hire.

The review recommended putting the venues back under state control.

“The model that has been reinstituted is the model that exists for the major public venues in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane,” Arts Minister John Day said when announcing that PTT would resume control of all venues in January next year.

WASO argues the Perth Concert Hall, owned by the City of Perth and not the state, can be expertly managed and programmed by WASO as a premier music venue.

Whitehead says the venue is under-used, and WASO accounts for 70 per cent of programmed activity in the venue.

“We believe the concert hall contract is still up for grabs, since the City of Perth has not made a decision. We’ve been discussing this for some time with ministers, with the Premier, the Lord Mayor, and we think there’s an extraordinary opportunity there.”

A spokesman for Mr Day says there are “ongoing discussions” about the concert hall, and that the City of Perth will be a key player in any decision.