Category Archives: Gail Wein

Toronto Symphony: 35% of Its Audience Under 35

As I’ve said before, “the question” for classical music (and its genre-melding young offspring) is how do we bring in a younger audience without compromising artistic standards? By younger, I mean under 40.  Whether or not you believe there’s a classical-music attendance crisis, it sure wouldn’t hurt to have some people with full heads of non-gray hair joining the rest of us.

Indefatigable super-publicist Gail Wein sent me news of this story about the Toronto Symphony‘s success. Through the success of the orchestra’s tsoundcheck program for young adults, 35% of the TSO audience is now under 35.

35% under 35! Fantastic news.  And how have they done it?

  • concert schedules that work for young professional audiences
  • low-priced tickets for not just students but also those aged 18-35 (23,000 this past season,good seats that can be selected in advance)
  • lobby parties after shortened Saturday-night concerts

The entire article is well worth reading–it sure brightened my day.  Doesn’t the following sound good?

[G]oing to the symphony has become a normal thing to do for under 35s in Toronto, and has even become a popular date-night activity. Trina Senechal Klinck, 32, began attending the TSO when she started dating her husband, Ben, in 2006.

“It’s the same prices as the movies and it’s more of an outing and it’s cultural. I’m always up for trying new things and the symphony offers things that are compelling to go to — you don’t feel like it’s from the bottom of the barrel. We’ve introduced a lot of our friends to [the TSO].”

I know not everyone (especially among some of my orchestral musician friends)  is happy with the idea of post-concert lobby parties.  But low-priced ticket programs and a fun atmosphere can obviously help to build a younger audience, and it doesn’t mean you have to dumb down the music.

Doesn’t the younger set want laser light shows and film scores? As it turns out, they don’t.

“If you listen to current bands like Radiohead, Fleet Foxes and Joanna Newsom,” said longtime tsoundchecker Dustin Cohen, 26, “you will see that … young people today continue to crave big-picture themes like love, loss, death and revolution. There’s a unique quality to live classical music. When I’m in the concert hall, watching the orchestra, I’m thinking: ‘I’m going to download this second movement when I get home!’”

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Cutting Edge Concerts: Better Get There Early Tonight

Monday April 4 took me all the way across the street to Symphony Space, where I encountered a long,snaking line at the box office, for the second program of the Cutting Edge Concerts New Music Festival 2011.  There’s another concert tonight at 7:30, and I’ll get there early, both to pick up my ticket and get a good seat.  Music by Mumford, Ferneyhough, Meltzer, and the festival’s artistic director Victoria Bond, performed by the Argento Ensemble and the Da Capo Chamber Players.

It’s another event publicized by Gail Wein (which I’m making a point of because one of the reasons I’m in to NY is to see how to get people to concerts, and very good way seems to be to hire Gail), and, like the previous day’s Baby Got Bach show, last week’s performance was sold out.  Selling out a new-music concert, even in New York, is not easy, so congratulations to everyone involved.  (The first concert in the series, on March 28, got a great review in the NY Times.)

Last Monday’s concert, performed by Sequitur, included music by Robert Sirota, Armando Bayolo, Daniel Godfrey, David Glaser, and Victoria Bond.  It was long–first half was over 90 minutes.  Producing new-music concerts takes an incredible determination, sense of mission, organizational skills, people skills, fundraising, etc., all of which Victoria Bond seems to have in abundance  So I guess it’s natural to jam as much music in as possible.  For most of the audience, which I assume was primarily New-York new-music lovers, and the composers (and their friends and family members) that’s probably a good thing.  There aren’t many opportunities to get things performed. (And Symphony Space has a long history of marathon events.)

Now if you were looking for a new audience for this music, maybe shorter concerts would be the thing.  I’m just wondering out loud here. I confess I stayed for just the first half;  it was well after 9:00 PM by the time intermission came, and I really wanted to watch, of all things, a basketball game.  I’ve lived in Indiana for almost a quarter century;  the amazing (Indianapolis) Butler men’s team was playing UConn (my son’s favorite team) in the NCAA FInal Four championship game, and, well, even though I’m not much of a basketball fan, I couldn’t resist.

Before the basketball, the concert’s first half was great.  My favorite was Robert Sirota’s A Sinner’s Diary for two violas, flute, cello, piano, and percussion.  Symphony Space’s Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre has a smallish stage, so the percussion was set up in front of it.  You’d think that would make for ensemble challenges, but it didn’t.  Bond interviews the composers on stage before each piece–which works very well.  Sirota explained, among other things, that he wrote the piece for his daughter Nadia‘s graduation recital at Juilliard.  She now seems to own the new-music viola market in New York–seems like she’s played every concert I’ve been to (and if not, I see her in the audience).  Her brother Jonah is the violist in the Chiara Quartet, hence the two violas in the instrumentation.  The music was varied, lively, emotionally intense and evocative, and, natch, had a huge viola solo movement.

Armando Bayolo’s Mix Tape for solo double bass gave the very skilled Pawel Knapik quite a workout.  Movements were based on well-disguised fragments of pop songs.

Daniel Godfrey’s Anika used letters from Anika, a young Polish Jew, writing to a cousin with increasing horror as the Holocaust impinges on her life, contrasted with a horrifying speech by a top Nazi official (I think it was Himmler or Goebbels; the program notes don’t say and I forgot to write it down).  This was an unsettling, powerful piece to experience-maybe that’s one reason I felt I’d had enough music for the evening and went home to watch basketball.  Sometimes there’s only so much one can absorb.  The contrast of the texts, and the terrifying Nazi sense of mission, has stayed with me.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s concert.  And I’ll be sure to take a little “disco nap” before heading over to make sure I have plenty of endurance!

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