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July 25, 2006

Concerts in Parks

by Janelle Gelfand

I believe that some free events should have a place in every community, if for only the general goodwill between arts organizations and the public, and not necessarily for some higher aesthetic goal. A year ago last June, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra announced it was abandoning its free "Concerts in Parks" concerts, which for 38 years had introduced generations of locals to orchestral music. Years earlier, it dropped a regional concert series established by Judith Arron when she was orchestra manager here, which brought things like Mozart piano concertos and Bach Brandenburgs to far-flung high school gymnasiums and small town squares.

Did these free concerts result in new subscribers? In supporters of classical music? Perhaps a few. But the exposure alone was immeasurable, and people I meet when I speak in public still remember them. They made an impression. People would go, numbering in the thousands, and literally hang from trees to hear the "1812." The concerts took the orchestra out of its ivory tower, and gave the people of this region a sense of ownership, even if folks only heard it once. I think it was a huge mistake to give this up.

As for those notoriously bad sound systems in these venues, is hearing a Shostakovich symphony on an iPod any better?

So, back to ticket prices. Every orchestra, chamber music series and opera company must decide how much price increase its market can bear. The Cincinnati Symphony is still recovering from a 12 percent drop in attendance following a 25-percent average ticket price increase two years ago. These arts groups have a real dilemma. They all want to sell subscriptions, yet they all offer last-minute discounts or two-for-one deals that would seem to reinforce those people who are last-minute ticket buyers.

I found Klaus' comments about orchestra industry issues especially relevant. Indeed, how viable is a full-time, 100-piece orchestra -- along with those highly-paid executives and huge staffs -- in most cities today? He voiced an idea that so many boards, artist managers, executives and musicians unions fear to broach.

The explosion of costs, the huge decrease in arts funding, the growing deficits and enormous administrations -- it all sounds eerily familiar. Indeed, it was all noted in the ASOL's Wolf Report of 1992, along with the equally eerie prediction that endowments tied to the stock market might be at risk.

Perhaps orchestras should look at that report again and ask themselves some of those same hard-hitting questions.

Posted by jgelfand at July 25, 2006 08:32 PM


If I've learned anything in my 20 years of arts involvment I've learned that VENUE is EVERYTHING. Today's concert-goers want to be comfortable. They don't want a dress code, they don't want an uncomfortable chair and they don't want to have to be quiet.
Pop music scenes don't languish. Bars have lines wrapping around blocks to "hear" groups. "Scene" translates into "seen". And although we can scoff and snort about it, the patrons and theater-goers of Mozarts day were interested in the same parade of wealth and power that today's pop audiences are into.
God, what I wouldn't give to be able to take a glass of wine into a concert hall and imbibe while enjoying a recital by Joyce DiDonato.

Posted by: Megan at July 26, 2006 05:42 AM

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