The new New York audience (more)

An email from Marian Skokan, publicist at Lincoln Center, helpfully reminds me that their White Light festival, earlier this season, is designed to draw the same kind of new audience the Tully Scope festival did, as I’ve been describing in recent posts. (Here and here.) By which I mean people who don’t normally go to classical performances, but do go to these festivals. These two festivals are the two bookends, fall and spring, of Lincoln Center’s flagship Great Performers series. Which means quite a notable change in how Lincoln Center is positioning classical music. 

White Light is a festival of spiritual music. Which can include, for instance, world music, pop (Antony and the Johnsons), Meredith Monk, and the Dresden Staatskapelle doing the Brahms Requiem. All presented on a more or less equal basis, implying that anyone who likes one of the events might like the others, too.

There are other events in NY that have started to draw this new audience. The February Tune-In Festival at the Park Avenue Armory, for instance, programmed by eighth blackbird. (What a delight to see them reaching toward the wide audience they so richly deserve. And how unfortunate that I couldn’t be there.) And also Alan Gilbert’s new music performances with the Philharmonic, most spectacularly including last year’s staging of Ligeti’s opera Le Grand Macabre, which sold out to single ticket buyers after many subscribers decided they didn’t want to go.

This is a wonderful rebirth for classical music. Lincoln Center, especially, seems to understand how it needs to diversify, to thrive in the future. And is moving in that direction!

So can this be done elsewhere, outside New York? I’ll peruse that in my next post. 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    A little off-topic but I’d be curious to know if when you say (or anyone says), “people who don’t normally go to classical performances”, you mean anyone who doesn’t normally attend or if you think organizations should non-attendees who have money (and may donate later). I’ve heard people suggest that this should be the focus and, supposedly, even Alex Ross has stated such but I’ve never heard you imply anything other than a general audience of non-attendees, regardless of philanthropic potential.

    Very interesting question. Thanks for asking it.

    In some ways, getting people to go to concerts and getting people to donate are different things. Some donors may not go to concerts (of course that includes corporate and foundation donors, and government grants). And many people, obviously, who go to concerts don’t donate. I know one big orchestra that systematically tracks (or at least used to track) probated wills and large real estate sales, in order to find people in its city with lots of money, who weren’t yet in the donor database. These people would have been approached, regardless of whether they came to concerts. You can appeal to civic pride, the importance of this kind of culture to the city, etc., etc.

    But in the end, there’s a close relationship. Every orchestra knows the drill — you want to turn ticket=buyers into subscribers, subscribers into small donors, small donors into larger ones. And then there’s a final stage — if you’re a donor getting on in years, the orchestra hopes you’ll leave a bequest for it in your will. Orchestras talk about this progression, and work hard to make it happen. Obviously it starts with people who go to concerts.

    Beyond that, when you’re raising money, it’s good to be able to talk about success. And in this era of classical music crisis, a wonderful success would be attracting a new audience, whether these people were donors or not. If you’ve got a new, and even young audience, you look really good in the eyes of anyone you might approach for funds.

    Orchestras, from what I’m hearing, now tend to admit they sometimes press too hard to raise funds. Sometimes all you have to do is buy one ticket to hear the orchestra, and if they have your phone number, you’ll quickly get a call asking you to donate. The people getting those calls often find them offensive, and orchestras are learning to pull back, and only make direct approaches to people they’ve established a longer relationship with.

    One last thing. Sad but true. From a fundraising point of view, it’s better for an orchestra to have an older audience. The older people will donate more. If orchestras succeeded in attracting a large young audience, and the median audience age fell by quite a bit, this might actually hurt fundraising! This is a dilemma without any easy solution. It’s easy enough to say that orchestras (and of course other nonprofits, in classical music and outside of it) are too locked into their old ways of doing things. But it’s harder to say where they’re going to find money to balance their budgets, if they don’t keep doing things in all the old ways.

  2. Susanna Sloat says

    I loved Tully Scope, but I am not new audience. I am old audience, but someone who rarely goes to Tully because it is expensive. Not to mention what a bargain Tully Scope was is to miss a lot of its allure. You had only to buy one ticket at full price to get all the others you wanted for $20 plus a $3 “facility fee” (and what a turnoff these now ubiquitous extra fees are). I paid $45 for a balcony ticket for Jordi Savall’s wonderful concert combining old Spanish music with the Mexican music (much of it current folklore) it engendered. There was dancing, too, always a plus for me.

    $45 was the cheapest ticket; the others at full price were $60 and $75, which was the same for the other three concerts I attended at $23 a ticket. (Some of the new music concerts were cheaper, starting at $35). This marvelous bargain got me to Tully 4 times within 8 days. I saw Louis Lortie play Liszt’s Annees des pelerinage superbly. I love the music, hadn’t heard the pianist, but did have confidence that if Lincoln Center was presenting him in such a program he would have the technique to do it justice and he certainly did. I also went to Les Arts Florissants’ Rameau program, adding a ticket at $23 for a friend who also likes them. And I went to the Heiner Goebbels concert, also, bringing my husband, even though he didn’t remember that we had enjoyed a previous Goebbels concert at BAM. I wouldn’t have bought any of these 5 tickets if I had to pay full price for them, though they were all superior offerings of just the kinds of things I like. I hope they have Tully Scope again. Price counts.

  3. aleba gartner says

    add miller theatre and new york city opera to the list! you were at Monodramas on friday–what a spectacularly diverse audience, a very unusual one for classical music. and $12 to get in. miller’s “composer portraits” series continues to pack the house with curious attentive listeners from all walks of life. miller has increasingly been reaching out to the columbia students on campus, and a quick scan of the audience shows it’s working. $15 for students, $25 for all the rest. i think affordable + adventurous programming is a must.

  4. Declan says

    Maybe the Spring for Music festival at Carnegie Hall in May? 7 Orchestra playing a lot of new music for $25? I think they are trying to get a lot of new listeners in on it. I hope it works out, it looks kind of exciting!

  5. Liz says

    When you say “people who don’t normally go to classical performances,” do you mean mainly young people? I am so sick of this discussion of how the classical music world can attract a younger audience, and why aren’t they going, and do we even want them in the audience, etc.

    I’m a young person in NYC, and I attend opera and classical music concerts all the time. And I see many other young people at them. There are ways to get cheap and even free tickets via student discounts and other promotions, if you know where to look. I think the main difference is that young people don’t subscribe, they are more likely to buy tickets the day of, and that throws people off because it’s not how they prefer ticket-buyers to behave.

    I feel like the majority of people who have written about this topic ignore the young people who actually ARE attending. I agree that there should be a lot more of us, definitely. But reading these articles where people are shocked to find young people in the audience… I just think the writers aren’t looking around as much as they should at other concerts! We are there, I guarantee it. The young people I know who attend classical music events go because they are passionate about the music and the performers. Often I find that the younger audience is much more interested and invested in the concert than the older crowd. And I know that there are more people my age out there who would love to go to concerts, if it were a bit cheaper or if they were more aware of how to get discounted tickets.

    I have heard ideas to attract young people that include the use of interactive technology at the actual concert, and strange suggestions using social networking and the like… Those ideas upset me because it seems like there is an assumption being made that young people need this kind of technology to connect to an event or a piece of music, and that we wouldn’t be interested otherwise. That is just condescending! Not everyone needs a computer screen in front of them to have a life experience. And would we really want that kind of audience anyway? Ideas like this one: are what I’m mainly talking about. I think it would completely ruin the concert-going experience for the rest of the audience, all to attract a few new listeners.

    I think that, like Aleba said, people need to focus on how to tap into the core group of young music lovers out there by offering cheaper tickets and interesting programming. The audience is out there.

    Hi, Liz,

    Interesting that you pick out that Orchestra Scoreboards post as something that stereotypes a younger audience. The guy who wrote it is in his early 20s, and has been to many orchestra concerts because his wife plays an orchestral instrument. He’s talking about what he, specifically, would like to see at concerts, to help him relate to what’s going on. So if you reject what he’s saying, and think it isn’t representative of younger people, then aren’t you stereotyping a younger audience in your own way? I’ve seen (on the blog and elsewhere) a lot of positive response from younger people to what Mike wrote.

    I think a difficulty, in wrestling with these questions, is getting a full picture of what’s going on, something that goes beyond our own experience. I’ve been to orchestra concerts in a number of US cities, and at the Boston Symphony I’ve seen a notable number of younger people. Likewise in NY. But not in Cleveland, St. Louis, Newark (New Jersey Symphony concerts at NJPAC), or St. Paul or Washington. Or on college campuses, as a rule, where there obviously are a lot of younger people, but they don’t, for the most part, go to classical concerts held at their schools, even when their fellow students are playing.

    And then there are studies and statistics. 50 years ago the classical audience was no older than the rest of the population. Starting around 1970, it started to age. In the ’80s, the percentage of young people in it fell in half. Now some classical music institutions are doing reasonably well selling student tickets, but the general rule seems to be that the students come just once, and never return. But then that’s true of most people of any age buying single tickets to orchestra concerts.

    And then there’s the interesting question of whether the younger people at mainstream classical concerts are typical of their generation. The events I’ve seen the largest percentage of younger people at have been concerts in NY that feature new music. For instance, the NY Philharmonic’s performances of Ligeti’s opera Le grand macabre, when a huge audience of younger people showed up, replacing the usual Philharmonic subscribers.

    But from what I’ve heard, the younger people who go to other Philharmonic concerts don’t want to hear new music. So they’re in some kind of different taste category from the enthusiastic crowd that showed up for Ligeti. And might not be the young audience the Philharmonic could most successfully reach. To put this differently, yes, you do see younger people (in varying numbers, depending on what city you’re in, and of course on other factors) at some classical concerts, but you see a lot more for new music events. So the young people at the standard events might actually not be all that representative. And the largest young audience you could get is one that’s not coming to the mainstream events, and — to judge from the new music events that do get them excited — might never come to the mainstream concerts.

    Hope this was clear! These are very tricky questions, and it’s good to have you help us all think about them.

  6. says

    I like your posts about the culture in New York. I live in Los Angeles and clearly it is a much different cultural scene than what describe in New York. There is still a very prevalent scene in Southern California but it is much different and more relaxed. Thanks for sharing.