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Come to every concert in our season – for just $25

The conductor Leonard Slatkin has been in touch with his latest plans to revitalise the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Rather than editorialize, we decided to share what he has to say – and some of it is pretty revolutionary. Leonard, take it away:

Tonight we will open our season.  As with most of our concerts this year, we are sold out.  This is due to a new price structuring including a card which permits any student to obtain a ticket for the cost of $25 dollars.  Oh, this fee is for the entire season, so if you buy the card now, that is all you pay for the whole year.  We have sold 1,300 of these and as a result we are seeing a younger audience.

Every week that we have a subscription concert, we video stream a performance.  It is free.  The musicians realized that the definition of “audience” has changed and that there really is no difference between those attending the live event and those watching on their computers or mobile devices. The musicians do not get extra pay for this and there is no complaint.

We have a number of people who do not like to travel downtown.  Last season we started a community program, where we perform in six different venues in six different suburbs.  There are four concerts in each and they are all sold-out.  This year we will start a shuttle service that will bring audience members to our hall if they want the experience of the magnificent Orchestra Hall.

Contributed revenue is up 33% over last year.  This has enabled us to announce a balanced budget for this season, barring any unforeseen downturn. Relations between the musicians and board are very good now.  Everyone is working toward long range goals.  I hate to say it, but it is possible that the strike actually produced a good result.  Of course it would have been best to settle early but such was simply not the case.

There was much talk of not being able to attract first class talent here.  That has been upended with the recent hires we have made.  A fantastic concertmaster, amazing first flute, great Cor Anglais and the list goes on.  Rather than shunning Detroit, we are now a destination, as musicians know that something good is happening here.

There is still a long road ahead. We must replenish the endowment.  I am hoping that in a couple years we will be able to increase our salary base and possible the number of weeks we play, although the latter is determined purely by market demand.

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  1. That’s how it’s done.

    Somewhat related: Numerous Cleveland Orchestra concerts in the 1960s were telecast on our local public television station. Because the musicians’ union was unwilling to permit re-broadcasts, the video tape was erased while a union representative observed.

    I’ll be watching these webcasts from Detroit. I may even head up there if seats are available.

  2. As a musician, I think this is a great system. I hope that endeavors like these will be help build a greater audience and will encourage greater funding from local government and philanthropists.

  3. This is known as the Saint Paul (chamber orchestra) model. Make ticket prices universally accessible but hit them all up for donations. Unfortunately, this did not work long term for Saint Paul. Let’s see if Detroit can make it work.

  4. Any marketing professional can tell you this devalues tickets in the long run. The only thing this teaches the DSO public is that classical music isn’t worth much and that in the future, they would be suckers to pay more. Since orchestras are not publicly funded, this is a bad idea and it will take them decades to get their so called “earned income” in the form of ticket prices back up. The board members will conveniently forget that the reason revenue is down because of this short-term tactic to boost attendance and then will turn around and wag their fingers at the musicians and say, “see? people don’t value classical music much any more”. Until DSO finds an angel donor who gives a crazy amount to their endowment so they can give away concerts to “the people”, this will backfire.

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Mr. Slatkin writes that the $25 price is offered to all students. He doesn’t indicate that the $25 price is offered to all DSO concert-goers.

      I commonly attended Boston Symphony concerts for the price of a thank you letter during my own years as a student. And when I was away from Conservatory, I would tune in to Evening at Symphony, on PBS television. Today, I’m quite happy to purchase a ticket when I want to attend a performance.

  5. I think this is a VERY GOOD system.

  6. Stephen Carpenter says:

    Breath of fresh air. A lot of what I’ve read (and hold) as “beliefs” about music are wrapped up here. It’s a great alternative to a dark and silent hall in a space that desperately needs some light. Can I get the video stream in my un-symphonied area. please?

  7. Still another orchestra musician says:

    So, there is no complaint from the musicians of the Detroit Symphony who are making about $24,000 less than they were two years ago? How interesting.

  8. As I understand the article – it is only students who are able to get the $25 deal. Presumably in the hope that when they are no longer eligible, they’ll cough up for higher prices. Sounds like a great idea in that case.

  9. Linda Grace says:

    The $25 student passes have worked out well in Philadelphia, though the students do not get passes to all concerts. If a concert will have student passes available or not available, a student gets an email notice and must sign up.
    Then, the signed up students wait in the lobby until the last minute, and are seated in the open seats.

    Perhaps it was a last ditch attempt to get some of the high priced seats filled, a short few years back when there was not a music director, not a board chair, and not a president. I don’t mean incompetents, I mean, no one. The $25 seats had nothing to do with the recent bankruptcy IMHO, except perhaps as a reflection of ongoing lack of leadership for years and years.

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