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Recession, what recession? Big Five orchestra announces record ticket sales

It’s Cleveland and they are boucing back. Highest-ever box-office in November-December, heading for an alltime record on ticket sales, up to one-fifth of the audience are students.

Here’s the release, just in:


Cleveland Orchestra ticket sales setting new records


Ticket Sales in November and December up 62% over previous year


Cleveland Orchestra Season Sales on track to set all-time record



CLEVELAND – The Cleveland Orchestra’s 2012-13 Severance Hall season ticket sales revenue is on track to set a new all-time record, driven by the best-ever ticket sales in November and December.


The value of tickets sold for the Orchestra’s performances in November and December totaled $2.8 million, an increase of 62% over the same time last year.  Holiday Festival ticket sales increased to an all-time record of $1,177,271, 16% over the previous record of $1,013,000 in 2007.   The Orchestra’s November and December schedule featured a wide range of programs, including Classical, Celebrity, KeyBank Fridays@7 concerts, and Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, with live accompaniment.  The Holiday Festival included traditional Christmas Concerts along with performances of The Nutcracker and two concerts featuring Pink Martini.

Sales for the 2012-13 Severance Hall season, which runs from September through May, are already 24% ahead of last year at the same time.  Current season ticket sales revenue is on track to achieve an all-time record of $7.6 million, surpassing the previous record set in 2000-01, and $1.3 million more than last season.


A total of 47,531 people purchased tickets to 26 Cleveland Orchestra concerts in November and December.  This was an increase of 28% in attendance and a 9% growth in the number of new patrons at Severance Hall, compared to attendance at 25 concerts during the same time period in 2011.  Over the two-month period in 2012, venues reached an average of 92% capacity at the 26 performances.  Five sold-out performances of The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker with The Cleveland Orchestra, presented at PlayhouseSquare, were attended by 15,234 people.  A surge of student attendees, combined with the diversity of programming and focus on social media, led to the growth.  The focus on social media has resulted in considerable growth in sales online, contributing to the overall revenue increase.  The Orchestra has increased its social media presence by 300% in the past 6 months.  More than 33,000 people from around the world follow the Orchestra on Facebook and Twitter.


“Northeast Ohioans are clearly responding to the Orchestra’s strategic innovations.  More people are attending a wider variety of our programs, and the significant increase in the number of new patrons at Severance Hall is extraordinary,” said Cleveland Orchestra Executive Director Gary Hanson.  “Our commitment to student attendance and a younger audience is part of a Cleveland Orchestra renaissance, as we commit to being evermore relevant to our hometown and evermore devoted to community service.”


The number of students attending Cleveland Orchestra concerts at Severance Hall has more than doubled over the same period last year.  This season, more than 200 students, on average, are attending every evening subscription concert — at some concerts, students have represented 20% of the audience.


New initiatives and promotions are attracting more students to Cleveland Orchestra concerts.  The Student Frequent FanCard gives students flexibility and encourages frequency of attendance, and the Under 18s Free ticket program, launched at the 2011 Blossom Festival, expanded this season to Severance Hall.  A network of a dozen student ambassadors, representing five area colleges, volunteer their time promoting student concert-going and help to create a vital social media presence around The Cleveland Orchestra.

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  1. The high sales figures certainly bear out what I saw Saturday night. Severance Hall was packed, despite the flu epidemic that resulted in a coughy audience.

  2. Amy Adams says:

    Now, why on EARTH can’t the Twin Cities pull off a similar feat? Their median income is higher, there are more college degrees floating around…
    The Cleveland players even ratified a new contract. With. A. Pay. Increase.

  3. Another positive factor the press release doesn’t mention is the vigorous development program that’s being undertaken in University Circle, where Severance Hall is located. In just the past two years, the Art Museum has undergone a large expansion, two new upscale apartment buildings with retail on the ground floors have been constructed, and a new museum of contemporary art has been built. There is much more to come. All these have made University Circle into a destination neighborhood, with people going to one of the many restaurants for dinner, then enjoying a relaxing walk, rather than just parking their cars and rushing into Severance. The whole area has a vibrancy about it that I didn’t see in the previous several decades I’ve been going there.

  4. In other words, a decent development strategy brings in audience members without cut-rate ticket prices and provides for decent musician salaries without going in the red.

    Huh. What a concept.

    • Keep in mind, though, that Hank doesn’t mean “development” in the sense of an orchestra’s development department (i.e., fundraising). What’s going on at University Circle in Cleveland is development in the sense of urban planning and real estate.

      The “development” (in the latter sense – those aren’t scare quotes) at University Circle is very good for the Cleveland Orchestra (and vice versa), but it’s not something over which the CleveOrch has any real control. If Severance Hall didn’t happen to be in University Circle, obviously the CleveOrch woldn’t be benefiting from the development there at all.

      So the development strategy isn’t necessarily something that either of the Twin Cities orchestras, for instance, could apply.

      • Stephen Carpenter says:

        I would just say that the close examination of what is happening at University Circle in both general and specific terms is probably not only scalable in size and scope but also malleable (as all ideas and concepts are). Think metaphorically with an eye to what is happening at Cleveland.

        What seems to show in the cracks is that there is a general commitment to make it work and to make that happen unapologetically and without gimmicks.

        Planning and development of the footprint kind happens every day. The key is to be involved in the glass walled front room.

        • Absolutely, Stephen.

          My point was only that orchestras are usually stuck with the concert hall locations they already have. So, for instance, the New York Philharmonic or the Philadelphia Orchestra could certainly apply lessons from the Cleveland Orchestra’s ticket pricing and programming policies, the changes at University Circle from which the Cleveland Orchestra is benefiting aren’t likely to happen in the neighborhoods around Lincoln Center or Broad Street and Rittenhouse Square. (In those two cases, similar changes to the neighborhoods happened decades ago.) Or, for a different example, what about the Kansas City Symphony and its shining new venue up on the hill – is there a neighborhood around it to be developed?

          So yes, those ideas really do have to be malleable.

          And yes, the key is indeed to be involved in the glass-walled front room when planning and development of the footprint kind takes place – if you can get the people there to let you in.

    • Paul D. Sullivan, Boston US says:


      This strategy has worked well for the BSO. Very heavy discounts for students and somewhat less for those under 40. Old faithfuls like myself pay top dollar for a full years subscription and still pay the heavy handling fee for additional tickets even on line. No breaks for us. Programing has also fallen back to the usual suspects (Beethoven, Brahms. Schubert, Mahler etc.) which to me is quite boring. That being said I have seen a large rise in students and young people attending concerts and the house has been pretty full. In a sense, although the BSO look at themselves as a world class orchestra, the are in fact no more than a parochial regional one. Outside of a couple of trips to New York they no longer tour, don’t record and their core support is strictly in New England. I’m not saying that they are not immensely talented, they are, but, like their repertoire, it all seems a bit dated and dusty.. This is reflected in the dress of the members, particularly the men. Shabby evening wear, stains, socks around their ankles and shoes that have seen little or no polish or even worse black leather sneakers!! Thankfully the female dress well.

      • Sad situation. But I would bet – and we all hope – that it will get better once the Boston Symphony finally hires a music director who’s able to show up and do the job.

        It’s very unfortunate – and demoralizing for the musicians, I’m sure – that there hasn’t been a music director properly in place there since Ozawa left. On the other hand (in light of the Philadelphia/Eschenbach saga as well as Levine’s aborted tenure), I can understand why the BSO board wants to wait for a candidate who’s a truly good match for the orchestra.

    • Except presumably someone somewhere goes deeply in to the red to fund said development in the first place. You are merely shifting the cost, not eradicating it.
      Besides, one orchestra commented on here a lot wanted to use a ton of ring-fenced facilities development money to, guess what?, develop their facilities, and there was outcry! How dare they! Think of the poor players first!

      • @Anon

        The outrage in Minnesota isn’t over developing facilities. It’s about raising money for developing facilities while simultaneously (and falsely) trumpeting extraordinary financial health. Money is a secondary concern in Minnesota. We’re more concerned with flagrant abuse of trust.

  5. David S. Naden says:

    Congratulations to the Cleveland Orchestra and Maestro Franz Welser-Moest on their record ticket sales. The rough economy notwithstanding, this is a clear indication of the importance of orchestral music–and music in general–in everyday life. Continued success to Cleveland in continuing to woo audiences locally, nationally and internationally.

  6. None of this is contributing to Cleveland’s bottom line, which has been supported by Miami for the last several years.

  7. I’m restraining my excitement for a few years. It wasn’t that long ago that the SPCO was trumpeting record attendance as a result of discounting. Is this growth any more sustainable? I hope so – Cleveland’s one of the greats.

    • David S. Naden says:


      You are so correct. Cleveland IS one of the great orchestras, and I wish the orchestra much success in continued audience growth.

  8. Connie Davis says:

    The Cleveland Orchestra is spectacular and worthy of a full house for every performance. As Gary Hanson takes all the credit for building a younger audience, he neglected to mention that the generous donations of $20 million from the Maltz family foundation and $5 million from Alexander and Sarah Cutler made this possible by subsidizing tickets for students. Let’s not forget our very generous visionary 1% who make Cleveland’s arts institutions, particularly our orchestra and the Cleveland Museum of Arts, among the best in the world.

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