Enlarging the audience or shrinking the hall?

Drew McManus’ Adaptistration, is an excellent blog that deals with music and related issues. You can visit Drew at drewmcmanus.net, and that will connect you to his blog.

The Utah Symphony Orchestra has announced that it plans to deal with their dwindling audiences by blocking off a number of seats in Abravanel Hall, their main performance venue. This has caused quite an outcry among their subscribers. This post of mine is a response to a posting on this very subject in Adaptistration:

“Good morning, Drew. Interesting and all too true. Outside of major metropolitan centers where classical music is well-established, such as New York, Chicago, and Boston, audiences for classical music are shrinking. This is not statistical data, but first-hand experience. Concert halls in many major European capitals, as well the vast majority of opera houses in mid-size cities in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and France are much, much smaller than their American counterparts. And we all know they have – halls, music, musicians, audience – been around for much, much longer than their American counterparts.

The size of most halls in mid-size American cities, such as those mentioned in your article – Salt Lake City, for example- is much too capacious. While marketing ploys, such as twofers and giveaways might crack open the doors to the concert halls, only a radical re-invention of the traditional symphonic concert, as we know it, will truly throw those doors wide open and begin to expand the audience that now stays away in droves.

This season I have been to approximately forty musical performances between September and now. Even with a brand-new performing arts center and all the accompanying hoopla, I have seen an alarming number of empty seats in concert after concert and opera after opera.

Only the New World Symphony – which performs in the intimate Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, does regularly fill the house. Part of that is programming that assures the concertgoer that classical music is not a soporific 19th century (and earlier) art form.

The way those programs are presented also makes them much more accessible, and by that I mean casual, with spoken introductions by the conductor, projected program commentary, and so forth.

My good wishes go to the management and musicians of the Utah Symphony Orchestra for their efforts to enlarge their audience.”

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