In an orchestra world pummeled by strikes, deficits and closures, some recent news from the Toronto Symphony has been far brighter. This month, the orchestra reported that 35% of its audience is younger than 35 years old.
How did they do it -- especially after coming near bankruptcy in 1995 and 2001, a major labor dispute in 1999, plus half-full halls, crippling debt and a CEO and conductor who jumped ship? Three things: Shorter concerts, cheaper tickets and more partying.
A new after-work concert series catered to commuters and a shorter Saturday night series was followed each time by a party in the lobby where musicians and the audience could mingle, drink and listen to local bands, reports the Los Angeles Times. The orchestra also offers the “tsoundcheck” program (the “t” is silent), which offers $14 tickets to those from 18 to 35. In 2001, the TSO sold 5,700 tsoundcheck tickets. Last year, the number was 23,000.
That’s not all. A new TSO Young Leadership Council has upped the ante and has begun hosting a pre-concert tailgate party in the orchestra’s parking lot. According to the Globe and Mail, “for $75 you get a barbecue dinner, beer, wine and a main-floor ticket to the concert. After the final cadence of Mahler's Fifth Symphony sounds inside the hall, the party will continue in the lobby with music by Toronto band Paisley Jura.”
Conventional wisdom holds that orchestras generally program trying to appease the their older patrons, who are the big donors. Yet a perusal of the TSO’s donor literature suggests that the under-35 initiatives are a big selling point for corporate donors rather than a pet project that’s pushed off to one side. Could this serve as a model for other orchestras? Please leave your comments below.