How the Toronto Symphony Lures the Under-35 Crowd

Monday, July 04, 2011 - 10:17 PM

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.

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Comments [4]

Tony from USA

I find it strange that following the classical concert bands are brought in for the "after-party." Is this to make the classical music more palpable? Why not small chamber ensembles on a more informal level?

Jul. 30 2011 09:23 PM
bill from NJ

Interesting, they are showing some thought. What is kind of ironic is if you think about it, in baroque and classical times music was often played over dinner, the music was part of a large gathering of people eating and drinking, so in some ways this is a throwback.

I am sure some of the purists and the old farts who insist that classical music should be like going to church in the 1800's, but I think this is a marvelous idea, it is making classical music part of an enjoyable night, rather then what it often is, a stuffy gathering in a sterile concert hall that makes you feel like a 6 year old that needs to be on their best behavior at grandmas house or face wrath....and why not have musicians mixing with the audience? One of the biggest problems with classical musicians and conductors is that the traditional style is to have this mystical wall between the musicians and conductor and the audience that says "I am above you, hands off". Some of the most enjoyable times I have had at concerts is in pre concert talks or in meet and great the musicians talk about the music and about themselves, makes it personal.

The article mentioned the NY Phil, while I have a great deal of respect for Allen Gilbert and suspect he knows what needs to be done, they need to do a lot more then they already have to get younger audiences, Mehta and the rest of the people running the show have made clear by, for example, cancelling the concerts in the parks and not finding a way to do the 9/11 memorial concert in the park, that they still think they need to focus on the dowagers, not the young. Put it this way, having the memorial 9/11 concert in the mausaleum that is Avery Fisher is pretty much putting on a concert for the patrons and the connected, and giving a big raspberry to everyone else.

Jul. 16 2011 11:44 PM
Michael Meltzer

Choral and chamber music group have been aware for years that the post-concert reception is the best time and place for their development people to circulate and drum up additional support from known benefactors and recruit new benefactors.
Peter Oundjian was the music director at Caramoor, it wouldn't be a surprise if he had a strong hand in Toronto's new approach.
When we've figured out how to successfully present classical music as "fun," we will have guaranteed its future.

Jul. 07 2011 03:05 AM
LES from Washington DC

Yes, yes, yes, it could work, and in some places definitely is working. The NY Phil has a program for younger audiences. Walking through the lobby one Saturday night, I noticed the place was packed with utes (youths) milling about, though I have no idea what the subscription level is like. In Washington, I recently attended with my children (17 and 19) a free NSO 2011-12 season preview concert, and again it was packed with young people mainly in their 20's and 30's. There is definitely an interest; the trick is making it part of their lifestyle. Centering concerts around social gatherings (parties) seems like a great idea. The Kennedy Center has a beautiful and gianormous terrace overlooking the Potomac River that would be an ideal location for this.

Jul. 05 2011 11:05 AM

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