Can Cleveland Really Attract the Country's Youngest Orchestra Audience?

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The graying of audiences is a perennial, if growing concern for symphony orchestras. Recent data from the National Endowment for the Arts shows that senior citizens are the fastest-growing segment of the classical music audience, while 35- to 54-year-olds are turning way. One presumed reason for younger people's reluctance is the price of entry.

Four years ago, the Cleveland Orchestra saw this as a significant problem and set itself an ambitious goal: to have the country's youngest symphony audience by the time it turns 100, in 2018. Central to its effort is an all-you-can-hear "Fan Card," which, for $50, allows students to attend as many concerts they want in a season. There are also $10 student tickets, and concert-goers under 18 can attend summer concerts at the Blossom Music Festival for free.

The entire initiative is supported with a $20 million grant from Milton and Tamar Maltz, longtime orchestra benefactors. As we hear on this week's episode, Cleveland seems to be making some headway: In 2010, students made up 8 percent of the audience. Last year, according to the orchestra’s figures, the number was 20 percent.

Joining us is Craig Duff, a journalist and producer who teaches at the Medill School at Northwestern University. He reported on Cleveland's initiative this week with a story and a nearly six-minute video for the New York Times.

Segment Highlights:

Can Cleveland really verify that they have the country's youngest audiences?

"When I buy a ticket they don't ask me how old I am. But they can track student tickets. Since orchestras don't all count their people the same way with the same metrics and data, there's really no way for them to know for sure. But they plan to prove by, for anyone looking into the hall to see that they have a very young audience."

On the orchestra's attempts turn weekend evenings at Severance Hall into date nights:

"The evening that I was there, there was a program of Rachmaninoff and some Strauss waltzes. Then you walk out [into the lobby] and you're greeted by the New York Gypsy All-Stars playing, with colorful lights and a bar. It was very vibrant with people dancing...There were definitely some couples on dates."

Adding outreach concerts in bars and neighborhood porches:

"It's hard to measure the impact of these. But it does give the orchestra a larger footprint and helps people know that music is not just the stuffy people in tuxedos on the stage, that it can come into your community, on your porch or in your neighborhood."

Listen to the full segment above and tell us in the comments: what do you think would most draw younger people to orchestra concerts?

Below: Cleveland Orchestra musicians perform a "porch concert" in Cleveland: