What has happened to the symphony audience?
On Friday morning, I witnessed what I think is the all-time smallest audience at the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra I have ever seen. Lately, Friday concerts -- evening and morning -- have appeared to attract about 800 people. This weekend, it looked to be about half that many -- 400 people.
This is indeed sad, for an orchestra that is playing better than ever. There were no busloads of school children, which in the past has boosted the attendance. I didn't even see any children who are home-schooled. And of course, at an 11 a.m. concert, the audience you're going to get consists of people who do not work or are retired -- a limited crowd at best.
So the big question is -- should the symphony continue this morning series, or even have Friday night concerts any more? Does the orchestra have too much "product" for its customers? Maybe it needs to scale back its concerts entirely -- and make up the services providing music lessons to kids at CPS.
What is the orchestra doing to change its image in a rapidly changing world? I think the plasma screens (now gone) were a good thing -- but they won't bring the crowds out, week after week.
Do they need a massive marketing campaign? What about all those kids (and parents) who participate in huge band and orchestra programs in the burbs? How do you reach them? Is the orchestra stuffing every mailbox of every college kid every weekend at our local universities -- like they do in other cities?
On Friday, as I looked out on this sad state during what was a truly fine concert with guest maestro James DePreist and pianist Louis Lortie, I thought that perhaps the orchestra should have made this a dress rehearsal, with free tickets, and they might have gotten more people. At the VERY LEAST, they should be filling some of those seats with FREE tickets to young people, rather than pricing schools out of symphony concerts by charging them to attend. The schools have enough expense just hiring buses.
What's the solution??