Audience Development

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I belong to an amateur symphony orchestra. Just as full professional orchestras need financing, we obviously depend on good audiences to pay the expenses incurred in putting on a concert. Recently a debate took place at our AGM and some members and officials asserted that programme choice had little to do with audience size in their experience. I reminded them of a popular concert we gave in 2008 where West Side Story (Bernstein) and An American in Paris (Gershwin) were played as well as Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto. This was a sell-out, a thing that has not happened for more than 20 years where we had played more classical works.

When I decide to attend a concert I am attracted first by the repertoire and to a degree by the performer. And of course one can only manage to take in and afford a limited number of performances in a given period.

This week I decided not to go to the Hallé at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, despite Mark Elder conducting and despite the programme including Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 5 which I have never heard and would like to discover. The reason being I don’t care for Holst’s The Planets very much and was more attracted by the Michelangelo Quartet on Monday playing Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schumann.

One cannot help noticing though that attendances for series like the Manchester Chamber Music Society, whatever the programme, are much better than for mainstream works by excellent performers which are organised by the Royal Northern College of Music on an ad hoc basis.

A very few composers (Gershwin in particular) will put me off virtually whatever else is on the programme. I did sit through a Gershwin medley once in order to hear Charles Ives’s Symphony No. 4, but I think I would rather sit in the bar than listen to any more Gershwin again.

In my experience with local orchestras and choirs, the main factors for building up and retaining an audience are the willingness and energy of players and singers to sell tickets to friends, the literal and metaphorical warmth and comfort of the venue, the welcome from front of house staff and conductor and a programme of music which appeals to your regular audience and which introduces them to something new.

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One Response to “Audience Development”

  1. […] Original post by Robin Gosnall […]

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