Walking the walk.11 December 2017 by Marc Taddei
I’ve been overwhelmed by the success that the Vallejo Symphony Orchestra and Orchestra Wellington have been having in terms of their audience and subscription numbers. Orchestra Wellington has the largest average subscription numbers and paid attendance per concert of any orchestra in New Zealand. The Vallejo Symphony Orchestra has just hit a milestone for their subscription campaign – they are currently at their highest levels in a generation.
In the past I have stressed the importance of programming in terms of audience appeal, and I stand by this assertion – programming is the elemental foundation of what we do. Excellence in performance, effective marketing, venue considerations, pricing structures, and presentation – innovative or otherwise – all flow on from the initial repertoire choices that are made.
When these aspects are carefully considered, there is every chance that the community will become excited and support the orchestra.
I want to consider another aspect of audience engagement that is also a vital part of the equation, in my opinion. This is the concept of connection – making the audience feel a part of the orchestral culture. If you subscribe to the belief as I do, that the audience completes the idea of live performance, it is imperative for our audiences to be engaged .
A lot of orchestras speak about playing for their communities, or being “their orchestra”, but in my view orchestras need to act on these comments, walking the walk, as it were.
Orchestras are at their most effective and meaningful when the rational for their choices is made clear to the public. Even better, in my view. are orchestras that are prepared to enter a dialogue with their public. Questionnaires are great value in this regard, but then so are pre-concert talks, informative websites, and individual discussions. In my experience, audiences really like to be engaged.
For me, a great orchestra is one that not only performs to a inspirational standard and chooses their repertoire wisely, but also one that is accessible and completely engages. The idea of accessibility can mean many things. Much depends on the community/city in which the orchestra resides. In a city of millions, it may well be enough to engage an audience based on reputation and excellence, but I would suggest that the finest world-class orchestras operate on a far more nuanced and inclusive plane than that.
As a student of the art, I watch with interest how classical music organisations frame their offerings to their public, and the apparent level of consideration that they may (or may not) give to engagement.
I am absolutely accepting in my observations – if an orchestra has success by means other than I suggest, more power to them! For me however, I stress the idea of complete engagement with the audience. Respecting and acknowledging the audience, and bringing them into the discussion is all part of the artistic package that has helped grow our audiences.