LIVE Blog – Talking About Audiences – Event and Webcast

What follows is a live blog from our Talking About Audiences event in San Francisco on Sunday, May 13.

Speakers included:

  • Keynote: Alan Gilbert, Music Director, New York Philharmonic in conversation with Matthew VanBesien, Executive Director Designate, New York Philharmonic
  • Spotlight #1: Sunil Iyengar, Director of Research & Analysis, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Spotlight #2: Elizabeth Scott, Chief Media and Digital Officer, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts; formerly V.P., Major League Baseball Productions
  • Roundtable: Spotlight speakers in conversation with Brent Assink, Executive Director, San Francisco Symphony; Matthew VanBesien, Executive Director Designate, New York Philharmonic; Mark Clague, associate professor of music, University of Michigan, and Steven Winn, San Francisco arts journalist and author


4:33pm Audience member: Orchestral music is a more positive experience than bull-fighting.

4:30pm Assink: Orchestras have an important role to play in getting rid of the divide between professional and amateur musician.

4:24pm The NY Phil does do dynamic pricing. But as a mission driven organization, it’s also about making tickets available to people so price isn’t a barrier.

4:17pm An audience member’s point: the first introduction someone often has to the art form if they are thinking about coming is the box office.

4:16pm In some ways, modern technology offers a more robust “baseball card” – the stats, pictures, behind-the-scenes info.

4:11pm Winn: Concert etiquette changes. Centuries ago people ate and drank in the concert hall. So in some ways, it’s all artificial.

4:07pm What is the role of concert etiquette? VanBesien: this is a sensitive subject for orchestras. We like the ritual, but we need people to come who haven’t been to the concert hall before.

4:00pm Assink: We listen with our eyes. The concept of removing the elevation of the stage is a great metaphor for what orchs are trying to do though.

3:54pm Scott: But that can’t be the only thing we’re aspiring to. There have to be other experiences for the audience. We are one of a many entertainment experiences. You don’t want to be a passenger, you want to co-author the experience, you want to give feedback. And as much as we facilitate that, we make audience feels like they have a voice.

3:54pm Assink: Quality of the performance on the stage depends on the energy coming from the audience. We leave uplifted, partly from what happens on stage, but also what happens when we share it. Audience surveys show people come for a deep experience, and to share it with 2500 strangers. That’s meaningful. Those of us who run orchestras, are nervous about losing that.

3:49pm Winn: Everyone, even now, has their own experience as an audience member. To read the program notes or not, to glance at them during the music, that’s get some people more involved. To others it’s a distraction.

3:49pm Iyengar: What has worked? VanBesien: We have not found the sweet spot in the orchestral world for digital capture and distribution. Still figuring it out. But the win for us is always what draws people into the live experience.

3:46pm Scott: We need many different keys for many different audiences to open the door. Here are the many different ways you can experience this.

3:43pm Scott: technology can democratize. This is great, but feels unnatural for the industry in a lot of ways.

3:41pm Assink remembers asking a musician to talk to the audience. He said no. “No, they have to look at me with a bit of mystery.” The orchestral field has for a long time put up a wall between the musician and the audience.

3:35pm Brent Assink: received wisdom was that people take a break from regular attendance to raise families and come back when they are older. But that’s been turned on its head with recent research. VanBesien: if they are not coming back, is it that they consume arts in a different way. Or if we delivered it differently, would they come.

Spotlight #2

3:13pm In a few years at the movies, you might hear “please turn on your cell phone” not please turn them off. Arts need to be proactive and be there.

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