If interest in classical in waning, why then, when BBC Radio 3 offered Beethoven symphonies online a few months ago, did Beethoven draw an astonishing 1,369,893 downloads? How can we downgrade classical to esoteric when the Philadelphia Orchestra drew an estimated 8,000 listeners for its neighborhood concert at Montgomery County Community College in July? That's three times the capacity of Verizon Hall. What these two happy events have in common is a characteristic that's inconvenient for classical music presenters to consider: Both were free....
Given the escalation of ticket prices for orchestral concerts in the last few decades, plus the expanding number of entertainment options, the mystery in classical music is why times aren't even tougher than they are. Quite by accident a couple of months ago, I came across a routine Philadelphia Orchestra press release from Nov. 23, 1975, announcing a subscription program. Tickets were listed at $2, $3.50, $4, $4.50, $5, $7, $7.50, $8 - with the top ticket price a big $8.50. A complete listing for the season shows the highest ticket for a regular subscription concert was $10.50. Converted into 2005 dollars, that would mean the top ticket price to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra today should be $39.33.
Of course, it's not. The highest ticket price next season will be $122 - an escalation three times the inflation rate.
The whole piece is worth reading. Dobrin acknowledges the difficulty of bringing ticket prices back down, but urges that something be done to make concerts more affordable. Expensive marketing ventures might turn out to be utterly unnecessary if people had to pay less. See Marc Geelhoed for broader thoughts on current orchestra issues.