Just a couple of days ago, Barry Johnson of The Oregonian, suggested in an article that the Oregon Symphony "do less with more" by cutting back its classical subscription series to just six concerts. I hate this idea, because it strikes me as one in which the orchestra has thrown in its spit rags and be placed on a level with much, much smaller orchestras. Heck, I review the Vancouver Symphony across the river for The Columbian, and that ensemble manages to mount six concerts a year. Of course, the rebuttal is that the Oregon Symphony could perform six incredible concerts to sold-out audiences. Well, the problem with just six concerts is that the orchestra would probably lose the services of its music director Carlos Kalmar and a lot of the symphony's roster, because they would try to make a living elsewhere. So, the Oregon Symphony would end up with a journeyman conductor, part-time orchestra members, six mediocre concerts, and suffer a loss momentum and prestige.
Last year, the Oregon Symphony closed out its most successful year ever in terms of ticket sales, and though tickets sales have fallen off at the beginning of this year, that doesn't mean that the orchestra has to abandon hope. The orchestra has responded by offering its ticket stub incentive, and I would wager that there will be other ideas that might help to stimulate sales. A couple of years ago the orchestra faced a similar start to the season and ended up selling over $5 million dollars in tickets.
I don't know how many music students from Portland State University attend concerts, but I do know that there are more music students than ever before and that its boasts 23 full-time faculty members and 35 part-time faculty members. Plenty of students are studying music at Lewis & Clark, the University of Portland, Reed, Warner Pacific, and PCC. Most of these students probably cannot afford to purchase a season series of Oregon Symphony concerts, but they can be tapped into for cheap tickets and help to create a buzz for the orchestra's concerts.
For more than thirty years, people have been writing about the aging demographics of symphony goers, but that's just a lot of crap. If that were true, then all of the audience at the Schnitz would be in their 90s. People get interested in classical music for all sorts of reasons, and one of the main reasons is that people just get tired of listening to popular music - partly because most pieces of popular music last only three minutes. So many people become avid listeners of classical music after the age of 40.
Even though the current economic situation is terrible, this is not the time for the orchestra to think small. The orchestra is playing better than ever. It delivers terrific musical experiences. Just to compare a bit, the Portland Trailblazers are not cutting back their season. They are expecting to contend for the NBA championship, and I think that they will sell out most of their games (and those tickets are expensive). With the Oregon Symphony, we've got a top-tier orchestra that does our state proud. Its musicians competed for an invitation to Carnegie Hall and got it. It deserves the support of anyone who is interested in great music-making. I think that a rallying cry is in order. To hell with a six-concert season!