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St. Louis Symphony Aims To Attract New Audiences With Lower Prices, New Policies

The St. Louis Symphony performs at Powell Hall in a 2016 concert.
File photo | St. Louis Symphony
The St. Louis Symphony Orchestra will make several changes to its 2019-20 season, including a reduced base ticket price of $15.

When the St. Louis Symphony begins its 2019-20 season in September, concert-goers will notice changes orchestra managers hope will broaden its appeal. 

With a reduced base ticket price of $15 for classical shows, a change that will allow patrons to bring drinks into the concert hall and diverse musical offerings, the SLSO's new season aims to better attract younger listeners, people of color and first-time attendees.

In making the changes, the symphony is joining orchestras across the nation that are experimenting with ways to grow their audiences and expand interest in classical music.

“Our great desire in creating access is to engage the community and see the St. Louis Symphony as a community partner and a go-to resource,” SLSO President and CEO Marie-Hélène Bernard said.

The changes will help people see that going to Powell Hall is just as affordable as going to the movies, Bernard said.

The new pricing is just one way the symphony can appeal to a broader audience, along with collaborations between area school districts and the symphony to increase awareness and interest in classical music, she said.

Bernard said the orchestra is making new changes to excite audiences.

“The second thing is to talk to community partners and better understand how can we remove the perception of the barrier to access,” she said. “We can start shaping the perception that the orchestra is their orchestra regardless of your upbringing.”

(May 7, 2019) SLSO's music director designate Stéphane Denève and CEO  Marie-Hélène Bernard talk about wrapping up the 2018-2019 season and what's ahead for the symphony orchestra on Tuesday's talk show.
Credit Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Symphony Orchestra President and CEO Marie-Helene Bernard (right) said she and incoming Music Director Stephane Deneve (left), are focusing on attracting attract younger listeners, minorities and first-time attendees.

A 2016 report by the League of American Orchestras shows an increase nationwide in single ticket purchases when compared to subscription-based ticket purchases. The SLSO saw a decrease in subscriptions for fiscal 2018 but an increase in household ticket sales.

Orchestras across the nation are experimenting with price reductions and other ways to increase its audience and expand the interest in classical music, said Jesse Rosen, the league's president and CEO.

“New audiences are often repelled by the formality and the ritual of all of that and are more interested in more informal experiences or opportunities to socialize,” Rosen said. “Some of those changes in audience preferences and the definition of a satisfying arts experience, that’s changing.”

Orchestras also are balancing how to attract new listeners while retaining regular attendees, Rosen said. That can be challenging, but Rosen said these changes are creating new opportunities for engagement.

“We’re seeing this experimentation in practically every aspect of orchestra operations, from the programing, from the choices of music that’s being played, the way it’s being presented on the stage, the pricing of concerts,” Rosen said.

The SLSO’s 2019-20 season begins Sept. 12 with a free concert led by Stéphane Denève, the incoming music director. The season will include appeals to varied tastes, including Music Without Boundaries, a concert that explores the music of different cultures; a tribute to Aretha Franklin; Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis; and a Gospel Christmas.

Follow Chad on Twitter @iamcdavis

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org

Chad is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.