Classical music has been characterized in the past few years by labor disputes, bankruptcy scares, and aging audiences. So what is the Toronto Symphony Orchestra doing right? The LA Times‘ Culture Vulture reports that thirty-five percent of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s audience is younger than 35 years old, and classical music has become part of the normal cultural diet of the city’s younger professionals. It is not that the TSO has not seen its share of hardship, but tough times helped the TSO right the ship and emerge as a model for other cultural organizations:
In 2001 the choice was make massive changes or fold. Choosing the former, and, frankly, with nothing left to lose, the TSO actively reached out to new audiences by fitting programming into their schedule instead of demanding the reverse. A new after-work concert series catered to commuters and a shorter Saturday night series was followed each time by a party in the lobby where musicians and the audience could mingle, drink and listen to local bands. The TSO’s biggest success, however, has been the “tsoundcheck” program (the “t” is silent), which offers $14 tickets to those from 18 to 35.
Offering cheap tickets to students is nothing new, but extending the privilege to young professionals and designing social events with them in mind is, even nine years later, still not the norm. Last year, 23,000 tickets were sold through tsoundcheck — four times more than the first year the program was offered.
The musicians have noticed.
“There’s been a complete shift in the nine years I’ve been playing with the symphony”, said horn player Gabriel Radford. “For us on stage, that has a tremendous impact. Things seem to come alive. At the end of a show, when you’ve put in all that work, it’s great.”