Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2009 – Giveaway prices

I probably need to apologise in advance for a bit of a rant.

For anyone who has just come into the room, I have been quite a keen supporter of the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra on its trips to Sydney in recent years. But it has been frustrating to see how ineptly the concerts have been publicised, at least judging by the attendances they have managed to attract. I’ve hazarded numerous theories as to why this might be: their publicity; the prices; the reputation of the orchestra; the difficulty of selling tickets for three nights in a row; the difficulty of attracting an audience from a zero base. The reasons are doubtless a mixture of these and others as well. Interestingly, they have managed to sell their cheaper seats, which suggests that the remaining seats, or at least some of them, are simply over-priced.

At the end of their last trip, I wondered, are they coming back next year? and what are they going to do about the attendances?

Quite by accident (I made one of my periodic visits to their website) I have discovered that the TSO is coming to Sydney next year and will be playing at Angel Place.

This is the program:

thursday 27 August
Sebastian Lang-Lessing conductor
Nicholas Angelich piano
SCHUBERT Die Zauberharfe – Overture
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No 5, Emperor
SCHUBERT Symphony No 4

friday 28 august
Sebastian Lang-Lessing conductor
Nicholas Angelich piano
SCHUBERT Rosamunde – Suite
SCHUBERT Symphony in B Minor, Unfinished
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No 4

saturday 29 august
Sebastian Lang-Lessing conductor
Nicholas Angelich piano
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto No 3
SCHUBERT Symphony No 9, Great

At least the SSO isn’t playing any of those nights.

This is the pricing:

For subscribers, as best I can make out (but that means TSO subscribers; you can’t subscribe to this series):

ADULT (per concert)

Premium $91, A Reserve $72 B Reserve $44

CONCESSION

Premium n/a [why so mean?] A Reserve $58 B Reserve $27.

For single tickets (which means everyone in Sydney except possibly Leo Schofield):

Adult: Premium $101, A Reserve $80, B Reserve  $49; Concession: n/a, $64, $30.

By way of comparison, in Hobart, apart from a “Showtime” series at Wrest Point (Roberta Flack; Tommy Emmanuel; an Abba copy band; Jame Morrison) the most expensive concerts as subscription tickets are $76 $64 $54, concession $70 $54 $42.  Most are $68 $58 $50; $64 $50 $39.

Or, for another comparison, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, seven (as far as I can make out from the web page) concerts at Angel Place, $497, $399 and $287 (A, B C reserves, Full), with concession prices available in all reserves. Admittedly, they sell all three levels, so the B and especially C reserves are worse than the TSO’s probably would be.

At first glance, the prices seem to be destined to produce the same give-away scenario as this and last year. It is true that they did better with Beethoven and Freddy Kempff in 2006, but I wonder if Beethoven will do the same for them a second time, at least at these prices.

Judging from this year, I would have thought $75 and $60 for full price “Premium” and A reserves would have stood a better and more realistic chance, though even then getting the punters in may well prove difficult simply because it remains in essence a “cold call.” B reserve is probably fine as it stands, as they have shown they can sell these tickets at that price.

Then again, if you are on the TSO’s free list, I’d say you are pretty safe for a free ticket or three (and for your partner, which makes six) on present indications.

I’ll be happy to be proved wrong. But the portents are unpromising. When I rang the TSO Box Office today, I was told that:

  • there was to be no Sydney package for next year for people attending all three concerts (hence my statement about single ticket prices);
  • they were only just getting round to sending out their subscription brochures in Tasmania;
  • there might be a mailing list assembled for people who attended in Sydney this year who will at some stage be sent brochures;
  • they couldn’t tell me when the tickets would be going on sale but it might be some time in December.

It really sounds as though the TSO’s heart isn’t in it. They are certainly setting out to fail, and maybe people in the orchestra want to. It looks very much as if the orchestra is not planning to return in 2010, because there is a complete lack of any audience building in this. I’ve been told that Stephen Block, the orchestra’s marketing manager (I remember his name: his was one of the uncollected comps I picked up from the service desk at interval on the first night this year) is the person I should get in touch with about this. I don’t know if I can be bothered. It is dispiriting.

2 Responses to “Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra in Sydney 2009 – Giveaway prices”

  1. Thom Says:

    «At least the SSO isn’t playing any of those nights.»

    Technically that’s true. However, in that week and the three preceding weeks of August the SSO has 12 concerts (5 different programs). The ACO has four concerts (1 program) in that period. The Brandysnaps have a five-concert program in August also. So there’s competition for attention in the advertising media not to mention the risk sheer concert fatigue on the part of the potential audience.

    After 2007, I had hopes when I saw that the TSO had aligned its Sydney tour with the SSO’s Italian tour this year, but it didn’t seem to make any difference to the houses – they may have been worse. The smart thing in my view would have been to come in October 2009, when the SSO will again be touring and this time to really exploit the relative gap in the city’s orchestral schedule. But there are many factors to consider in planning, including artist availability and so on, which means that an October visit may have simply been impossible.

    Of course, as I’ve said before, I believe the best way for Australian orchestras to tour capital cities is to appear in the home orchestra’s subscription series (and usually this does coincide with the home orchestra being on tour), giving them a starting audience base as well as mutual marketing and PR support. Better still if the visiting orchestra has something special to offer in repertoire or distinctiveness of performing style. This used to happen more often (MSO made several appearances in SSO subs series through the 90s and the SSO appeared in Melbourne; TSO appeared in 1995 and the WASO in 1997), but subsequent changes in the nature of the Australian orchestral network may have been partly responsible for the decline in that kind of collaboration.

    And I continue to think that attempting to present three very similar and intellectually conceived programs – as fine as they might look on paper – on consecutive nights when there is insufficient audience for even one concert is naive. If they were serious about this themed “festival” format they would make it ridiculously cheap to attend all three. And I mean ridiculously (how about $99 for three, B reserve?). As it is, I guess I’ll attend one performance and splash out on the actually-quite-satisfying cheap seat!

    I’ll second you about the meanness re lack of concessions in Premium and the message it sends. Perhaps if they were anticipating sell-out crowds this could be justified as a way of capitalising on demand. But we know they’re not.

  2. Beethoven « Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] and there was otherwise a $100+ Premium reserve. I have complained about the pricing structure before. No wonder sales were slow. Eventually, the second level was opened up, though even this only […]

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