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New Concert Formats Attract New Audiences

By Barry Kempton

I read with interest a recent report by impressive consultants Wolf Brown evaluating four new concert formats that are under development at the New World Symphony in Florida.  They, like many other classical music presenters including The Schubert Club, are experimenting with variables such as performance length, content, presentation style and venue ambiance.

This past Tuesday we presented the wonderful Twin Cities-based string ensemble Accordo at Amsterdam Bar and Hall in downtown St. Paul in partnership with the always inventive Kate Nordstrum.  The evening prior, Accordo performed a full length program of Mozart and Brahms viola quintets in the stunning Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis (architecture by Eliel and Eero Saarinen, father and son).  As we’ve come to expect, Accordo performed beautifully. The format for this performance was formal, as a regular classical music concert-goer would expect.  However, the following evening at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall, we went for something quite different.  Still the same great music (though movements and not whole works), but otherwise an entirely different event: bar ambiance (with the inevitable occasional clanking bottle or glass), a shorter format that featured conversations with the musicians led by MPR’s Steve Staruch and an intimacy which is difficult to achieve in a regular concert hall.

We got some good feedback, mostly positive, but not all, and I hope we get more.  This was a first for us, and we can certainly find areas for improvement the next time. 

Perhaps what most interests me is who attended.  Some were Accordo fans who had attended the more formal performance the evening before.  There were a few who came to the Amsterdam expecting an exact repeat of the concert the night before – and may therefore have been disappointed with the changed format.  But many were first-timers – at least in terms of attending a performance by Accordo.  Over 90% of those who ordered and paid for their tickets in advance were first-time Accordo patrons .

The report on the New World Symphony’s initiatives measures success in part by how well the various concert presentations attract young audiences.  That is an important focus for us all including The Schubert Club.  However, I think we need to think about new audience members more broadly.  If we succeed in attracting a music lover or music liker to a live performance for the first time, does it really matter whether they are 35 or 55 or 75?  For me, the most important goal is to find ways to make our organization – and our live music presentations – relevant to as wide a sector of our community as possible – not just age diversity.  And one of the key ways we will achieve this will be to offer a variety of venues, mix up the ambiance and embrace a range of formality in our presentations.

Our next step with regard to trying something new comes on January 12th with Schubert Club MIX.  In partnership with the SPCO’s Liquid Music series, we present Hilary Hahn and Hauschka at Aria in downtown Minneapolis (formerly the home of Theater de la Jeune Lune).  We’re hoping for a big audience – of both Schubert Club regulars and new-comers.