A look at what "dressing for success" really means in the classical music world
Did you ever notice the general mode of dress of concert goers at Tanglewood, Bravo! Vail Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival, Colorado Music Festival, Olympic Music Festival, Ojai Music Festival, Cabrillo New Music Festival and ... the list goes on? The general public is dressed down, relaxed and comfortable. There are some (I've noticed anyway) in the more expensive seats at Bravo & Aspen who are dressed expensively, but the style of clothing (albeit Ralph Lauren, or Calvin Klein) is more relaxed than the dress coat and tie, or evening gown, which is what they'd be wearing if the concert were in Boettcher, Carnegie, or Symphony Hall. The orchestras also dress more casual, wearing white coats, rather than white tie and tails.
Yes, it's Summer time, and the rule of the day is to wear more casual clothing. But have you noticed the patrons who are attending the events? They're not just more relaxed, they tend to be younger. Maybe it's because there are "lawn" seats at Bravo, Tanglewood and Quilcene (Olympic). However, I'll wager it has more to do with the relaxed atmosphere of the players and the concerts.
Colorado Symphony is performing a series of concerts out at Red Rocks this Summer. Of the available 9000 seats, some of their concerts are nearly sold out! Wow - that's amazing! Boettcher Concert Hall can't hold 9000 people and Colorado Symphony did have a banner year in terms of ticket sales at Boettcher, but very few of their concerts were anywhere close to the same percentage of tickets sold compared to seats available this year. And (again) they did better in terms of ticket sales than they ever have before. Bravo estimates that the festival brings anywhere from 60,000 to 70,000 visitors to the valley each summer. Tanglewood up'd their prices this year because of their popularity. This is all GREAT news ... for the Summer Seasons.
So, why are the Summer Concerts doing so well? IMHO - Attitude! The concerts are fun and relaxed. The music is still spectacular, Colorado Symphony is featuring Beethoven, John Williams and the Russian Masters, Boston Symphony is featuring Berlioz, Higdon, Bruch, Dvorak, Sibelius and more, Bravo is featuring Mozart, Mendelssohn, Weber, Beethoven, Liszt, Strauss, Dvorak, Mahler, and too many more to list them all. It's going to be a great Summer no matter where you are. The halls (or parks, outdoor venues and lawns) are going to be heaving with people, people who love classical music - And the attitude is going to be relaxed, comfortable and inviting.
There was a wonderful article in the Globe and Mail earlier this month about the age of Toronto's concert goers. Toronto Symphony Orchestra is enjoying packed houses with an average age under 50. In a climate where orchestras are struggling and the average age of concert goers continues to increase, this trend in the other direction is heartening. Again, what's the difference - Attitude! They introduced Tsoundcheck which is a series of events targeted toward a younger audience with events more like what you'd expect in a club atmosphere, or a rock concert setting.
If we compare that to the Summer concerts that seem to do so well, you'll find the same sort of atmosphere. At Bravo, Red Rocks, Tanglewood and Olympic patrons are encouraged to bring picnics, to make a day of it, to enjoy more than just a couple of hours in stayed formality. These concerts are fun!
What's most interesting to me is the music isn't really that much different than the regular season of these same orchestras. The same great music performed with a eye toward atmosphere and relaxed enjoyment. We don't need to get rid of all the high formality of the regular concert season, because occasionally dressing up in a tux and having a "night out" can be fun. But, so can wearing jeans, standing for most of the concert (because you're too excited to sit) and cheering your face off at the outstanding moments.
For all those orchestras out there... I hope you're listening. The audience wants you; you just have to provide the kind of environment in which they feel comfortable.