Friday, August 13, 2010

Bad timing, badly timed

Central Virginia has four principal classical-music presenters: the Richmond Symphony, the Virginia Opera, the Modlin Arts Center at the University of Richmond, and the Virginia Commonwealth University Department of Music, which stages the Rennolds Chamber Concerts. They frequently use one another’s spaces and/or talent, collaborate on projects, share administrative and logistical support.

One would think that coordinating performance schedules might be part of the interactive package. Not this season, though.

Assembling the 2010-11 overview of classical performances in Richmond, which I’ll post here in early September, I count eight conflicting dates among the four frontline presenters. Two of the conflicts cannot be resolved by switching to an alternate symphony or opera date; a third requires a choice of two attractions from three options; a fourth requires sprinting from an opera matinee to an evening concert.

Figuring in these conflicts are some of the season’s prime atttractions: both of the Shanghai Quartet’s University of Richmond concerts, the Virginia Opera’s "Rigoletto" and "Valkyrie," the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields at UR, three of the six Rennolds Concerts, eight of the symphony’s 15 classical programs. You may hear percussionist Evelyn Glennie or cellist Zuill Bailey, not both.

Add festivals, college faculty and church concerts, choir performances and so on, and we may be looking at the most conflict-heavy Richmond season in memory.

This is not just bad timing, but badly timed bad timing.

Classical presenters are financially stressed – the Virginia Opera is seriously in the red, the Richmond Symphony more modestly so; and with the recession driving down contributions, grants and earnings from endowments, keeping up ticket-sales income is crucial.

Season-subscription packages are the base of this income, as well as being the most convenient and cost-effective way for patrons to buy tickets. The season’s multiple conflicts discourage potential subscribers. Those who do subscribe must count on liberal and efficient ticket-exchange policies, and plan to spend some time making exchanges.

The alternative, buying single tickets, is more expensive and more labor-intensive, on the part of both buyers and sellers.

The box-office lines are going to be longer this season. No-shows – tickets purchased but not used or turned in for resale of the seat – will be more numerous.

Some conflicts are inevitable. The audience prefers weekend dates, and presenters have obliged. Touring artists’ schedules are often inflexible, especially for choice weekend dates. This leads to clusters of performances – overloads of music – followed by days or weeks of inactivity, even when it doesn’t produce conflicting events.

Whatever the cause of these conflicts, the result is likely to be depressed attendance, and missed ticket sales that will cost these groups especially dearly.