The Best & The Worst of The 2005 Orchestra Website Review

Here’s a list of the best and worst from the 2005 Orchestra Website Review. Make sure you read down to the part about online transaction security…

Worst Online Tickets Sales

  1. Chattanooga Symphony: although their concert info pages say “Coming soon! Purchase your tickets online!” the concerts for 9/17 and 9/18 still had no ability to purchase tickets online.
  2. Mississippi Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online.
  3. Rhode Island Philharmonic: no ability to purchase tickets online.
  4. Santa Rosa Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online.
  5. Shreveport Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online.
  6. California Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online.Fortunately, this orchestra now provides for online ticket purchases since their evaluation.
  7. Richmond Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online & no seating charts.Fortunately, this orchestra has redesigned their website and now provides for online ticket purchases since their evaluation.
  8. Milwaukee Symphony: no ability to purchase tickets online & no seating charts. Fortunately, this orchestra now provides for online ticket purchases since their evaluation.
  9. Colorado Springs Philharmonic: single ticket purchase link was bad. Fortunately, this orchestra has redesigned their website and now provides for online ticket purchases since their evaluation.
  10. Kalamazoo Symphony: single ticket purchase link was bad. Fortunately, this orchestra now provides for online ticket purchases since their evaluation.

Worst Ability To Donate Online

Even though 33 out of 80 orchestras didn’t accept online donations, these orchestras provided the most convoluted method for making online donations (listed alphabetically):

  1. Hartford symphony: Individual donation page says “Individuals may make a donation to the HSO’s Annual Fund with a credit card by clicking the button below”, unfortunately, there’s no button to click on in the Netscape, Firefox, or Internet Explorer browsers.
  2. Naples Philharmonic: You could make donation online but not through the donations page, it was only available while purchasing a season subscription.
  3. Richmond Symphony: Link to online donations page states “We’re sorry, the page you were looking for is either no longer available or has moved.”

Narcissistic Executive Directors

In November of 2003, I published a piece entitled “I Go To The Symphony For Their Executive Director?” which chronicles the bizarre habit of some orchestra executive directors who feel compelled to post their pictures, biographies, or personal messages to patrons on the orchestra website when there’s nothing beyond scant information about the musicians. Granted, there’s nothing inherently wrong with putting up biographical data and messages from executive directors, but when those endeavors eclipse learning about the actual musicians then it’s time to reevaluate the priorities in the office. Here are the worst offenders for 2005 (listed alphabetically):

  1. California Symphony: Executive Director Stacey Street has a 145 word biography and a full color picture on their website but there’s only a simple text list of the musicians.
  2. Chattanooga Symphony: Executive Director John Wehrle has a 148 word personal message to patrons and a full color picture on their website but there’s only a simple text list of the musicians. Furthermore, there’s a featured callout banner link (complete with his face shot) to his message on the right side of nearly all the website’s pages.
  3. Hartford Symphony: Executive Director Charles H. Owens has a 328 word biography and a black and white picture on their website but there’s only a simple text list of the musicians.
  4. Richmond Symphony: Executive Director David Fisk was the singular focus for this category at the conclusion of the 2004 Orchestra Website Reviews. Fortunately, they’ve cut back on his exposure a bit but he still maintains a dedicated page which features a black and white photo along with a 512 word personal message to patrons (more words than they say about their Music Director, Mark Russell Smith) while there are no messages, biographical information, and only a text list of musicians. Less than half of the musicians have any black and white pictures available.

Best Unique Features

Several orchestras deserve special recognition this year for unique features; here are some of the orchestras which made it to the top of the list (listed alphabetically):

  1. Dallas Symphony: While entering into their music director search, the orchestra is posting performance notes written by DSO musician of guest conductor performances. Text from the notes page states “[the musicians] give us a behind-the-scenes commentary of their experiences with each guest conductor. We’ve asked them to use pseudonyms to allow a freer commentary.” Good thing too, just in case a musician posts an unfavorable set of notes and that conductor just happens to become their next music director!
  2. Pittsburgh Symphony: Their newly designed site is chocked full of entertaining and enlightening interactive material. In general, the unique features center attention on the PSO’s musicians. Some of the better examples are short video clips featuring orchestra musicians talking about upcoming works; the concerts on 9/16 & 9/18 feature PSO horn player Zach Smith talking about and demonstrating a Wagner tuba. Also unique is the desktop wallpaper which features high resolution photographs of PSO musicians by section (can you tell which section enjoys The Beatles?).
  3. San Francisco Symphony: although many orchestra websites offer sound clips of upcoming works, quite often the orchestra you’re hearing wasn’t made by the orchestra you are buying a ticket for (some business call that “bait-and-switch). However, the San Francisco Symphony offers very nice collection of sound clips which include statements letting you know that they are from San Francisco Symphony performance recordings and are used by permission of the SFS Players Committee.
  4. Toledo Symphony: It was wonderful to see that one of the many orchestras who do not yet pay a living wage to all of their musicians took the time to include a dedicated page which features small ensembles for hire comprised of orchestra musicians.

Best Looking Facelift with Only Marginal Improvement in Content

  1. Omaha Symphony & Grand Rapids Symphony: Unquestionably, these orchestras have improved the way their websites look and function, unfortunately, their quality and offerings of their content only improved by marginal amounts over 2004. Given the obvious expense and effort they allocated toward these improvements it would have been more satisfying to see the usefulness of content progress the same way in which Honolulu, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh improved.

Largest Gains: Points

  1. Honolulu Symphony: 41.28 point increase
  2. West Virginia Symphony: 37.34 point increase

Largest Gains: Rank

  1. Honolulu Symphony: up 56
  2. West Virginia Symphony: up 54
  3. Pittsburgh symphony: up 33
  4. Harrisburg Symphony: up 31
  5. Buffalo Philharmonic & San Antonio Symphony: up 28

Largest Declines: Points

  1. Fort Worth Symphony: 35.69 point decrease
  2. Kalamazoo Symphony: 30.46 point decrease

Largest Declines: Rank

  1. Kalamazoo Symphony: down 42
  2. Milwaukee Symphony: down 40
  3. Elgin Symphony: down 39
  4. Charleston Symphony & Ft. Wayne Philharmonic: down 37

At Risk Online Transactions

One of the most disturbing developments for 2005 was the proliferation of orchestras which offered no clearly identified notice that their online transactions were secure. An example of a good security notice is at the Cincinnati Symphony website which uses VeriSign to secure their online transactions. Here’s a list of orchestras which had no obvious security notice for online transactions on their check out pages (listed alphabetically):

  1. Boston Symphony
  2. Cleveland Orchestra
  3. Delaware Symphony
  4. Erie Philharmonic
  5. Fort Worth Symphony
  6. Honolulu Symphony
  7. Houston Symphony
  8. Indianapolis Symphony
  9. Kalamazoo Symphony
  10. Kansas City Symphony
  11. Las Vegas Philharmonic
  12. New York Philharmonic
  13. North Carolina Symphony
  14. Pacific Symphony
  15. Philadelphia Orchestra
  16. Richmond Symphony
  17. Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra
  18. San Antonio Symphony
  19. San Francisco Symphony
  20. Seattle Symphony
  21. St. Louis Symphony
  22. Tucson Symphony
  23. Virginia Symphony

So there you have it, the best and the worst from the 2005 Orchestra Website Review. What have you observed in your orchestra websites so far this year? Is there anything missing from this “Best & Worst of” list? Post a comment below or send in your thoughts via email.

Back to the 2nd Annual Adaptistration Orchestra Website Review main page.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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6 thoughts on “The Best & The Worst of The 2005 Orchestra Website Review”

  1. Regarding “At-risk online transactions”: By “obvious security notice”, do you mean a little blurb saying something like “your transaction is transmitted in encrypted form, to the right ticket office”? I, at least, am indifferent toward these kinds of statements, because I think that it’s the responsiblility of the _web-browsing program_ to give alerts about “secure” transactions. (Indeed, there are persistent anecdotes about sites where such statements accompany transactions that, alas, go over unencrypted channels.)
    In your Cincinnati example, the information at the cited link leads me to wonder, “Who is Verisign, and how do I need to trust them?”

    To try to get a sense of what you are getting at, I went through the motions of starting single-ticket purchases with the orchestras of Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Rochester. (Perhaps we had different experiences if you went via the subscription route.) My findings: Chicago (registration required first, ugh) asked me to enter a credit card number *on an unencrypted page*; fortunately, it turned out to lead to an encrypted one. Cleveland (registration/login again) asked me to enter my information on encrypted pages. They show a little icon saying “SECURED BY GEOTRUST”. (After clicking on it and wandering around a bit, I learned that I, too, may be able to obtain a “QuickSSL” certificate in about ten minutes, without even the need to fax in my company’s documentation! Okay, that doesn’t give much confidence about the thoroughness of their research and the reliability of their certificates …) Cincinnati delegates the transaction to, so it turns out that there was never a point where I would have wanted to consult that impressive link from Verisign. Similarly, Rochester delegates to In these two cases, I wondered (yet again) about the advisability of entrusting my information to these third parties. (At least has a reputation from being in the business pages of the newspaper, but I have never heard of evenue outside of webpages selling tickets to concerts and museum exhibitions.) Overall: in none of the cases did I notice any text reminding me that they were encrypting my information to assuage my worries.

  2. PK, those are all excellent points and questions. As a matter of fact, I planned to include something about the issues of security, etc. in this article but it was long enough already. As such, I’m going to post another article later this week about the very issues you bring up along with a real life example so stay tuned.

  3. Drew,

    While I appreciate your comments, I’d like to say a few words regarding your comments about the California Symphony.

    As a Symphony with a $60,000 annual marketing budget, I’m sorry you feel they should buy shopping cart software so that ticketbuyers can buy online — instead of buying at the link provided at In addition, under their agreement with their venue, the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, the Dean Lesher is the only organization that can sell single tickets, and their agreement is with This holds true for every single arts organization that uses the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts.

    In addition, you’ll notice that executive director Stacey Street does get a biographical write-up… but so does the president of the board and the music director. As the heads of the three distinct groups at the Symphony (the board of directors, the staff, and the musicians), they all got bios. The reason that the board president and executive director both got biographies is because they are instrumental in fundraising, and donors like to see who is managing the organization that they’re donating to.

    I appreciate the work you have done on surveying the sites, but I think you must take other factors into consideration. Not all symphony organizations operate on the level of the San Francisco Symphony — because quite simply, they can’t.


  4. Thanks for the comments Lynn,

    At the time of the California Symphony’s review there was no information or links about purchasing any tickets online at all. I double checked the California Symphony website today (9/21/05 2:30p.m. EST) and there continue to be no information or links to purchase any tickets at anywhere on the site.

    With regard to the review grading system, I do give an equal amount of points for orchestras which allow users to purchase tickets online, even through third party servers like or even (the odious) The review is designed so that it doesn’t matter what an orchestra’s budget size is, meaning bigger budget groups don’t have an inherent advantage (just look at the number of them on the bottom half of the list and how well folks like West Virginia did). Additionally, I don’t reduce points in the evaluation if orchestras use their venue’s ticketing system (unless that venue has no online ticket selling capability, which is something I haven’t run across one yet).

    Additionally, orchestras are not listed as having no ability to purchase tickets online simply because they don’t use their own POS software. As a matter of fact, I made certain to point out the orchestras which now have online ticket sales capability even though they had no mention of it at the time of their evaluation.

    Regarding the issue of having the ED bio while having no information about the musicians, the points I made in this article (and the one from 2003) continue to be quite valid. Whenever an orchestra becomes an organization which promotes something besides the core competency (music & the artists), then it’s no longer about those issues. That’s a point which is the subject of much discussion throughout Adaptistration and apparently the business, as a whole, is beginning to come around to those viewpoints as well since the subcategory of providing musician information was the most improved subcategory from 2004.

  5. After reviewing this website I would unfortunately have to agree that the California Symphony is number 1. I went to their website and they still haven’t changed this, they only have a text list of their musicians, I couldn’t find any biographies or pictures of them or anything. I feel it would help the audience have more of a connection to the music is they knew who was playing the music.


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