Peter Dobrin’s ArtsWatch blog at the Philadelphia Inquirer featured a post yesterday which examined the ongoing negotiations at the Philadelphia orchestra and also brought up a good discussion about regional touring…
In this blog entry, Peter mentions that one of the points in this year’s negotiation centers on expanding regional touring. And since Peter is Philadelphia’s living cultural archive, he points out that the organization used to maintain a significant presence outside of Philadelphia:
“For an institution that never lets you forget the good old days, musicians might take some time to research the archives. The orchestra once had an active presence in the region, with regular concerts in Baltimore and small towns across Pennsylvania. No one thought any less of them.”
Although the issues are different between big budget groups like Philadelphia and smaller budget professional orchestras, I think increased regional touring is a good thing for the bigger ensembles. It is important not to confuse this issue with long term residency programs that are becoming more popular these days (such as Cleveland Orchestra in Miami) but a five day regional tour program among bigger budget groups is something the business could benefit from.
At the same time, it would be shortsighted for these groups to put together tours which had the ensemble playing for a 40% full house of a few hundred listeners. In order to be worthwhile, especially in the early stages, managers will need to ensure that the concerts will be sell-out events or they will only justify any concerns against the idea.
Furthermore, you only have to look at many of the run-out style concerts many smaller budget ensembles regularly plan to see why these concerns even exist. I’ve been to more than my fair share of these anemic events and they are never any fun: poor attendance, terrible acoustics (not just the snobby “I don’t like the way the middle frequencies speak” nonsense, I mean really terrible acoustics), and zero media attention (mainstream or otherwise).
If we can avoid that in lieu of returning to a grand era of regional tours, then it can only be a good thing for the business.