A rainy month was the most probable culprit for why the Philadelphia Orchestra suffered a 16 percent decline from last August at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
The orchestra’s attendance was down to 29,540, but despite that the Tchaikovsky and pops nights were more heavily attended than in previous seasons, said Shane Williams-Ness, director of development.
The Saratoga Chamber Music Festival’s attendance of 2,298 was down 2 percent from 2007, but higher tickets prices brought in 3 percent more income.
Overall, the audience for the SPAC classical season, which comprises the orchestra, chamber series, New York City Ballet, the Freihofer Jazz Festival and the Extended Season, decreased 9 percent.
“It created a uniquely challenging situation,” said SPAC Executive Director Marcia White.
Experiments during the orchestra season in connecting the evening’s repertoire with other organizations such as American Girl Night with the American Girl Ambassadors and Planets Night with the Dudley Observatory also drew positive response. Ticket income, however, was down by 21 percent.
Earlier in the summer, the Jazz Festival in late June reported a 16 percent decline in attendance to 11,885 and a 10 percent decline in ticket sales. The New York City Ballet’s season suffered a much smaller decline in July of 6 percent in attendance of 42,354 and a 2 percent decrease in ticket sales.
August’s severe storms seemed to create a trend across the region, which also included the Saratoga Race Course, White said. But the Lake George Opera had one of its best seasons and reported selling out all its July performances. The 2008 season boasted the highest-ever attendance with 4,413 people. This smashed the 2007 numbers by 660 guests, said Curtis Tucker, LGO’s general director. SPAC’s Extended Season, which began in late May, also had a 10 percent increase in attendance to 954 people and a 21 percent increase in ticket sales.
“We are excited about the positive response to the new innovations we introduced that raised the SPAC experience to an exciting, engaging new level,” White said.
But the decline in attendance bothered Saratoga Chamber Music Festival artistic director Chantal Juillet, who too often saw rows of empty seats at the Spa Little Theatre.
“Maybe because the chamber music series was sold out for years in the past, we tend to think we don’t need to renew our public, our ways of attracting them,” she said.
Juillet believes if more people knew that artists such as legendary pianist Martha Argerich, who plays almost every season for Juillet, plays at no other chamber music festival in North America; and that this season’s guests pianist Nikolai Lugansky and violinist Vadim Repin had come from sold-out performances in Salzburg only days before their local appearance, they’d realize how special the series is.
“We need to find a way to reach these people,” Juillet said. “These 500 seats should be sold. Chamber music is at the core of music. It is its soul.”
Conductor Charles Dutoit was, however, more sanguine.
“Doing 12 programs in 17 days is a marathon, and after 19 years it is difficult to come up with themes,” he said. “It is crucial to please the audience, but I realize how dependent on the weather the season is. Playing outdoors is not easy for the musicians but these conditions can affect an audience.”
“Considering the difficult U.S. economy, high gas and food prices and compared to other venues, we were quite pleased with our overall season,” she said. “We clearly want to build on the successes and to explore other options for attracting new audiences.”
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