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L.A. Phil ticket sales uneven as Dudamel readies for his debut

August 25, 2009 |  4:00 am

Billboard

Gustavo Dudamel, the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, may be the hottest conductor on the classical scene, but box-office figures from Walt Disney Concert Hall show that even the young Venezuelan isn’t entirely recession-proof.

Subscription tickets, which went on sale in February and account for a majority of total sales, have fallen 7% from last year, the final year of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s tenure with the orchestra.

That was at least partly offset by an uptick in the sale of single tickets. The orchestra says purchases of individual tickets that went on sale Sunday were approximately 50% above the sales from the same day last year, resulting in several sold-out performances well in advance of Oct. 8, the official start of the 2009-10 season.

“It’s not unlike what we’re seeing at the Hollywood Bowl this summer,” said Arvind Manocha, the company’s chief operating officer. “There’s a certain population of people who migrate away from large subscription packages, and we’re seeing more of that than usual.”

He said that the recession is partly to blame for the decline in subscriptions but added that Sunday’s sales were more than what the Philharmonic had expected.

The Philharmonic provided the trend numbers but declined to disclose exact dollar figures for the coming season.

Ticket prices rose an average of about 4% from last year, which is in line with increases in previous seasons, when the economy wasn’t struggling. Prices range from as little as $20 for the Toyota youth concerts to as much as $215 for an orchestra seat to see the Berlin Philharmonic.

As of Monday, six performances had sold out or were close to sold out, all featuring Dudamel on the podium. In addition, Dudamel-led concerts accounted for seven of the top 10 requested performances at the box office on Sunday.

Among the most popular Dudamel appearances are the Mahler Symphony No. 1 concerts in October; performances of Verdi’s Requiem, set for early November; and a series of concerts with violinist Gil Shaham in late November. The Oct. 8 inaugural gala is also a top draw, with a limited number of tickets still available for purchase.

The box-office rush comes as the Philharmonic is rolling out an elaborate marketing campaign that features Dudamel on posters, banners and billboards around the city. In late July, the orchestra began putting up banners of Dudamel around Disney Hall. In addition, there are 12 static billboards and five digital billboards around the city. This year’s marketing campaign is significantly larger than in previous years, with more placements across all forms of media, according to the Philharmonic.

Dudamel is scheduled to appear in 29 of the season’s 195 concerts.

The free Hollywood Bowl concert set for Oct. 3 generated huge interest from fans who lined up Aug. 1 for a ticket giveaway. But most were turned away empty-handed when online buyers obtained seats in advance.

A spokeswoman for the orchestra said that while the Philharmonic has been emphasizing Dudamel in its advertising, some of the bestselling concerts have been for non-Dudamel performances. Appearances by the Berlin Philharmonic are among the top attractions this season; another top seller is a concert with Hawaiian musician Keali’i Reichel set for March.

Unlike many smaller symphony orchestras that have had to make budget cuts during the last year, the L.A. Philharmonic has not announced layoffs or other reductions. The company said that local patrons have continued their financial support, although the orchestra has seen a reduction in its endowment as a result of the recession.

What remains uncertain is whether Dudamel’s arrival will generate enough box-office interest in the months to come to offset the subscription decline. The Philharmonic said it expects to see devoted Dudamel fans buying more tickets closer to the start of the season.

“The ‘Dudamel effect’ is a phenomenon that we’re well aware of,” Manocha said. “But we’re really just learning how to handle it.”

-- David Ng

Photo: a new billboard of Gustavo Dudamel near Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Street in Hollywood. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times

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Comments () | Archives (4)

Of course, LA Phil ticket sales are limited. Just try to book a series of Dudamel concerts. It doesn't exist. There is no subscription series with more than
one or two Dudamel concerts. It's like trying to buy a dozen eggs at the store
and having to settle for 2 eggs, a box of muffin mix, a bottle of aspirin and
assorted crispy crackers. Of course, single tickets sales have increased. It's people like me who abandoned their subscriptions and now hand pick the concerts we want to see.

The disappointing sales were no mystery to this subscriber. After anticipating the Dudamel era with great enthusiasm, I opened this year's brochure to find few Dudamel concerts with some featuring ho-hums pieces that might have waited until he was fully here.
In some way I think this error reflects the fact that the Philharmonic seriously over-estimated the Salonen legacy. Though he markedly improved, Esa-Pekka often gave us the notes (superbly executed as they often were) and nothing else, in music written before 1900. Too often I recall sitting through torpid, tedious pieces like last years Flowering Tree by John Adams, an otherwise admirable composer, but a concert-going low point, awaiting Gustavo who was proving to be phenomenal.
And there is too much filler in this year's line up, too much recycled mediocrity, too much reshuffling of the sane old deck, too much going through the motions. I also think we are suffering through from a case of sub-clinical Mahleria the past years. I am glad his time finally came but we have gone from famine to gluttony in programming. Every orchestra schedules him frequently these days. The Fargo Philharmonic probably is offering its Mahler cycle this decade. So many conductors seem to want us to hear their own version of the 6th or the 3rd. It's gotten to be too much. There are other composers who deserve greater hearing, even just some hearing.

There are still too many conductors we never get to hear anymore, if ever: Haitink, Muti, Levine, Colin Davis, Barenboim, Vladimir Jurowski, Daniele Gatti, Jansons, Chailly, Pappano and the list goes on. The soloists we do better with, vis. the Znaider concert at the bowl recently. What an experience!
'The Dude,' as I now see him being called in the press, is indeed a spectacular catch for Los Angeles audiences. But, the management need to use him wisely or he or their audiences will soon be gone. The demand for Dudamania is that high everywhere else I go.
The Philharmonic gold standard is still the Guilini years. High standards of playing linked to memorable impassioned performances of, admittedly, a limited repertory. We could see that again now but not with boring, uninspired seasons like the one ahead of us. And not with orgies of self-congratulation like we experienced last year. The Tovey concert in January looks like an oasis in a big, big desert.

It is probably a bit inaccurate, maybe even unfair, to compare Gustavo's series sales to the series sales for Esa-Pekka's final season (which also had a huge promotional ad campaign) because I would imagine there was a spike in series sales last year to see Esa-Pekka one last time. So it seems a bit quick to blame the 7% drop solely on the recession. I think (and the other comments have hinted at this) that it is a little more complicated than that. I'm sure if the Hollywood Bowl giveaway had been a bit more of a success for the general public there maybe have been a greater surge this weekend.

David,

I liked your piece but what's the bottom line in your opinion? There's an awful lot of ambiguity. And doesn't a large not-for-profit like Phil have an obligation to release financial numbers on a timely basis?

Laurence Vittes


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