Exclusive: Houston, you have a problem

We hear that Houston Grand Opera, ambitious and expansionist under David Gockley’s leadership, is cutting back to the bone. First to go is its internal recording program, in which all performances were recorded for broadcast, commercial and archive purposes.

Recording will end next month. HGO has informed WFMT in Chicago that they are not going to renew radio broadcasts for the fall season and beyond. There will be no historic record of future performances.

In an unrelated move, the local radio station recently laid off all its classical presenters.

Houston has a problem, a  big one.

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  • As a former Houstonian, I find this very, very sad.

  • James Brinton says:

    Those who expect people of wealth to automatically support the arts are kidding themselves. Per capita, there is probably more oil wealth in Houston than any similar-sized city.

    Thus, Houston is proving that the trickle down effect is as toxic to the arts as it is to the economy.

    • Houston is one of the few US cities with major companies in all the performing arts genres: opera, symphony, theatre, and ballet. The problem in Houston, as in many other cities, is that the donors suffer from what a friend of mine calls the “gotwun” syndrome: “A dance company? We’ve got one. An opera? We’ve got one.”…without any thought that it would be nice to have *more* than one.

  • Eli says:

    Houston may be the “city of oil” but is it really the city of oil donors?

    • The city’s economy has diversified greatly since the oil bust of the 1980s.

      When I was doing public radio fundraising there in the mid-90s, less than 5 minutes before the end of every campaign, I’d take a $10,000 membership. On a MasterCard. There were two campaigns every year, so that one person was kicking in $20,000 annually.

  • Having lived and worked in several major American cities, I can assure you that Houston is very supportive of the arts relative to its peers. The Opera, Symphony and Ballet are in fact all thriving, creative and ambitious, as are the museums and other public charities. The difficulty of fundraising in this environment is rather the broad competition for the charitable dollar with so many major arts institutions, universities and one of the world’s largest conglomerations of medical and research hospitals. Please see: http://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/further-proof-that-houston-is-where-the-philanthropic-action.html for details.

    The cutbacks at the radio station were a choice by their management rather than a necessity, part of a downward spiral begun when they separated NPR from their classical offerings and moved the classical to a low powered station that most of Houston can not receive clearly. I live 5 minutes from downtown and can’t get it in any room of my house. The end of Opera broadcasts may signal a change in priorities and the importance of such broadcasts in the world of HD moviecasts.

  • Charles Koch says:

    Our Principal Cellist Brinton Smith has it right: the arts in Houston are thriving. The symphony ends its fiscal years in the black. The opera has added another production to its subscription season. Two of the largest visual arts museums are planning significant expansions to their campuses. I consider myself fortunate to live in a city that is one of the major cultural centers of the country.

    • ed says:

      Mr. Koch, is one to assume that in those areas noted in Norman’s post, above, where the arts are not so thriving in Houston, that you and your fellow Houstonians will step into the funding breach, whether or not the Keystone project is built and delivering heavy oil to your Houston refinery?

  • The so-called “Houston Grand Opera” had a budget of only $20 million in the 2010/11 season – less than 1/6th of the Vienna State Opera, less than 1/10th of the Paris Opera, and less than 1/15th of the Met. And now its cutting back even more. (I can provide documentation if necessary.)

    In spite of its great wealthy and size, Houston doesn’t even rank in the top 100 cities for opera performances per year. Small European cities with only a tiny fraction of the population out rank Houston by 50 or 60 positions.

    By international standards, the Houston Grand Opera is rinky-dink. Before expressing your outrage at my colorful description, how about upping the house’s funding so that Houston is at at least among the top 100.

    Fort Worth ranks 295th in the world for opera performances per year. Not too surprising to see them further reducing their season too.

    Neighboring Dallas recently built a posh new opera house, of course named after a wealthy donor, but the city still ranks 257th the world for opera performances per year.

    The USA only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Two of them, Chicago and San Francisco, don’t even make the top 50.

    The opera house at Kennedy Center was built over 40 years ago, but Washington D.C. still ranks 182nd in the world for opera performances per year (while having the world’s 11th largest metro GDP.)

    Look at the rankings for a few other capital cities, all listed on the website of Operabase:

    Vienna 1

    Berlin 2

    Paris 3

    Moscow 4

    Prague 6

    London 7

    Budapest 9

    Stockholm 14

    Sydney 16

    Madrid 17

    Even Athens in impoverished Greece comes in at 28th.

    Then comes Washington at 182nd. Our so-called National Opera housed in Kennedy Center is in reality our national joke. These disgraceful numbers exist because of our dysfunctional system of funding the arts by donations from the wealthy. The USA is the only developed country in the world without a comprehensive system of public arts funding.

    • The are other benchmarks, in addition to numbers of performances, and opera is not the only art form. No, really. It’s not.

      • Number of performances is a very valid and meaningful measure concerning the health of an opera house and how many people it is reaching. And compared to major European cities, often smaller in population and wealth than Houston, it falls short in other areas as well such as symphony orchestras. Examples are Berlin’s 3 opera houses and seven symphony orchestras, or London’s two opera houses and five symphony orchestras, or Munich’s two opera houses and 6 symphony orchestras. Houston, by comparison, has only one opera house not even in the top 100 and only one symphony orchestra. This pattern carries over into the other performing arts as well.

        One of the problems we face is that no matter how overwhelming the facts, Americans remain in denial.

        • The Houston Grand Opera lists only 49 musicians in its orchestra – not even enough for a small symphony orchestra or a provincial European house. Houses in European cities of comparable size often do up to 8 performances a week so they have to rotate the musicians for the productions to keep from over-working them. The orchestras are usually about 2.5 to 3 times larger than in Houston. The Vienna State Opera has 149 musicians in its orchestra. The Munich State Opera about 140, and so on. And these are all full time, year round positions as opposed to Houston where they are part time jobs.

          Even the size of the orchestra at the HGO and the part time contracts testify to its provincial status. This lack of work makes a big difference to the lives of artists. To see Houston’s pathetic orchestra roster go here:

          http://www.houstongrandopera.org/hgoorchestra/

          • More fixation with quantity. By your logic, there can be no high-quality chamber opera.

            Houston has a vibrant arts community, of which opera is an important — but not the only — part.

        • You keep referring to HGO as an”opera house”, even though one of the factors limiting the number of performances is the fact that it *doesn’t* have a dedicated facility.

          • A so-called Grand Opera without a house. Yet another factor in this scandalous situation.

          • Chris Johnson says:

            HGO does not have a dedicated performance space? This is false. They have been housed in the Wortham Center since it was built in the early 90s

          • …And they share that space with Houston Ballet, and other companies. It is not exclusively an opera house.

          • It’s also important to understand that an opera house is a very specific type of structure. It has to have a pit with the appropriate acoustic properties, which is very difficult to achieve in a general purpose hall. It has to have huge flies for the type of scenery and spectacle typically used in opera. It needs rehearsal spaces for singers and the orchestra, costumes and scene shops, and a large amount of storage space. Without this type of facility it is very difficult for a company to work at high professional levels.

            We have so many well trained singers and instrumentalists, but lack the facilities and budgets to present them.

        • Pete says:

          What’s missing from the thread is the other side of the story about opera in the States.

          “…Even as symphony attendance declines and movie-theater admissions stagnate, opera-going has blossomed. The U.S., believe it or not, is one of the global leaders.

          The U.S. now has 125 professional opera companies, 60 percent of them launched since 1970, according to the trade group OPERA America. The U.S. has more opera companies than Germany and nearly twice as many as Italy. In the most comprehensive recent study, the National Endowment for the Arts found that between 1982 and 2002, total attendance at live opera performances grew 46 percent.

          Annual admissions are now estimated at 20 million, roughly the same attendance as NFL football games (22 million, including playoffs, in 2006–07)…..”

          See this article for the whole story–

          http://www.american.com/archive/2007/july-august-magazine-contents/america2019s-opera-boom

          Although his article is several years old and written before the current economic climate, I believe the broad trend is still accurate.

          • This report is baloney from the rightwing think tank American Enterprise Institute. This is the same group that sent letters to scientists offering $10,000 plus travel expenses and additional payments, if they would critique the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fourth assessment report. This sort of bribery tells us something about the AEI’s articles, like this one on opera in America.

            The position of AEI resident fellow David Frum was terminated after her wrote an editorial in which he criticized the Republican Party’s unwillingness to bargain with Democrats on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. You get the picture.

            One of the rationalizations the AEI uses is to equate an opera company that does one or two performances a year with pick up musicians in a rental facility to a European company with a dedicated house that runs all year with full time musicians and a big staff that does 200 performances per year. On that basis, they grandly tell us we have 125 companies. Never mind that a good number of these “companies” use piano accompaniments.

            They equate American companies with 3 million a year budgets with European companies with 80 to 200 million a year budgets.

            They list numbers that are ridiculous to begin with, and without mentioning that the USA has 3 times the population of Germany and 4 times the population Italy.

            They tell us 20 million people went to the opera in 2007 without scientific proof.

            And finally, more Americans went to the opera than to NFL games. Right. And now, tell us about those smoking gun mushroom clouds….

          • Sometimes it’s difficult to understand why opera people are regarded as arrogant, insufferable snobs.

            *This* is what’s killing classical arts forms.

          • The thing that is “killing” classical forms in the USA is our unique and isolated funding system of donations by the wealthy. It obviously doesn’t work very well. All other developed countries use public funding systems. Europe illustrates that they function much better than our private system.

            That is why the AEI writes propaganda such as in the article linked above. They want to portray the American system as equally effective when it is not. Their propaganda should be emphatically rejected.

          • Pete says:

            I did a little search and found OPERA America the source for the figures in the article I mentioned.

            While the writer of the article appears to have conflated the 20 million number from somewhere, the other numbers in the article are in line for what are reported as of today, although some the numbers are lower, as might be expected, than they may have reported in earlier years.

            See their quick facts page here:

            http://www.operaamerica.org/content/research/quick1112.aspx

            The diatribe against the AEI I found amusing. The President of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, is a gentleman and scholar. He was a Professional musician in his younger years

            and as a fellow horn player, he’s OK in my book.

          • Opera America does great work, but it is an advocacy organization. This must be remember when evaluating its stats.

            It’s revealing to think of the lack of support for the arts in America in terms of cultural destruction. Texas has the best public school music education system in the country. There is no place that produces so many great musicians. An example is the Dallas Wind Symphony which is comprised of public school and college teachers from the area. These musicians should be in fully professional, full time orchestra and opera jobs so that their work could be experienced by a lot of people on a regular basis, and at affordable prices. That they are neglected and forced into jobs far below their abilities, is cultural destruction, pure and simple. Their playing is astounding. Listen to them here:

            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Em2qO0Hnpk

    • Janey says:

      Here we go again. Perhaps we should all just copy this and reread it periodically to save Mr. Osborne the trouble of retyping it over and over and over and over and over…..

      • AnnaT says:

        I am glad Mr. Osborne continues to remind us that there are alternatives to our slavish adherence to market principles when it comes to supporting the arts. And despite Janey’s kind concern, I see no indication that Mr. Osborne is troubled by having to reiterate his points.

        • ,,.But his own “slavish adherence” to numbers of performances as the only criterion for quality calls his conclusions into question.

          • Readers will note that I have also discussed the lack of actual opera houses, the lack of facilities such as rehearsal spaces, costume shops, and storage spaces. I’ve discussed the small size of opera orchestras or the complete lack thereof, and the lack of funding. And I’ve compared this to the high quality of our musicians who are left unemployed or under-employed. And of course, added to that is the low number of performances.

          • I also regularly mention the high average price of tickets which are generally 3 to 4 times higher than in Europe.

          • Yes, yes, you’ve mentioned all those things once or twice, whilst harping incessantly on the numbers of performances.

          • While on this topic, we should note of the phony strategies American opera companies use to claim importance in spite of their extremely limited seasons. These include sometimes hiring expensive star singers, occasionally using elaborate stagings, and doing occasional premieres. None of this makes up for their paltry seasons, low budgets, and a very small number of performances. Especially important is that the short seasons do not allow the companies to develop artistic and professional cohesiveness. And they keep the demographic for opera very limited.

            From an international perspective, opera in Texas is barely even a backwater, and in spite of the state’s vast wealth and population. None of this will be solved by denial. It will only be solved when we develop effective systems of publicly funding the arts like has long been the case in all other developed countries. I’m not letting this message go, so deal with it.

  • I know from experience that the classical music scenes of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston are not comparable to those of many cities in Europe of similar size and wealth, in either quantity or quality of performances. The days of Stokowski, Dorati and Barbirolli are long past. On the other hand, the art museums in those cities not only have excellent permanent collections, but put on world class exhibitions. This indicates to me that the country that gave the world Hollywood movies is more interested in funding visual arts than in supporting musical institutions — after sports, of course! Rather than regarding this a problem, we should probably just accept these facts: the USA is, after all, a democratric country.

    • We should also accept, as I keep having to remind people here, that classical music is not the only performing art.

      One of the finest theatre productions I’ve ever seen or done was in a small African American theatre in Houston, over 20 years ago.

  • Chris Johnson says:

    The predominant narrative in Houston about its arts community is that it is somehow exceptional or, at least, above average. I’ve seen a detailed report by an area think tank which will soon be released that contains many facts and statistics suggesting otherwise. When examining things like spending on the arts, employment in the arts, contributions to the arts etc. Houston has, like many American cities, enjoyed much growth over the past ten years. On the other hand, when compared to other similarly sized markets, we rank about average, or below average, in almost every measure. When compared to other cultural capitals of the country, we fall far below. Houston is great if you work at the top of the ladder (i.e. the symphony, opera and ballet). That is where an alarming majority of contributed income is directed. Houston is also great if you are a new artist/organization. Generally speaking, our community values entrepreneurship and innovation and that is reflected in the arts in that we have enjoyed the appearance of an abundance of new organizations over the past decade. However, if you are a mid-sized organization or a mid-career arts professional, things are much more difficult. There is no direct ladder from the bottom to the top within the region and, as a result, people often move on. The city has seen a number of great artists and administrators get started here, or come through here on their way to somewhere else.

    Perhaps this move by HGO is strategic and they have discovered that the $250,000 per year spent on recording could be better spent another way. (Their HGOco continues to commission multiple new operas each year that are quite brilliant on many fronts.) However, I appreciate the headline, “Houston, You have a problem.” Perhaps the problem is not as catastrophic as Mr. Lebrecht suggests, but I believe it is an assertion worth thoughtful consideration.

    • Chris is absolutely right. I think the upper echelon of arts in Houston is wonderful. As much as a number of commentors have tried to portray HGO’s season as small and having few performances, I think they actually provide Houston with a great variety of opera – from new works to the traditional grand opera. There is a lot of daring programming going on with HGOCo and a great deal of outreach into communities that may never have experienced opera. The upper echelon in Houston is doing just fine. From what Patrick Summers said, they will continue recording, but they are pursuing other ways of doing it. I think Chris is right in that there might be a connection to the changes going on at the local public radio station.

      Chris is also 100% right about starting a new company in Houston. As someone who started a company in Houston, it was a great place to be an entrepreneur. The sad part is that it is incredibly difficult to make the transition from start-up to mid size arts organization because the top groups are so favored by donors. Houston has an incredibly vibrant arts scene at the top and at the fringes. It’s just bare in the middle.

      • “the top groups are so favored by donors”

        …And they aim to keep it that way.

        Almost 20 years ago, before I left Houston, there was a huge fight over Arts Council funding, with the 7 biggest performing arts companies lobbying to have the monies then being used for management assistance programs (the training and other programs designed to help small companies grow) given to them instead.

        • Chris Johnson says:

          The Houston Arts Alliance is the organization that distributes Hotel Occupancy Tax revenue and I believe that is what you are referencing. The Theater District (Wortham, Jones, Alley etc.) receives a dedicated portion of that money, as does the Museum District and the Convention Center. The remaining funds go towards things like the individual artist grant program (which benefits independents and up-starts).

          I hear rumors that Mayor Parker may address this funding inequality in a new plan she intends to initiate for the arts in the area. Privately, I’m told that she’s aware that there aren’t support structures for mid-sized organizations and she wants to do something about that. However, it sounds likely to be a slow process. It was announced recently that the city would spend the next year developing some kind of long-term plan. Hopefully, whatever happens will serve organizations like Viswa Subbaraman’s now-defunct company, Opera Vista. He is a prime example of an artist who got started in Houston and has since moved on.

          • Back then, it was the Cultural Arts Council of Houston (and then, when the county started kicking in some money, the Cultural Arts Council of Houston and Harris County. I’m sorry to hear that the bigger organizations were finally successful in gutting the programs designed to help smaller companies.

  • Chris,

    Do you have a break down on that $250,000 p.a. spent on recording? It seems like an awful lot of money, given it surely doesnt involve even one full time engineer. Equipment does not cost that much on an annual basis.

    • It does seem high to me, too, but remember that mics need to be hung, and cables run, and afterwards bith must be struck. Did they produce intermission features? They very well might have had a second technician on site to troubleshoot probems.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      I do not have the breakdown. Sadly, the only public information I have seen was made via a comment on my Facebook page which has since been deleted by the author. It quoted a “high level source from within HGO” as saying that is what they had been spending for some years now. The recording and broadcasts were previously underwritten by one donor. After that person stopped funding the project, HGO took over paying for it themselves. I can say fro personal experience that such projects are very expensive. Anyone who thinks you can record a performance for international broadcast without expending considerable time, money and resources has never tried to do it before.

      I also wander what, if any, connection there is between this and the recent turmoil at the place now known as Houston Public Media (once KUHF 88.7, Classical 91.7 and PBS Chanel 8). That is the organization who used to do the recording and for many years has supported the HGO recordings with a substantial loan of equipment.

  • m2n2k says:

    Meanwhile, the San Diego Opera – which is smaller than the Houston Grand to be sure, but apparently was until now still considered to be among the top ten opera companies in the country – announced yesterday that three weeks from now it will cease its existence.

    • Yes, Opera America describes San Diego as among the top 10 companies in the USA, but the city ranks 296th in the world for opera performances per year. To avoid embarrassment, maybe we should only compare ourselves to Third World countries.

  • The San Diego Opera has closed due to a lack of funds. Opera America listed it as one of America’s top ten companies – though of course, that isn’t saying much…

    See:

    http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-san-diego-opera-closing-20140319,0,1123067.story#axzz2wTuXFOWc

  • LarryW says:

    “A so-called Grand Opera without a house. Yet another factor in this scandalous situation.” “It’s also important to understand that an opera house is a very specific type of structure. It has to have a pit with the appropriate acoustic properties, which is very difficult to achieve in a general purpose hall. It has to have huge flies for the type of scenery and spectacle typically used in opera. It needs rehearsal spaces for singers and the orchestra, costumes and scene shops, and a large amount of storage space. Without this type of facility it is very difficult for a company to work at high professional levels.”

    Mr. Osborne, every single sentence you have written above is untrue regarding Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet. They have a facility just as you describe. Also, your condescending remarks about the HGO Orchestra are without any factual or artistic basis. Perhaps you should avail yourself of their broadcasts before you no longer can. Then, at least, you will speak from an informed position. The list of 49 musicians that you linked is the core orchestra. This is added to, as needed, depending on the repertoire. You mention European orchestras of 140 and 149 members. Apparently, you have not considered that no opera house pit could accommodate that many players at one time. Those musicians alternate performances, which, as you noted, are far more numerous in Vienna and Munich. It’s a fact of life that opera is bigger in Europe than in the States.

    You must not know that Houston also has another opera house, the Moores Opera House at the University of Houston. There, first-rate productions of varied repertoire are the norm. (Corigliano’s Ghosts of Versailles is but one example.) The Shepherd School of Music at Rice University is building yet another opera house. The SSSO just came back from a tour to Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore and Carnegie Hal in New York. Their performances were stunning, worthy of a major symphony.

    You are entirely correct about the well-educated players and singers being trained today, many of whom are underutilized. The answer is to generate interest in the arts through education and imaginative marketing. After all, the Dallas Wind Symphony did not rise to meet demand for that genre.

    • 49 musicians is not a full opera orchestra. Adding on free-lancers to fill out positions is a poor way to build orchestra cohesiveness and reeks of parochialism. It is absolutely ridiculous that a city the size of Houston (the fourth largest in the USA,) and a city so rich, can’t fund a full size opera orchestra.

      It may be that Houston will soon have 3 opera houses (probably using a relatively flexible definition,) but it is also true that they will not be used for opera for the vast majority of evenings. Just like Dallas which just built a posh, new house but still ranks 257th in the world for opera performances per year. And just like the Kennedy Center Opera House which was built over 40 years ago while Washington still ranks 182nd.

      There’s no doubt that the musicians in Texas are great, and can impress people in Carnegie, or wherever, which makes it all the more ridiculous that they are so little utilized.

      Why so much excuse-making and denial? How will that solve problems? Texans always want to claim everything is bigger and better there, so it’s time to put their money where their mouths are. A harsh comment, I know, but I suspect there are some musicians and opera fans there who would hardily agree.

      • I’ve finally figured it out. “Number of performances” is the opera-snob equivalent of, “Benghazi!!! Benghazi!!!!!!”

      • LarryW says:

        Despite the oft-repeated mantra, what was addressed as being erroneous remains so. It would be refreshing to hear solutions that do not simply involve throwing money at the problem.

        • Nonsense. The HGO performs in a multipurpose venue called the Wortham Theater Center. It’s not an opera house, though its understandable that many Americans would not even know what a dedicated opera house is and why they are important. And 49 players do not make an opera orchestra — living proof of what a small time operation the HGO is by international standards.

          The USA ranks 39th in the world for opera performances per capita — behind every country in Europe except impoverished Portugal. But don’t lose heart in your desire for American superiority. We beat out several Third World countries like Peru and Costa Rica. Geez, we even beat out Turkey.

          • It’s not a dedicated opera house, but it’s “multipurpose” only in the most literal, technical sense of the word. It was designed specifically to house HGO and Houston Ballet and where the needs of the two genres conflicted, some very ingenious solutions were found in order to minimize the need to compromise production values.

          • LarryW says:

            Again, no solutions are offered, with only negative thoughts and numerical references given. The description of what makes an opera house was your own. In the Wortham Theater Center, actually two halls, the Brown Theater serves both opera and ballet. This is typical for halls of this nature and does not make it “multi-purpose.” $66 million in private funds was raised for this. I doubt that could be duplicated in Europe. The HGO Orchestra is a first-class ensemble not easily measured by the size of its core.

            When posts seem designed to incite rather than inform, it’s difficult to see what the point is or who the intended audience may be. Ask not for whom the troll bellows.

          • Multipurpose because for the majority of the year it is not used for opera.

          • They are indeed to incite — to incite Americans to rethink their ineffective funding system. The numbers speak loud and clear.

          • Right.

            …Because Slipped Disc readers are likely to be proponents of the current funding model.

          • Strangely, many are –e.g. the listing of the article above from the AEI. And many others simply don’t give much thought to the problems. And as we see here, many are in denial about the problems. Much to be done.

          • Greg Hlatky says:

            “They are indeed to incite” – the perpetrators of the all-too-common fake “hate incidents” say much the same thing.

  • There seems to be a presumption that were it funded generously through a government sponsored line-item measure as part of an umbrella arts funding package that opera performances would dramatically increase. Perhaps they would, but would there be a corollary increase in the demand for opera performances? That is the salient question, for it may just be that as things now stand America may have reached its saturation point for opera. That certainly could partly explain companies’ declining fortunes. Personally, I’d love to have more because most of what seems to be performed are works that are performed far too often. A repertoire as rich as the operatic oeuvre has far more to offer than another Traviata or Rosenkavalier.

    It is too bad about HGO. When I was in the Houston Symphony, it was the orchestra for HGO. The company did some extremely interesting things, among which Janacek’s Katya Kabanova stands out in my memory.

  • I think the presumption would be a long-term strategy for gradually increasing the season in line with effective efforts to expand the public. This would include lowering prices to what middle class couples could afford on a regular basis, children’s operas, and a host of other efforts. Not a sudden spurt, but a patient effort to raise the standards of the HGO to international levels — something the city deserves and can easily afford. It already has the musicians.

    • “This would include lowering prices to what middle class couples could afford on a regular basis, children’s operas, and a host of other efforts.”

      Absolutely. Those “other efforts” should include performances of some sort in venues other than their downtown (or, in the case of the Met, uptown) homes. Joe Sixpack isn’t going to pay downtown prices (and deal with downtown parking) until he knows he likes opera (or ballet, or theatre…this applies to all the art forms), but he might take a chance on a show that’s in his own neighborhood and then — if he likes it — venture downtown.

    • Anonymus says:

      What were the prices in HGO in absolute numbers, and what in relation to a median income of the region?

      • Greg Hlatky says:

        Ticket prices for the HGO production of Das Rheingold next month are $35-$390. Ticket prices for the April 14th game between the Houston Rockets and the San Antonio Spurs at the Toyota Center are $35-$500.

        • Anonymus says:

          So I think a few opera tickets would be affordable to the average middle class family. It’s probably more a problem of priorities and lack of interest of the general public in the (higher) arts. Its an education and cultural problem, not a monetary one.

        • To evaluate the situation, we need average prices (not just the price range,) and information about priority ticketing arrangements for donors.

          I don’t know the average ticket price at the HGO. The average ticket at the Met has risen to $179. Attendance has fallen as a result. The average ticket price for a non-premium seat in the NBA (the vast majority of seats) is $50.99. 19 of the 30 teams have average ticket prices below that mark. So the average at the Met is over 3 times higher than for NBA games. See:

          http://www.businessinsider.com/average-ticket-prices-for-all-30-teams-in-the-nba-sports-chart-of-the-day-2013-2

          We should also remember that sports events are widely televised and can be viewed for free, while the HGO can no longer afford to even make audio recordings available.

          And finally, the NBA hardly needs subsidized tickets for outreach and education programs.

          • We should also remember that ticket sales are only a small source of the NBA’s income, while opera companies are very dependant on ticket sales, donations, and subsidies. To compare classical music tickets with sports events is a deeply misleading comparison and a favorite of right wing zealots opposed to public arts funding.

  • Dear William Osborne:

    I founded the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra (ROCO) in 2005 in Houston. ROCO is a 40-piece professional group that is regularly broadcast nationally on Performance Today. We are transitioning into one of the mid-size arts organization in the area. However, it is not our size that matters. Instead, we are focused on being a core cultural asset here that completes the musical landscape of repertoire and audience experience.

    Besides the fact we actually smile when we play, I started this orchestra with the idea that music is a language we speak, not an entity that exists between two opposing forces of audience vs. stage. Our business model relies completely upon the investor/patron who takes ownership of the organization in an emotional way. Patrons receive tickets when they donate and can also ‘adopt’ a musician (every musician is sponsored either through individuals or consortiums). Not only is it important that our audience know the musicians’ names (an art lost by the mass marketing of orchestra’s directors), but that we as musicians know the names of our patrons, donors and attendees. Our house lights stay up during concerts that are at 5pm on Saturdays. I can see the ‘whites of their eyes’ while I perform and know that they are reading pronunciation guides for composers’ names, timings of pieces and gig stories or questions answered by the performers in the program.

    We are not necromancers. Our musicians are alive, our audience is and most of our composers, since we have commissioned and world-premiered 37 works in 9 years with nine more planned for next season. We also do not practice age discrimination. Audiences of classical music have always skewed older in that once you reach a certain age and status in life, you have the time, money and inclination to be able to be present with this art form and form the relationships that make the experience unique. I believe in multi-generational audiences. We reach that coveted 30-40 something only because we offer a music education/childcare program during and after the concert, allowing parents a date night after the concert (we are saving marriages one concert at a time…).

    I would propose that ROCO is actually becoming more old-school European than Europe! In Europe, groups were originally founded by one family of patrons who supported the arts. Now the performing ensembles there are beholden to a state-funded model. A friend attempted to create an orchestra of high caliber in England in an entrepreneurial way and had a ridiculous time convincing people to donate (not part of the culture there). However, here, while we don’t have the public support that is held in high esteem in Europe, we have the option of creating our own job/career/passion with a culture that expects personal donations and involvement in non-profits. ROCO has grown the “collective patron.” We don’t have to rely upon the whim of one donor to shift with the tide, but can firmly plan for the future with the deep and wide support of this incredible town, Houston, full of generous, curious, adventurous and joyful patrons.

    People like Viswa and Chris and Brinton and LarryW, who have commented above, are the shining lights in Houston. All of you who are commenting on this thread are now on ROCO Will Call for a “forever ticket” that can be used once for any Saturday concert at St. John the Divine any season. Please come!

    And Mr. Osborne, perhaps there is a way for you to have a tangible, positive impact on Houston, since you are so passionate about the future of classical music. In fact, perhaps you can become an investor/owner yourself in say…the principal oboe chair of ROCO…now that you know her a bit.

    • Congratulations on your chamber orchestra. In the context of this discussion more info would be helpful. Yearly budget, number of performances, job security, pension plans, health insurance, etc., if we are to compare it to European orchestras.

      You are right. Europe’s public system can be very rigid compared to the wide-open style in the USA where nothing is set and nothing stable — qualities that come at an enormous price for musicians and our cultural lives. And new music ensembles like MusikFabrik, Ensemble Intercontemporan , and the Ensemble Modern, all of which offer full time jobs with benefits to musicians and which perform hundreds of concerts show Europe isn’t as frozen as we might think.

      Rather than be a donor in an anachronistic funding system that is literally neo-feudalistic and continually doomed to failure, I choose to continue my efforts to put the USA in line with the rest of the developed world and work toward effective public funding systems for the arts.

  • Pint Size Opera Wears Ten Gallon Hat

    http://www.artsjournal.com/2014/03/houston-grand-opera-bucking-the-trend-and-succeeding/

    San Diego Struggles to Revive Worldclass Micro Company

    http://www.artsjournal.com/2014/03/the-perplexing-events-that-led-to-shutting-down-san-diego-opera/

    Timely examples of how journalists perpetuate the facade of fraud that is American opera.

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