Major US orch faces terrifying audience drop

Major US orch faces terrifying audience drop


norman lebrecht

July 14, 2015

The Pittsburgh Symphony, with a growing international reputation under conductor Manfred Honeck, has suffered a disastrous season at home.

Attendance at the Mellon Grand Classics series plummeted from 61 percent to 50 at Heinz Hall; the Pops series dropped from 62 to 56 percent.

The orch has an ambitious new manager. She’ll have to work fast.

pittsburgh heinz hall


  • Fred Obelisk says:

    The concert held there on February 13th was about 90% attended, so there is hope.

  • V.Lind says:

    Was it something uber-popular, like Bolero? Or was there a Lang Lang or another megastar in the programme?

  • CA says:

    As noted, it is, after all, a rather large hall…….and I believe their new manager is coming from Utah which has a similarly large hall (Abravanel), or perhaps even a bit larger.

    • suzanne says:

      Yes, but sadly with the same attendance problems.

      • Ben Ordaz says:

        Same attendance problems? Not really. I’ve worked in ticketing for Utah symphony for the last 3 years, and we fall between 75-90% capacity each weekend, and our ticket sales have increased for the last 5 years. We have the same problems as everywhere trying to get people to come from younger demographics, but we have done well maximizing our efforts in a good market

  • Ehud says:

    This is a fine orchestra which has suffered incredibly inept management for a sustained period of time. They have continued to make ridiculous marketing decisions, and are reducing their core product, classical programs, in favor of short term gains.

  • Gaffney Feskoe says:

    Perhaps Pittsburgh should study the playbook of their near neighbor in Cleveland.

    • Brian Bell says:

      Indeed. Raising ticket prices when the hall is empty is not the way to increase per concert revenue. The trick is to have the most dollars earned per concert, preferably with a full hall.
      Lowering the ticket prices to increase the size of the audience is probably Pittsburgh’s best way to keep the deficit from spinning out of control. I would think that their board should understand that. But from what I read from the article, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

      • Olassus says:

        No, the trick is to have a full hall, preferably sold out on subscription so the audience is committed and made family and so marketing costs are minimized, then to earn the most dollars.

    • herrera says:

      Cleveland is hardly the model, as the NYT just did an article on them last week, saying that the hall might be full, but full paying seats are down, that is, the hall is filled with deeply discounted or subsidized seats for students etc. Sure it’s better to fill seats with fresh blood than to have empty seats, but buttocks on seats is not the same as dollars in coffers.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    I was in attendance for the fabulous Chris Botti shows with the orchestra. They had terrific turnouts for his weekend of performances. Our ‘subscribers’ event for the recording of Lucas Richman’s concerti for piano, cello and oboe were very well attended as well. One aspect which was not raised, was the horrific cold winter weather. Might this have contributed to the less-than-usual turnout of patrons for this particular season?

    • thrumbo says:

      This is a relevant point. Weather can play all kinds of havoc and if Pittsburgh had a really awful winter, that could easily depress ticket sales by 10% or a lot more. I mean, it’s not like everyone in Pittsburgh abruptly decided to stop attending the Symphony this season.

      • Jeffrey Biegel says:

        It’s a strong possibility. I suppose the staff would have to take time and compare ticket sales during the past season, see where tickets dropped, and check back at the weather of the days of those performances.

  • Rachelle Goldberg says:

    They should think of promoting the orchestra by marketing in local schools to encourage younger people to attend concerts. Maybe subsidising the cost and either get school groups or special discounts for children accompanied by an adult or a family ticket.

  • Alan Karnovitz says:

    Attended the final concert of the season that included MAhler 1. Beautifully performed and a very fine interpretation by Honeck. City does not deserve that orchestra. Wish they would move to DC. Hall was half empty

    • John Nemaric says:

      Two reason I did not attend the last PSO concert. 1) Price (I am retired and I can not get a discount unless…I wish I knew what to do to get a sr citizen discount) and, 2) I have heard Honeck’s Mahler 1 at least six times in the last few years…boring!!!

      Hopefully the programming will change with the new management and be able to attract all those young minds that live here most of the year. There are about 100,000 students in Pittsburgh’s universities but even they can not get good discounts to attend these concerts. They are totally ignored and that it’s a waste.


    Twelve dollars a concert is a great price. When I was a student in Pittsburgh 1958-62, I had a student subscription for an entire 20 concert Pittsburgh Symphony series at the old Syria Mosque, a barn of a 3700 seat theater. Of course my seat was terrible, all the way on the side with only a partial view of the stage and bad acoustics.

    But I was almost always able to move to a center seat. The only time I even had to stay in my allotted section, although not in the same seat, was when Artur Rubinstein came to town.

    Granted that the orchestra performed in a larger auditorium than now, but it was never sold out and was usually about 60-70% filled. And it turned this listener, who had never previously attended a professional orchestra concert, into a lifelong classical music lover and concert goer.