New World Symphony's New Study Confirms Success of Alternative Concerts
The New World Symphony, America's Orchestral Academy (NWS), has announced the results of the study it initiated in 2009 to determine the efficacy of alternate concert formats in building new audiences for classical music alongside audiences for traditional presentations. The results add to the body of research that informs programming decisions of classical music organizations and presenters as they address the changing demographics and lifestyles of American audiences. Of equal importance, and as an additional consequence of this study and their participation in it, the Fellows of the New World Symphony will carry the techniques and sensibilities of-and an expanded appreciation for-audience engagement with them into their professional careers.
NWS systematically tested three alternate performance formats: 30-minute Mini-Concerts; late-night, mixed-genre lounge-style events titledPulse: Late Night at the New World Symphony; and hour-long Encounters that integrate scripted narration and video into the performance and include a post-concert reception for the entire audience. The study found that these alternate formats attracted more than double the number of new patrons than traditionally formatted programs, while also increasing audience diversity.
During the survey period (2010-2013), alternate performance formats accounted for 10 percent of the overall concert offerings, but 31 percent of first-time ticket buyers. In addition, 42 percent of the first-time attendees that were introduced to the New World Symphony through an alternate format made an additional ticket purchase, either to another alternate format or to a conventionally formatted concert.
Over the past two years, NWS, a post-graduate orchestral academy, partnered with five U.S. professional orchestras to conduct research on audiences attending their alternate performance formats, providing a nationwide sample of audiences. Research partners included the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Kansas City Symphony, Memphis Symphony Orchestra and San Diego Symphony. Generously funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Kovner Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the study was conducted by the New World Symphony and leading research and evaluation firm WolfBrown.
"At the New World Symphony, we are always exploring the relationship between excellence and inclusion," stated NWS's Founder and Artistic Director Michael Tilson Thomas. "As we engage these new audiences, we are guided by our vision statement: The New World Symphony sees a strong and secure future for classical music and will redefine, reaffirm, express, and share its traditions with as many people as possible."
Primary findings of the research include:
Alternate formats are successful at attracting new audiences
Alternate formats can be in sync with lifestyle choices of perspective audiences without compromising the selection of repertoire or the standard of quality at which it is performed
Short concerts can be as emotionally powerful as concerts of traditional length
Mixed-genre events (e.g., Pulse: Late Night at the New World Symphony) attract younger and more diverse audiences
Through intelligent contextualization of music, alternate formats may be the preferred experience for new audience members while also providing an informative experience for traditional audiences
Low-cost, alternate format concerts are more effective at attracting new audience members than free concerts
Theatrical lighting and projected imagery, deployed with a high level of artistic integrity, can enhance the concert experience, particularly for new audiences
Howard Herring, NWS's President and Chief Executive Officer, stated, "For us the motivation is the simple belief that this music can be meaningful to far more people than those who are currently in our audience. By studying the audiences' depth of experience and watching their ticket-buying patterns, hopefully we will find new ways of engaging audiences for the benefit of the listeners themselves and to provide more stability for the art form. Our ultimate goal is to create formats supported by audience survey results that will allow orchestras to take an informed risk on using one of these formats in their own programming."
Details of the audience survey work can be found at nws.edu/research.