Point/Counterpoint: The death of the matinee


The Boston Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Roberto Abbado, performs Haydn's Symphony No. 93 in D at the Kennedy Center. (Michael Temchine/For The Washington Post/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

Who goes to Friday afternoon orchestra concerts? Not enough people, apparently. The National Symphony Orchestra has decided, for next season, not to “phase out” its matinees but to end them. To comment on this divisive action, we turn the soapbox over to two NSO attendees, who are no less pithy for being wholly imaginary. Call them Florestan and Eusebius, in a nod to classical tradition.

Florestan: There they go again. Orchestras these days are focusing on finding a hip, young audience. The matinee audience isn’t either. So the NSO ditches them with a single “Dear John” letter sent out with their subscription brochures.

Eusebius: Well, you have to see the NSO’s point. That matinee audience has been dwindling steadily for some time. There were only 600 subscribers to those Friday concerts. Performing to half-empty halls isn’t to anyone’s advantage.

Florestan: But think about who makes up those matinee audiences. Those are some of the NSO’s core constituents, people who have been attending orchestra concerts for years and belong to a generation that holds dear the primacy of classical music — like Dr. Albert W. Zanner of Gaithersburg, who has been going to NSO concerts for 50 years and who says, “We feel deserted as an elderly group who doesn’t like to drive at night.” By eliminating the matinees, the NSO is effectively getting rid of some of its most passionate listeners.

Eusebius: But is it the orchestra’s job to give concerts for an ever-smaller minority? Wouldn’t its resources be better used to help develop concerts that more people want to attend? In place of those Friday matinee concerts next season, it’s introducing Friday evening concerts with different repertory from the Thursday-to-Saturday concerts, so that concertgoers have an opportunity to hear an even wider variety of music.

Florestan: Couldn’t they have simply scaled down and continued offering a couple of matinees per season? That would have been a lot easier for those core constituents to swallow, and given some people who really love this music a way to keep hearing it live. Instead, the orchestra is going out and “building its audience” by playing in Columbia Heights.

Eusebius: They did scale back on the matinees; they used to do seven per season, and then cut back to four for the past couple of years. And they are still doing a matinee performance of “Messiah” in 2012-13. Will I see you there?

Florestan: Are you kidding? I never go to those matinees.

Got a rant?

Got a suggestion for Washington’s arts community? Go to wapo.st/the-rant and submit yours. We’ll run the most interesting ones. Please include your name, city and contact information.

Anne Midgette came to the Washington Post in 2008, when she consolidated her various cultural interests under the single title of chief classical music critic. She blogs at The Classical Beat.
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