Music and mountains drive festivals’ fortunes
Despite threats of a decline in tourism thanks to the nation’s economic turmoil, officials with Colorado’s summer music and dance festivals voice only mild concern about a possible drop-off in attendance and support.
In fact, as the festivals set up shop for the summer, business barely has slowed. It seems that even when travelers are thinking “stay-cation” instead of vacation, the combined lure of the mountains and the sound of world-class music is proving too hard to resist.
“We’re holding our own,” said Deb Hruby, marketing director for Central City Opera. “Our season subscribers are holding steady, and last-minute single-ticket purchases are picking up.”
In Boulder, the Colorado Music Festival is reporting only a slight drop in sales but isn’t very concerned. CMF marketing director Brandi Numedahl said that comparing this season with last year’s is unfair, since the 2008 season opened with a blockbuster week devoted to all nine Beethoven symphonies.
“That was a record time for us,” she said. “It’s better to compare sales to 2007. If you do that, then we are 25 percent ahead at this stretch.”
On the heels of the Beethoven cycle, music director Michael Christie has programmed a week of concerts devoted to beloved piano concertos, which is “just a touch behind last summer’s Beethoven week,” Numedahl said.
The Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival ranks just behind the Aspen Music Festival in attracting large audiences with marquee-name performers. At the start of its 22nd season, Bravo! has made some major adjustments in anticipation of an economic fall-off, executive director John Giovando said.
He said he noticed an unexpected difficulty in securing grant proposals last summer, which sent him into belt-tightening mode. “I called an executive committee meeting in September (2008). We reduced our income budget by 23 percent, and so far, that’s paid off.”
Some tough decisions were made: A proposed performance of Verdi’s enormous Requiem this summer was scrapped, along with an appearance by the Columbus Jazz Orchestra (necessitated by a drop in sponsorship). No staff members were laid off, but cost-cutting efforts were launched wherever possible. As a result, the cost of bringing in the renowned New York Philharmonic was reduced from $1.2 million to just over $1 million. Similar measures resulted in lower prices for the Dallas Symphony and Philadelphia Orchestra. Overall, expenses were reduced by 18 percent, Giovando said.
With this summer’s seasons just beginning, it’s too early to tell if the economic crisis will threaten the festivals’ financial health. Thus far, though, the numbers are decent and, in some cases, surprisingly good.
“We expected that our production of (Donizetti’s) Lucia di Lammermoor would do the best of the three,” Hruby said of Central City Opera’s repertory. “But it’s actually been the slowest. There’s a lot of interest in (Stephen Sondheim’s) A Little Night Music and even in Rinaldo, which is our first Handel opera.”
To counteract negative effects from the economic turmoil, Central City Opera has stepped up its online marketing, utilizing Facebook, Yahoo, Google and other Internet sites. “We never did that before,” Hruby noted. The sales figures have been promising, despite a 10 percent increase in ticket prices, which now range from $50 to $99.
Prices have remained the same at the Colorado Music Festival: $12 to $47. “And we’re offering all five piano concerto concerts for $100, which is quite a bargain,” Numedahl said.
In Vail, Giovando praised the local community’s support in sustaining Bravo! “The town of Vail had to cut their contribution by 10 percent — to $157,500 — but the local businesses have been tremendous. Last year, they gave $3.3 million through in-kind donations. This year, it’s up to $3.9 million.”
Numedahl said there’s no sign of panic as the summer season begins: “We feel really lucky to be in the place of stability where we are.”