Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Concert Price Check

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Gangplanks to the Konzertsaal inside the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum in Lucerne

Published: September 3, 2016

MUNICH — Visiting orchestras cost more for concertgoers. But why exactly? Several factors govern ticket prices on tours, often mitigating each other, and all have a bearing this month as three orchestras from this city hit the road:

Bavarian State Orchestra (BStO) with Kirill Petrenko, general music director
Munich Philharmonic (MPhil) with Valery Gergiev, chief conductor
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (BRSO) with Daniel Harding, guest conductor

Here at home these orchestras cost as follows, sampling the top prices for a regular concert without subscriber discount: BStO in the National Theater, U.S. $78; MPhil in the Gasteig, $68; BRSO in the Herkulessaal, $73. Tickets in all price categories include bus and train fares to and from the venue within a 25-mile radius.

Government subsidy, at the federal, state, and in the MPhil’s case city levels, holds down prices to ensure that all Munich audiences can afford to attend. It does not necessarily vanish on tour, at least not within Europe.

For instance, at Berlin’s Musikfest this month, a six-hour drive from here, you would pay a reasonable and consistent top price of $100 for the visiting BStO, MPhil or BRSO, with subsidy applying both to the festival and, federally, to the three German orchestras.

Lack of subsidy may seem to explain exorbitant prices at Lucerne’s Sommer-Festival in Switzerland. Or is a profit motive kicking in? Actually a third factor causes them: currency exchange and the robust Swiss franc. Lucerne, just four hours by road from Munich, wants $245 and $296 for the BStO and MPhil, respectively.

That last detail raises the issue of perceived worth. Why would Lucerne charge a premium for one Munich orchestra over another when Berlin prices all three equally? For that matter, why does Berlin ask more for visiting orchestras than for its own Konzerthaus-Orchester (at a $69 top, staying with the “regular concert without subscriber discount” benchmark) or Berlin Philharmonic ($84) when subsidy applies?

The concert presenter directly, and the concertgoer ultimately, places a value on an orchestra in part as a function of geography. In the small Swiss city but not in the German capital, Gergiev’s orchestra (or Gergiev) is valued more highly than Petrenko’s (or Petrenko). In Berlin, people are willing to pay more to hear out-of-town musicians, a flip side to familiarity breeding contempt.

Price-comparing assumes events have been priced to sell out, and sell out at roughly the same pace. Which in turn assumes presenters know their job. They may. But objectively the worth of an orchestra cannot rise or fall by the tour stop.

If beauty is in the ear of the beholder, the Milanese are more attuned than most. So say Teatro alla Scala’s managers by setting a top of $162 for the BStO’s concert there — far below Lucerne prices yet still double the tag at home. Low government funding in Italy helps shape their thinking, rather than any attempt to gouge, though it will make La Scala’s big platea hard to fill.

Otherwise prices vary against a mental cushion: presenters’ realistic belief that ticket buyers will allow for some unknown but fair travel expense being passed along to them, unaware whether such expense has been covered by grants. Traveling more widely than the other orchestras this time, the BStO costs $94 in Paris, $107 in Vienna and $117 in Luxembourg.

Back in Germany on dates in between those stops, the limited revenue potential of relatively small halls may explain BStO top prices in the range of $118 to $144 for Bonn, Dortmund and Frankfurt. Either that, or someone is profiting, an alien notion when the very existence of orchestras requires subsidy.

Presenters of visiting orchestras are indeed on occasion out to make money, just as they do with non-classical artists. NBS in Tokyo has been a world-renowned price-gouger. In Munich the busy presenter MünchenMusik often prices aggressively. There are several more.

What of three Munich orchestras touring at the same time? Music contracts here commonly run “Sept. 1 to Aug. 31,” with the summer months tail-ending the term ostensibly to provide time off. In practice this structure brings chances to earn extra income at festivals instead. September becomes an odd month: the musicians need a break and audiences are sated from summer performances; the main season is supposed to start yet nobody wants to get down to it. So a window opens for touring.

Photo © KKL Luzern Management AG

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“Pina,” Wim Wenders’ 3D Dance Film

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

By Rachel Straus

“You just have to get crazier.” These words came from Pina Bausch, the late choreographer, whose dance troupe made the industrial city of Wuppertal, Germany an avant-garde theatrical destination for 36 years. In Wim Wenders’ 3D documentary “Pina,” screened on October 15 at Alice Tully Hall for the New York Film Festival, audiences got a taste of what Bausch’s crazy looks like. In one scene, a Bausch dancer walks through a park in a floor-length dress like a zombie queen. The woman careens to the ground, flat as a board. Right before smashing her face, her suitor scoops her up like a crane lift. Then she falls again, and again. The effect is part amusement ride, part suicide watch.

Bausch’s surrealistic collage-structured dances revel in the frightening, funny, fragile inner states of the human psyche. On Bausch’s stage compulsive disorders, misogynism, sadism, and run-of-the-mill cultural oppression cavort like lunatics at an insane asylum. Fortunately, Bausch chose her inmates well. Her cadre of dancers resemble one-of-a-kind flowers, grown in places as far afield as Brazil and Tokyo. Before one’s eyes, their limbs uncoil, tendril-like, always searching for something to grasp. Inevitably they fall. The metaphor is an obvious one, but Bausch won die-hard fans around the world with this trope in her 40-plus works. Her dances evoked desperate perseverance, in all of its illogical inanity. Her singular message was digestible because she made human effort, and failure, look beautifully irresistible.

Pina Bausch, 68, died June 2009, the night before Wim Wenders was to begin shooting their long-postponed film collaboration. Since 1985 Wenders, whose films include “Buena Vista Social Club,” “Paris, Texas,” and “Wings of Desire,” had been discussing with Bausch a project featuring her choreography. On stage Wenders explained that it wasn’t until he saw 3D film technology, he felt he could do Bausch’s work justice. Regular film, Wenders said, creates an “invisible wall” between the dance and the celluloid image. “Something,” he said, “did not work.” With that comment, Wenders invited the audiences to consider whether his 3D “Pina” does.

When Wenders’ 3D segments captured Bausch’s dancers on tramcars and busy roadways, in parks and glass houses, the film became bigger than life. The dancers’ gesture-driven performances in these hyper-pixilated landscapes grew mesmerizing with the sharp, glistening quality of the film. Among the rush of cars, swaying of  trees, and presence of pedestrians, the dancers became absorbed into a heightened but familiar reality, a piece with Bausch’s style of magic realism.

When the dancers were shot in the theater, however, Wenders encountered less success. His close-up camera work felt intrusive and aggressive. In one segment, Wenders’ camera closed in on a woman’s squirming back in Bausch’s 1975 “Rite of Spring.” By zeroing in on her struggle, Wenders made the moment personal instead of archetypal. In “Rite,” the cast resembles primitives. Their landscape is a dirt-strewn stage. The proscenium frames them the way an icon painting is framed by an architectural portal. The dancers become effigies; their individual features are abstracted through their unison, slicing movement.

Though Bausch’s performers occasionally saunter through theater aisles looking glamorous and talking to regular folk, when they represent universal beings, they do it on stage at at remove from the audience. Bausch didn’t offer ticket holders intimacy. She created a theatrical portal for her vision to be perceived. Her method was simple: She distanced the performer from the spectator. She created just the kind of wall that Wenders wants to permeate.

Whether 3D films like “Pina” will fan the flames of the American dance audience is much in discussion. Thus far a handful of 3D dance films have been produced, including The Kirov’s “Giselle,” Matthew Bourne’s “Swan Lake,” Michael Flatley’s “Lord of the Dance, and “Step Up 3D.” Turning a dancing body into a 3D piece of digitalia is fascinating, but whether it can compete with the power of live dance performance isn’t a slam dunk. When Wenders’ camera gave Bausch performers the space to disport themselves, he captured their beautiful craziness. He transmitted their quality of dangerous freedom. He didn’t come in for a close up. At these moments, I think, Pina Bausch would have been pleased.

Paris Pelleas Project

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

By Alan Gilbert

For many years I have been speaking about the idea of introducing a visual element to the auditory core of a concert with Doug Fitch, my friend and frequent collaborator. It’s a tricky matter as it is far from evident how to do so in a way that enhances the experience – by reflecting a true spiritual link between the music and images – and at the same time does not diminish the impact of the music itself.
When I ponder this there are several random points that come to mind, which have informed Doug’s and my musings on the subject: 

  • You can’t say that concerts are not already inherently visual: an important part of the experience is observing the ritual of the concert experience itself, from the musicians taking the stage in tails and gowns and tuning, then the concert itself, with the movement of bows and the raising of mallets, including the impressions of the audience around you and the conductor on the podium.
  • Opera is of course visual, and this is true, albeit less so, even when it is performed “in concert.”
  • Some composers purport to think in color: it isn’t just a case of Scriabin’s synesthesia, but the kind of “tone palette” used most obviously by Debussy and the impressionists.
  • Concerts on television present a real challenge: the director’s choices as when to close up and on whom can affect the viewer’s auditory experience as they guide which lines stand out, and add weight and focus in a way usually attributed to the conductor. This means that the listener/viewer is given less choice about what stimuli to respond to. In the concert hall, for example, one might be fascinated by how sensitively a violist is accompanying a famous oboe solo, and decide to concentrate on that level of the music. Seeing a close-up of the oboist’s reed, perhaps with a bead of sweat poised to drip off her nose, would, in this case, be a distraction.
  • Having consciously decided to add an additional visual element, it has to be done with taste and insight – with a real respect for the music itself.

Last Saturday Doug and I were able to act on our theories when I conducted Schoenberg’s Pelleas und Melisande with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in a performance in which Doug’s images were projected. In fact, it was a series of concerts, because the piece was being done not only in a concert for adults, but also in two youth concerts.
We felt that this was an ideal work for us to implement our theories. The piece, although inspired by Maeterlinck’s drama, does not follow a linear narrative. The music captures the emotional spirit – feelings, locations, characters – but it doesn’t follow the story point by point in a literal way. The Rite of Spring would have been a wrong choice because, as a ballet, it was created to convey a storyline with a specific series of visual events. Yes, in the Schoenberg there are moments when clear visual images are suggested, such as the one in which Golaud murders Pelleas, but overall his Pelleas lives in the indefinable areas of psychological exploration and emotional impact.
Similarly, in last weekend’s presentation Doug’s images suggested the story without relating it, in a way that was stylish and musically sophisticated – a mis en lumière. For the most part he used black and white images, which seemed inspired by Japanese painting and brushwork, with only the occasional use of color, and the images were projected on a layered series of screens to create a sense of three dimensions. And while the stage lights were down, so people could see the projections of light that conveyed Doug’s visuals, I as the conductor had to be seen by the players, so I was brightly lit, which had the side effect of letting the audience know that the music was still of primary importance. (You can see it online:
People seemed to like it – afterwards, they spoke of the beauty and commitment of the orchestra’s playing, the elegance and suggestive power of Doug’s images, and, perhaps most importantly for me, the fact that they were able to switch their attention seamlessly back and forth between the elements. This had been the elusive goal we were hoping to achieve in this experimental coupling of aural and visual media. And it wasn’t just the adults at the “normal” concert who appreciated it: the children (roughly aged 9-13) clearly “got it,” even though at first blush Maeterlinck’s story of illicit love, betrayal, and murder would not seem a natural subject for a kids’ concert. When you add to it the fact that this serious, intense 45-minute score is by Schoenberg, the project could seem absurd. But the young audience listened with incredible focus. We did have some explanation and illustrations, including commentary I gave, and perhaps that helped, but the fact is that we didn’t sugarcoat anything, and once the performance began the kids listened with an impressive degree of concentration, and responded warmly when it was over. I found this inspiring, and am eager to try similar projects in New York – for audiences of all ages.

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit