During this high season, some classical groups are seeing an uptick in sales, but many Minnesota Orchestra and SPCO fans are just staying at home.
The locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra aren't the only classical music lovers feeling left out in the cold. So are those who attend their performances, year in and year out.
Some subscribers may be seeking their classical "fix" elsewhere -- a few classical groups have noticed a spike in ticket sales. Others are staying home and mourning the loss of a seasonal tradition.
Longtime Minnesota orchestra subscribers Bill and Nancy Jones of St. Paul were looking forward to enjoying every concert from their seats in the front row. And it's not just the music they pine for.
"We miss the social aspect of it, too," Bill Jones said. "Meeting friends for supper, the ritual double espresso before the concert, seeing more people we know in the audience, and among the musicians on stage."
SPCO fan Paul Tidemann of St. Paul said he is missing the season but gets his "fix" playing horn with the Fridley-based Northeast Orchestra, one of many community orchestras that put on at least a few concerts each year. Other longtime fans are more strident in tone about the glaring gap in their entertainment traditions.
"Not having the concerts, it's stressing me out," said Phil Willkie. "I'm staying home, playing music and getting angry."
The cancellation of one perennial favorite in particular leaves a big hole in the holiday schedule: the Minnesota Orchestra's performances of Handel's "Messiah." Oratorio Society of Minnesota conductor Matthew Mehaffey has attempted to fill that hole with a specially organized "Messiah" concert to be held Friday at Central Presbyterian Church in St. Paul. The concert will feature a chamber orchestra playing 18th-century period-authentic instruments and 16 Twin Cities vocalists.
Mehaffey said the Oratorio Society saw increased attendance at its November concert, "and from an informal poll of the audience, about 50 percent of our audience were new."
The Bakken Trio is another group that has drawn in new fans in the wake of the orchestras' troubles. "We got a number of new subscribers who formerly attended the Minnesota Orchestra chamber music series," said the Bakken's cellist, Mina Fisher, a Minnesota Orchestra member. "In our mailing, I wrote, 'there's a hunger for music in the Twin Cities,' and the audience response was palpable at our first concert on Nov. 4."
But most others polled, ranging from the Minnesota Opera and MacPhail Center for Music to suburban community orchestras, haven't noticed an appreciable uptick.
"I suspect that people who customarily attend Minnesota Orchestra or SPCO concerts are going primarily for the marquee value, and don't necessarily see their way to transferring their interests to a community orchestra," said Elizabeth Prielozny Barnes, music director of the East Metro Symphony Orchestra.
She might be right. The hottest classical tickets in town appear to be for concerts being independently staged by the locked-out musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra. Two concerts this weekend at Ted Mann Concert Hall with former music director Edo de Waart quickly sold out. Tom George, director of the Madeline Island Music Camp, acted quickly to snap up a pair of tickets. In the absence of a regular season, he said, "you don't waste any time getting a ticket to something like that."
The musicians of the SPCO also plan two "Messiah" concerts for the following weekend with the Minnesota Chorale at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. Both are currently about half sold.
As for the Joneses, they're sitting tight.
"We won't replace the orchestra with anything else," Bill Jones said. "We patiently await a resolution."
Kristin Tillotson • 612-673-7046