Gustavo Dudamel, the new music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, may be the hottest conductor on the classical scene, but box-office figures from Walt Disney Concert Hall show that even the young Venezuelan isn't entirely recession-proof.
Subscription tickets, which went on sale in February and account for a significant portion of total sales, have fallen 7% from last year, the final year of Esa-Pekka Salonen's tenure with the orchestra.
That was at least partly offset by an uptick in the sale of single tickets. The orchestra says that purchases of individual tickets that went on sale Sunday were approximately 50% above the sales from the same day last year, resulting in several sold-out performances well in advance of Oct. 8, the official start of the 2009-10 season.
"It's not unlike what we're seeing at the Hollywood Bowl this summer," said Arvind Manocha, the company's chief operating officer. "There's a certain population of people who migrate away from large subscription packages, and we're seeing more of that than usual."
He said the recession is partly to blame for the decline in subscriptions but added that Sunday's sales were more than what the Philharmonic had expected.
The Philharmonic provided the trend numbers but declined to disclose exact dollar figures for the coming season.
Ticket prices rose an average of about 4% from last year, which is in line with increases in previous seasons, when the economy wasn't struggling. Prices range from as little as $20 for the Toyota youth concerts to as much as $215 for an orchestra seat to see the Berlin Philharmonic.
As of Monday, six performances had sold out or were close to sold out, all featuring Dudamel on the podium.
In addition, Dudamel-led concerts accounted for seven of the top 10 requested performances at the box office on Sunday.
Among the most popular Dudamel appearances are the Mahler Symphony No. 1 concerts in October; performances of Verdi's Requiem, set for early November; and a series of concerts with violinist Gil Shaham in late November. The Oct. 8 inaugural gala is also a top draw, with a limited number of tickets available.
The box-office rush comes as the Philharmonic is rolling out an elaborate marketing campaign that features Dudamel on posters, banners and billboards around the city. In late July, the orchestra began putting up banners of Dudamel around Disney Hall.
This year's marketing campaign is significantly larger than in previous years, with more placements across all forms of media, according to the Philharmonic.
Dudamel is scheduled to appear in 29 of the season's 195 concerts.
The free Hollywood Bowl concert set for Oct. 3 generated huge interest from fans who lined up Aug. 1 for a ticket giveaway. But most were turned away empty-handed when online buyers obtained seats in advance.
A spokeswoman for the orchestra said that even though the Philharmonic has been emphasizing Dudamel in its advertising, some of the bestselling concerts have been for non-Dudamel performances. Appearances by the Berlin Philharmonic are among the top attractions this season; another top seller is a concert with Hawaiian musician Keali'i Reichel set for March.
Unlike many smaller symphony orchestras that have had to make budget cuts during the last year, the L.A. Philharmonic has not announced layoffs or other reductions. The company said local patrons have continued their financial support, although the orchestra has seen a reduction in its endowment as a result of the recession.
What remains uncertain is whether Dudamel's arrival will generate enough box-office interest in the months to come to offset the subscription decline. The Philharmonic said it expects to see devoted Dudamel fans buying more tickets closer to the start of the season.
"The 'Dudamel effect' is a phenomenon that we're well aware of," Manocha said. "But we're really just learning how to handle it."