Tanglewood box office hits high note with best-attended season since 2012
LENOX — The box office scoreboard is in for the 11-week season at Tanglewood, and it shows a 10 percent paid attendance spurt over last summer. It also ranks as the fifth-highest total in the history of the Boston Symphony's summer home.
The schedule opened with a diverse three-week, pre-BSO slate of pop presentations and ended with a shorter, post-orchestra season rock and pop lineup.
In all, 353,751 people streamed through the gates, the orchestra announced this week, the best-attended season since the 75th anniversary summer of 2012, which brought in 375,776 listeners.
There were 94 ticketed events in the Shed and Ozawa Hall, including Tanglewood Music Center summer institute performances, up from 84 last year and 78 in 2014.
The all-time attendance records were set in 1998 with 386,870 and in 1997 with 376,533.
Based on reports of an especially robust summer tourism season in the Berkshires, the Tanglewood box office score not only reflected the surge of visitors but also contributed to strong patronage at area hotels, restaurants and shops.
"The more great stuff that's happening in the Berkshires, the better off we all are," said Kim Noltemy, BSO's chief operating and information officer. She told The Eagle that Tanglewood's mid-June jump-start provided early-summer momentum.
While acknowledging "a very successful season," Noltemy described the attendance total as "a little lower than we anticipated based on the number and type of events scheduled and considering advance sales were so strong." In addition, she cited several August rainstorms that held down walkup lawn sales.
"We're pleased because it's considerably more than last year, but we thought some Popular Artists would sell better and break above 10,000 attendance," she said. "But a number of them didn't."
Specifically, the return of the Boston Pops Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration with guitarist Warren Haynes fell short of projections because of a Phish concert at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center — "direct competition for the audience," Noltemy said.
True to form, James Taylor was the box office champ once again, drawing capacity crowds of 18,132 fans to his July 3 show and 18.067 on July 4.
In third place was John Williams' Film Night on Aug. 13, which drew 16,640 people to hear Williams conduct some of his most popular scores.
The Boston Pops film-with-orchestra presentation of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" conducted by Keith Lockhart ranked in 9th place, with 9,021 viewers on Aug. 26.
Bob Dylan's appearance on July 2 proved to be a big draw, with 14,038 tickets sold. In his final outing as host of the public radio show he created 42 years ago, Garrison Keillor was greeted by 11,214 loyal listeners for the live broadcast of "A Prairie Home Companion" on June 25.
Close behind was the return appearance by the rock group Train on Aug. 23, with 10,848 in the audience.
Three BSO concerts made the top 10, led by the orchestra's annual season finale on Aug. 28, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, conducted by its Music Director Andris Nelsons. Yo-Yo Ma, a perennial favorite, also made the list in an Aug. 27 concert led by Michael Stern, as did celebrity pianist Yuja Wang in a concert led by conductor Gustavo Gimeno in his BSO and Tanglewood debut on July 17.
Tanglewood on Parade, the mid-summer gala celebrating the young musicians of the TMC Orchestra as well as the BSO and the Boston Pops, attracted 10,083 patrons.
At Ozawa Hall, the most popular concerts were jazz trumpeter Chris Botti on July 24 (2,351 listeners) and the Emerson String Quartet with diva soprano Renee Fleming on July 13 (2,009).
"Ozawa Hall sold well overall with a few exceptions," Noltemy said, "but there were no blockbusters."
Looking ahead to next summer when the BSO will be in residence for eight weeks, four of them showcasing Music Director Andris Nelsons, Noltemy said there's a desire to continue the pre-season Popular Artists series.
"But it's hard to get the right groups that work for us," she said. "We are committed to doing our best to make that happen."
A complicating factor is that many of the more prominent solo and group performers demand such a high percentage of box-office receipts that the BSO could wind up in the red, Noltemy said.
"We try to drive traffic to the region with Popular Artists," she said. "But there's a significant risk factor."
The BSO is emphasizing the need to attract younger people and families to Tanglewood, where the average of the total audience is 63, Noltemy said.
Thus, a populist approach to programming the classical season will continue with emphasis on well-known music and performers who drive ticket sales, she noted.
"The audience is just getting to know Nelsons, so it's fantastic he'll be here more next summer," Noltemy said.
"Our big goal is to try to get people to attend classical concerts more frequently," she said. "We're thinking of more ways to make Tanglewood more appealing, with added-value to entice people to return. Although we have very compelling music, we have to make the experience all the more compelling in every respect."
Examples she offered include activities that attract young families, date nights and tours of the grounds.
"Once you push those activities, you see great enthusiasm," Noltemy said, citing the increasing number of solo artist encores and pre-concert talks by musicians as other incentives appreciated by audiences.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
Tanglewood top 10 ...
Here are the past season's leading box office attractions at the Boston Symphony's summer home:
• James Taylor, July 3 (18,132) and July 4 (18,067)
• John Williams' Film Night, Aug. 13 (16,640)
• Bob Dylan, July 2 (14,038)
• "A Prairie Home Companion" with Garrison Keillor, June 25 (11,214)
• Train, Aug. 23 (10,848)
• BSO Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Andris Nelsons, Aug. 28 (10,342)
• Tanglewood On Parade, Aug. 2 (10,083)
• BSO with Yo-Yo Ma, conducted by Michael Stern, Aug. 27 (9,482)
• Boston Pops "Raiders of the Lost Ark" conducted by Keith Lockhart, Aug. 26 (9,021)
• BSO conducted by Gustavo Gimeno with pianist Yuja Wang, July 17 (8,095)
Tanglewood trends ...
Here are the paid attendance totals for the past 10 summers:
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