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Resolution: $20 or Less in 2010

I know, I know, the headline of this column sounds a bit like the spam clogging your e-mail inbox. Believe me, it is not. It’s my new year’s arts resolution for 2010.

The problem I am tackling: the custom of reviewing live performances, which seems especially out of balance during the extended economic downturn. Simply put, critics and arts writers experience live performances from a different vantage point than the general public—even while trying to maintain an objective stance, it is impossible not to be affected by the mathematics governing the intersection of how much you spent on a ticket and how good the performance was from where you sat. (Specifics on this below the jump.) So I’ve decided, as a new year’s resolution, to write at SundayArts exclusively about performances from the $20-or-less vantage point.

As we start the year, the economy, while not in the sort of spectacular, scary freefall of late 2008, is still pretty darn shaky. Everyone has had to make adjustments—anything from coming to the office with leftovers to eat for lunch, to taking a stay-cation instead of a vacation, to making do another season or two with the same wardrobe. Getting and keeping a job is challenging, to say the least.

Meanwhile, for members of the cultural press, part of our job is to attend concerts, operas, and other events and review them or provide other informed commentary on them. In normal circumstances we sit in privileged “press seats,” provided free to us, whose normal cost would be anywhere between two times to twenty times the price of the cheapest ticket in the same theater. We sit in these seats so that we can write for the general public about the performance as experienced from the best possible vantage point in the theater.

I’ve been attending concerts for a long time in New York. I also love cheap tickets—an inherent cheap gene that well predates the 2008 economic crisis—and which I’ve covered in previous SundayArts columns HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE. I am never happier than seeing a great concert for $10 or $15, and I’m infuriated by performances where I feel gypped for having gotten less than what I paid for (like last October’s Monty Python 40th-anniversary tribute event at Town Hall).

So for 2010, I’ll be regularly reporting here on what live music can be heard for $20 or less. The number is somewhat arbitrary—$20 is about twice the price of a movie ticket, so double the price of a movie seems reasonable for live performers. I came up with this scheme before I heard that Lincoln Center was doing a $20-tickets-for-20-days promotion this month for the opening of the Rubinstein Atrium space, which I think is a wonderful idea. If you look around, lowered ticket prices for the arts have increasingly been part of the scenery. (I have no idea how long arts presenters will be able to keep this up, as there are some fairly fixed costs involved with presenting a live performance.) In addition to the increasing number of large-screen outdoor live performances (though, alas, not in the dead of winter), there’s Poisson Rouge, where most performances are $20 or under, and Symphony Space, where a bunch of offerings are free. If you’re under 35 you can get in fairly cheaply to the 92nd Street Y. At New York City Opera, a new “opera for all” program gets you in for $25 or less. Some of the big kahunas like the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic continue to offer cheaper tickets, though sometimes you have to stand in line to get the tickets or as in the case of the Met standing room sections, to watch the performance itself. Trust me, hearing a really great performance in standing room at the Met is totally worth the meager $15 or $20—I still vividly remember a five-hour Queen of Spades in 1995 with Karita Mattila and Ben Heppner. I didn’t notice my feet at all—until it was over.

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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