06 March 2012


As part of its centennial season, the San Francisco Symphony is reviving the American Mavericks festival it last held in 2000, and they're keeping the name despite the Palin taint still lingering over the word "maverick," and why shouldn't they, since they were there first. It's coming right up at Davies Hall, starting this Thursday 8 March, before traveling on to Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Carnegie Hall. SFMike previews it all for you, knowledgeably and enthusiastically, right here. (Though also click here for Joshua Kosman's skeptical take on the programming.)

These are exciting concerts, and I had missed the earlier festival, so it's all new to me. I was picking up the phone to buy the $100 pass, which (potentially) gets you into all of the concerts, and which comes with the DVD Copland and the American Sound, as well as the Symphony's just-released CD of John Adams's Harmonielehre, when I thought to check ticket availability.

I think the pass is a great idea, but I don't understand why it wasn't made available much earlier and publicized more. If I'd known about it earlier, I would have bought one right away and arranged some of my precious few vacation days to take advantage of all the concerts. I didn't hear about the pass in anything I received from the Symphony; I heard about it when Lisa mentioned it as part of her on-going series of ticket frustrations with the Symphony (if the pass had been available, she would have bought that instead of more expensive subscription tickets). After I read Lisa's account, I went to the Symphony's website, and if I hadn't been deliberately looking for information on the pass, I would have missed it entirely: there was a little box of information off to the side, among other similar-looking boxes of information. As far as I could see, if I were buying tickets to the Maverick concerts, nothing would stop me and let me know there was a potentially better option.

I go back and forth on buying tickets in advance and subscribing. On the one hand, I do care a lot about where I sit, though for different reasons in different venues. Davies is not Carnegie Hall; there are lots of seats where the sound is dead and distant and you might as well be sitting in the lobby listening. Buying in advance reassures me about where I'll be sitting. And generally, on the actual day of the performance, I'd rather just go home, especially when it means killing three plus hours after work waiting for 8:00 to roll around. If I've already spent the money, and I have it in my mind that I'm going, then I'll go, and usually find it worth the trouble. On the other hand, there's a lot to be said for flexibility, and leaving space for other things that come up, and not overbooking the calendar or spending too much money and time, both of which are of course always in short supply.

OK, so as I said I was all set to call and get my pass when I checked ticket availability (this was several weeks ago, so I assume even fewer tickets are available now). The two concerts with Jessye Norman were almost sold out, as far as I could see. (By the way, I'm calling them the Jessye Norman concerts since I suspect she's the reason tickets are so scarce; no disrespect to Joan La Barbara or Meredith Monk.) I had conflicting concerts on several of the dates. And since I must, alas, work a steady job to pay for all my concert-going, the Symphony's sclerotic insistence that 8:00 is the only possible start time for a weeknight concert was, uh, problematic. I guess the music can be fresh but the outer rituals of concert-going must stay petrified.

So it was increasingly clear that my $100 might get me a great bargain, but was just as likely not to. I really wanted to hear Meredith Monk. I had heard her live only once before, and it was basically my first exposure to her music, and I felt very lucky to have had the chance. So I ended up buying a ticket to the Sunday 18 March concert that featured her. It's billed as a chamber music concert, and Davies is not a chamber music hall, but I found a great seat for $36. Except, of course, it wasn't $36; it was $46, since a $10 charge for "handling" or who knows what is tacked onto all ticket prices, in a fairly obvious and stupid bid to make ticket prices look lower than they actually are. Seriously, do they think I won't notice? Just tell me up front that you're going to charge me $46. If it didn't stop me at the end, it wouldn't have stopped me at the beginning.

So here's my frustration: I now have an incentive not to buy tickets to these concerts. Rush tickets are $20, if they're even available, so I figure I can buy at most two (again, if they're even available) before I will have reached a point where the pass would have been a better choice.

Why wasn't the pass available when subscriptions were first sold?


Lisa Hirsch said...

The last Mavericks Festivals were during flusher times and perhaps the tickets sold more briskly. A program like this would be contingent on having enough unsold tickets to make the pass attractive.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

But they had a pass for the earlier festival (according to SFMike). And it looked as if they didn't have a whole lot of unsold seats this time around at a lot of the concerts I checked, and that was several weeks ago. And if they're trying to encourage new audiences, or create a festival atmosphere, the pass is a great idea. I think they just handled it badly. (I am amused that you, of all people, are going to defend the Symphony's ticketing systems. . . )