The Ravinia Festival: A talk with Zarin Mehta

6. The Internet

ZARIN MEHTA: The Internet. [laughs] Okay.

FRANK J. OTERI: I really think it’s a chance to get this music back into the mainstream.

ZARIN MEHTA: Yeah, but just as much as you might be doing on your Web page, there’s rap pages and pop pages, and every, you know, Chris Isaak and so on have their own web pages and this is what people are hitting on.

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, maybe there’s a way to bring it all together. To get the people who listen to rap and Chris Isaak and…

ZARIN MEHTA: Maybe. I think we have to do all that. Absolutely.

FRANK J. OTERI: Now, Ravinia has a Web presence.

ZARIN MEHTA: Very much so. In fact, you’d be interested in the statistics. I think you saw what happened last year. We were very pleased because I think we sold about $350,000 worth of tickets on the Web last year, in the whole season. Two nights ago we hit $500,000 this year. And the season hasn’t started.

FRANK J. OTERI: Wow. Already? All on the Web?

ZARIN MEHTA: Yeah. What is also very exciting to us is 77% — I’m saying this because it’s so fresh now, that we were looking at this – 77% of the names of the people who bought tickets are new names.

FRANK J. OTERI: That is tremendous. That’s absolutely tremendous. And that speaks very well for the future…

ZARIN MEHTA: What you’re analyzing now, I wish I could tell you, is I don’t know how many of them are classical buyers. I would think most of the Web buyers are for pop concerts, because they’re going to be younger people who use the Web. That’s tremendous, even if 20% of that is classical, I would be thrilled.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s still fantastic.

ZARIN MEHTA: Because it’s a new audience that’s coming to classical music. And this is all Pavilion tickets, this is not lawn.

FRANK J. OTERI: Not picnic? Wow. Now I’d be curious, are they mostly people in the Chicago area or are they people from all over the country?

ZARIN MEHTA: Not only Chicago area but 56 or 57% are from the north and northwest suburbs.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s wonderful.

ZARIN MEHTA: So those are the people that, you know, in effect, populate Ravinia.

FRANK J. OTERI: The wonderful thing about the Web is that you can reach anybody anywhere in the world, and they can find out about you. There was an interesting session that began the American Symphony Orchestra League Conference which I’ve been at all week, and people talking about the Web and saying, well, gee, we should, orchestras, we probably should be fearing this Web thing because now people can hear other orchestras on the Web and they’re not going to come to our concert halls and this is not true because nothing replaces a live experience.

ZARIN MEHTA: People said when records came out then CDs that they’d stay home and listen to CDs and people wouldn’t come to concerts. But, in fact, in 1980 when the CD came out, it increased the audience for classical music, because it encouraged people to go out and hear things live. Very few people want just to sit home and do nothing. They want to go out.

FRANK J. OTERI: And what a lot of people have said to me is if they listen to a recording or if they hear something on the radio, they’re distracted. They get a telephone call. They have to deal with family or with someone coming over, whereas if you’re at a concert hall, it’s a sanctuary. There are no cell phones.

ZARIN MEHTA: That’s what I said about sitting on the lawn at Ravinia.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah.

ZARIN MEHTA: Of course, you hang amplified… an amplified concert, but you are sitting with 10,000 other people doing the same thing.

FRANK J. OTERI: And there are no other distractions. There’s nothing else calling for your attention.

ZARIN MEHTA: That’s what’s so extraordinary about it. So you see on the Web what we are doing also, is not only from a sales standpoint are we putting that we have, you know, the Chicago Symphony with Eschenbach doing x, but we will do a little biography of the artist, we’ll do a little accompanying program note. That’s also educating the person. Sound bytes are going to be the next thing that we’ll have to start inserting.

FRANK J. OTERI: Oh, wonderful! That would be wonderful.

ZARIN MEHTA: So people can hear, you know, thirty seconds of, I don’t know, La Valse or whatever.