By Ryan Thomas
Miguel Rodriguez, executive director of Boston Baroque, aims for the cheap seats. Because those are the ones he’d rather fill.
“I think you can move people and build audiences at the grassroots level,” Rodriguez said. “I always say, I’d rather have a thousand $25 donors than three $50,000 donors.”
He also said his aim is not to appeal to the ‘already converted,’ but rather those who are far outside the know.
“There is, on every genre, that chorus of people that are purists and they love it, but I come from a totally different perspective because I love all kinds of music, and I like to come to learn about all kinds of music. And I think everybody has an opportunity to listen. When I think about the the music and I think about the program, I try to sell them not in an academic way. I try to sell them in a way that resonates with everybody,” he said.
Rodriguez also noted that Boston Baroque has a very knowledgeable group of fans and followers who are educated, who understand, who are very aware of the styles and the genre. “But I don’t speak to them. I don’t need to speak to them. They know.” He added, “I always tell the marketing department sell it as if I’m your audience.”
Prior to Boston Baroque, Rodriguez was an opera singer, as well as a political activist, where he raised money in support of a same-sex marriage campaign– a noted victory.
Now his activist efforts are concentrated on baroque music. Hired just this past October, Rodriguez immediately voiced his thoughts on the current state of baroque. “I thought the brand was a little tired and a little dated, and it needed to be modernized, and more relevant today, and more interesting, and to get a facelift.”
The company, he added, was preparing itself for an image rebranding in April, complete with a new logo and brochures, to better reflect Boston Baroque’s new focus on a greater accessibility, as well as being about the concert experience more than just the history behind it.
The point is to appeal to a younger crowd. “For a while concert-goers were turning into white hair,” he acknowledged.
Boston Baroque has several programs designed to appeal to younger audiences. One is a concert series called New Directions, in which antiquitous baroque pieces are reimagined in contemporary style.
Rodriguez said the first three in the series sold-out the 250-seat venue in which they were performed, adding that “a lot of the people that came were in their 20s and 30s.”
While it may be true that young people are starting to turn out, it is clear that there is still a ways to go. At the final performance of the New Direction series, in which composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Mystery Sonatas were performed at the First Church in Cambridge back on March 22, only about a handful of the aforementioned demographic were in attendance.
One of which was Aaron Nickelsberg, an economics student at Bates College in Maine, whose father, as it turns out, is on the Boston Baroque board of directors. “I haven’t seen people our age at the concerts,” Nickelsberg said. “It seems that the younger audience is children brought by [their] parents, much like I was. It almost seems foreign to me for someone our age to buy a Boston [B]aroque ticket and attend the show on their own.”
Rodriguez said, “Young people are not subscribers. They are single ticket holders. They make their purchasing decisions at the last minute. So you need to make sure you know how to get to them at the last minute.” Rodriguez said the use of social media serves as one means of outreach.
Another means of dissemination is Boston Baroque’s affiliation with WGBH radio, which airs a lot of their ensemble recordings, on a national and international level, and it even broadcasts their annual New Year’s Baroque Festival live. “We reach over 750,000 people through broadcast,” Rodriguez said.
He added that the numbers are “definitely growing” from year to year, and that even as the metrics are in early form, the numbers of young baroque enthusiasts are definitely growing as well.
Rodriguez sees the past and present as being very much connected. “Beethoven was really forward. And that’s the way I approach the music, rather than ‘let’s look at the old ways and see how they would’ve played it in the old days.’ That’s never the perspective; it’s how forward that music has to have been at the time.”
He added, “That’s why I think this music has survived for so long, and it will be around for many centuries.”