The Silicon Valley Voice

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Tearing Down Barriers to Enjoying Great Music

If you’ve been to any live performance recently, you’ve probably noticed that ticket prices have escalated. At the same time, performing groups started experimenting with a radical idea: making their performances accessible to everybody regardless of their ability to pay.

It’s called pay-what-you-can, and one local orchestra, Mission Chamber Orchestra (MCO), is using it to get people back in the habit of attending live cultural events after the COVID lockdowns.

Last season, MCO offered its concerts for free.

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“It was our 25th anniversary,” said MCO’s founder and director Emily Ray, “and with an uncertain economy and a lot of people getting laid off, we wanted to use this opportunity to give a gift to our audience.”

This season, the MCO is offering a pay-what-you-can ticket to continue to encourage people to get out and enjoy live performances.

“We don’t want people to feel they can’t enjoy a performance because they can’t afford it,” said Ray. “We think that most people are honest.

“Instead of coming up with the discount —it’s hard to know how to categorize discounts — we decided to just let people pay what they can,” she continued. “Few have taken us up on it, but we want to put a message out there, ‘come out and enjoy the music.’”

The MCO has two concerts coming up for the rest of its season. Both feature compositions by contemporary and American composers, internationally known soloists, traditional European works.

On April 15, MCO presents “Two Tales of Love and Bravery” at De Anza College Visual and Performing Arts Center in Cupertino featuring soloist Rufus Olivier, Principal Bassoonist with the San Francisco Ballet and the San Francisco Opera Orchestras.

The broad ranging program spans classical to contemporary, featuring Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770 – 1827) Leonore Overture No. 3, Native American composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha’ Tate’s (born 1968) “Ghost of the White Deer” and African American composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s (1875 -1912) “Variations on an African Air, op. 63.”

Closing the April program is Peter Boyer’s “Symphony No. 1.” Boyer, an acclaimed composer of film and television scores, is distinguished by his interest in American historical themes for his music.

Boyer’s work, “Ellis Island: The Dream of America,” is the most frequently performed piece by a contemporary American composer, and Boyer received the Ellis Island medal of honor for it in 2019. His “Fanfare for Tomorrow,” commissioned by the U.S. Marine Band, was performed for the inauguration of President Joe Biden.

The final concert of the season will be the MCO’s annual “Music of Portugal concert on Sunday, June 4 at 3 p.m. at Five Wounds Portuguese National Church in San Jose

“I think people are going to enjoy these concerts,” said Ray. “Too often people are put off by the expense and formality of symphonic concerts. They have the idea it’s for snobs. We are trying to tear down as many of those barriers as we can for symphonic music.”

For more information about MCO or to buy tickets, visit missionchamber.org, or call (408) 236-3350.

For more about pay-what-you-can and other approaches to increasing the accessibility live performances, check out the Sept. 23, 2022 New York Times article,  How Much Would You Pay to Hear Great Music?

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