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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 1, 2021 1 year ago

APRIL FOOLS: No music hall? No problem.

The Sarasota Orchestra is ditching its plans for a new venue in favor of an on-demand model built around outdoor performances.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

APRIL FOOLS — Despite a last-minute push from elected officials, the Sarasota Orchestra could not find a suitable site for a new music hall in the city of Sarasota.

The orchestra couldn’t find a suitable site in unincorporated Sarasota County, either.

Or in Lakewood Ranch.

Or anywhere else, for that matter.

After spending years in pursuit of a place to build a new venue, the orchestra came up empty. The arts organization doesn’t see the fruitless search as a setback, though. Instead, the Sarasota Orchestra intends to embark on an ambitious new operational model — one that involves performing with no venue at all.

According to an April 1 memo shared with the city, the orchestra intends to vacate the Beatrice Friedman Symphony Center ahead of the 2021-22 season. In lieu of a traditional concert schedule, the orchestra is rolling out a new on-demand service that will allow patrons to book performances wherever they please. As a nod to the change, the memo features a revised version of the orchestra’s tag line: “Come as you are. Leave different.”

“We’ll come where you are,” the new tag line reads. “We’ll leave; you’ll be different.”

Rather than traditional ticket sales through the box office, those interested in watching the orchestra will be able to download a smartphone app, Vrtuoso, to book a show anywhere within Sarasota County. Customers will have options to configure the size of the group the orchestra will send out, ranging from Vrtuoso Mini for soloists or chamber quartets to Vrtuoso XL for full the orchestra with percussion.

Dynamic pricing will allow the orchestra to provide more affordable options for groups willing to be flexible with their showtimes. The orchestra has been experimenting with a prototype app not yet available to the public this month to test site viability and response times.

“For those who can’t afford the price of a Saturday night performance in season, they’ll find a more reasonable booking rate on a Tuesday afternoon in August,” the memo stated.

The atypical business model was partially inspired by the successes of the orchestra’s outdoor concert series this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the challenges of accommodating a full orchestra in most indoor spaces, the organization anticipates the majority of its performances will be outdoors.

The memo identifies a list of potential sites the orchestra could play during the next year: a street corner downtown for an ensemble performance, a park beneath the Ringling Causeway for a show at sunset. Rather than a marching band, a halftime show at a Sarasota High football game could feature a seated orchestra. And even though the city couldn’t strike a deal to build a music hall at the orchestra’s favored site, users of Payne Park still have the ability to see a concert there — now with the assurance that the musicians will pack up and leave afterward, with no parkland lost in the process.

The absence of a dedicated home also solves one potential issue associated with the orchestra’s efforts to relocate. Patrons of the orchestra living downtown and on the barrier islands had expressed concern about the prospect of a music hall at a site that isn’t as convenient as the organization’s current bayfront venue. The memo featured testimonials from orchestra regulars, gathered during an engagement process as the organization finalized plans for its new model.

“To be honest, the five-minute drive from my bayfront condo was already a pretty big inconvenience by my standards,” one patron said. “But now that I can literally bring the orchestra to my front door, I feel a renewed passion for the arts.”

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