CINCINNATI -- One day after the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra moved from the most widely beloved arts organization in town to its most criticized, officials on the inside couldn’t say what, if anything, they should have done differently to distribute tickets -- all of them free -- to LumenoCity 2014 .
“If you got tickets, you were happy. If you didn’t, sure, I think you’d be disappointed. That was to be expected,” Chris Pinelo, the orchestra’s vice president of communications, said Tuesday afternoon. “I was pretty sure a lot of people who were wanting to come wouldn’t be able to get tickets.”
One thing Pinelo didn’t expect: It would take all of 12 minutes Monday morning, beginning at 8 a.m., for people storming a special LumenoCity website to snap up every ticket available to the general public for the three concerts, Aug. 1-3 in Over-The-Rhine's Washington Park.
LumenoCity features the orchestra in performance against the backdrop of an elaborate, custom-designed light show on the entire facade of Music Hall. The inaugural concerts in 2013, conceived to celebrate the debut of CSO music director Louis Langree, drew 35,000 people over two nights. No tickets were necessary—people simply showed up to Washington Park.
Anticipating a crush of interest for LumenoCity 2014, orchestra officials expanded the event to three nights, bought server space from Amazon.com and enlisted Ticketmaster to distribute the tickets, limiting them to 12,500 each night.
Of those tickets, a quarter of them went in advance to subscribers and those who had donated at least $250 to the orchestra. Ten percent went to Cincinnati and other Hamilton County libraries, along with charities and service organizations to redistribute to the needy and elderly clients they serve. The vast majority of the remaining 65 percent were available Monday morning to anyone lucky enough to click their way through to success.
Pinelo couldn’t specify the number of tickets committed for the event’s sponsors, but said it represents a small fraction of overall tickets. Sponsors are paying the entire freight of the $1.2 million budget for LumenoCity.
The orchestra’s goals behind the ticketing structure: Ensuring safety and sightlines while keeping access to a broad array of people.
“I was very confident all tickets would be given away on the first day. I thought maybe 40 minutes,” Pinelo said.
That was only a piece of Pinelo’s underestimation. Lumenocity2014.com saw 330,000 clicks in the burst of competition for tickets Monday morning, Pinelo said. Minutes after all online tickets were gone, questions, speculation and outrage -- almost exclusively from those who came away empty online -- poured in by the hundreds to the orchestra’s Facebook page and dotted the status updates and ensuing comment threads of scores of people.
Fueling the fire were several listings on eBay and Craigslist from people asking money for tickets that were supposed to be free. By late Monday, Cincinnati vice-mayor David Mann promised to put an investigation up to a vote in front of the full City Council Wednesday.
“I think we’re being unduly scrutinized for this,” Pinelo said. “Nobody investigates how many tickets were available to the Reds season-opener after they couldn’t get tickets.”
Some online commenters focused on the potential disenfranchisement of the poor, and particularly many of the African-Americans who live near the park. At the 2013 LumenoCity, many neighborhood residents without advance notice of the concerts could simply respond to the music, walk into the park and experience the show. That can’t happen this time around.
Pinelo couldn’t say why the orchestra set aside only 10 percent of tickets for the poor, elderly and others who use local service organizations -- tickets distributed through local libraries were part of this mix. Still, Pinelo said, “the spirit of LumenoCity is about access, equity and generosity,” and the orchestra is working to make sure as many people as possible can share in the experience.
LumenoCity Village is a street fair that will happen outside Washington Park throughout the day before each concert. There’s also talk of simulcasting LumenoCity in Fountain Square. Meanwhile, unlike MidPoint Music Fest and other ticketed events inside Washington Park, there will be no tarps on the fencing surrounding LumenoCity.
The creative nucleus behind the 2013 light show, Steve McGowan and Dan Reynolds, are creating a new show for this LumenoCity, working with a team from the orchestra, including music director Langree, to compose visual flourishes that illustrate specific passages in the music. McGowan and Reynolds, who created the first LumenoCity light show for the design and innovation firm Landor, have branched off late last year to form a new company, Brave Berlin .
“We don’t want to block the experience or prevent anyone from watching it,” Pinelo said. “Personally, LumenoCity is the coolest thing I’ve ever been involved
with professionally. It illustrates an orchestra thinking outside the box and being a true place of innovation and creating a shared community that blew everyone’s minds last year.”
Pinelo paused when asked whether the orchestra would bring back LumenoCity in 2015.
“I just don’t know,” he said. “It’s a massive, expensive undertaking, and it’s just way too early to say whether we would take this on again.”