Music Australia News

San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox a hit with young audiences

San Francisco SoundBox
Graham Strahle
| May 9, 2016

One of the most interesting efforts going on by US orchestras to attract younger audiences is the San Francisco Symphony’s SoundBox program. It transforms the orchestra’s daytime rehearsal space – a rather drab warehouse looking building next to Davies Symphony Hall – into a club venue set up for late-night performances of eclectic chamber and orchestral music.

A full bar is brought in, along with casual seating including barstools and ottomans – although most of the around 500 people attending in fact stand during the two-hour performances.

San Francisco Symphony’s music director, Michael Tilson Thomas, describes SoundBox as “a new and experimental space for music of all kinds” and for people who “know it’s about a lot of music that perhaps they haven’t heard”. SoundBox’s second season has just concluded with music by Frank Zappa, new works by Ted Hearne, and even Purcell’s Fantasia on One Note.

Many of its shows have been sell-outs. According to one news report, “there are a lot of 20- and 30-somethings in this SoundBox crowd”, but Yelp reviews suggest a somewhat older age range than that.

One problem organisers had to overcome was the building’s barn-like acoustics. This was achieved using a sound enhancement system comprising 28 microphones, sound processors and 85 overhead speakers.

It’s an initiative one thinks Australia’s city orchestras might want to look into, especially the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, whose Grainger Studio also suffers poor acoustics but is located right in the middle of that city’s busier night strips.

Read our previous coverage of Soundbox here.

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