How the Houston Symphony Saved Valentine’s Day in Less than 24 Hours
By Glenn Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer, Houston Symphony
Just when it seemed that the Houston Symphony audience for acclaimed vocalist Linda Eder would be broken-hearted on Valentine’s Day due to Eder’s inability to travel to Houston, the Symphony, its vendors and Houston media saved the special night with a series of serendipitous moments. The Symphony proved that even Mother Nature wouldn’t stop their quest to entertain Houston when more than 1,200 patrons attended an alternate free performance of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons – but it wasn’t easy to pull off.
It started the afternoon of Thursday, February 13, while the Houston Symphony staff was gathered for a goal-setting retreat. News suddenly arrived that 12-inches of snow covered New York City and that Linda Eder and her band were unable to travel to Houston for their scheduled February 14 concert the next evening. The retreat was quickly put on hold as members of the Symphony’s senior management team scrambled to discuss possible options. The Eder concert would be rescheduled to a May date, but the team was left figuring out how to accommodate a group of audiences who had decided to make the Houston Symphony an integral part of their Valentine’s Day plans.
The Symphony was all but ready to announce the rescheduled concert – with no performance in its place – when Executive Director/CEO Mark Hanson lobbed out the idea of putting together an alternate concert. The idea resonated among staff, but for an arts organization that typically plans concerts with months of lead time, it was a lofty goal.
Among the many moving parts was the consideration of repertoire (something recently rehearsed so no additional rehearsal would be needed), availability and buy-in of musicians and crew, in addition to the question of incremental operational costs.
As luck would have it, the orchestra had recently prepared the favorite orchestral music classic The Four Seasons, which doesn’t need a conductor but features a violinist as leader and soloist. Houston’s Concertmaster Frank Huang, who wasn’t scheduled to play the evening of February 14, agreed to put his plans aside and step up to lead the work. The orchestra’s musician committee also came to the table with their support and approval for the added concert, knowing the classical music staple would beautifully commemorate the romantic holiday and nicely feature the orchestra’s string players to an expanded audience.
David Chambers, Chief Development Officer, happened to be meeting with Symphony supporter and owner of the Houston-based Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods, John Rydman, who when hearing about the predicament and opportunity, agreed to underwrite the alternate concert event.
With all the pieces in place, the Symphony jumped into action to communicate with its patrons via email, phone and social media about the rescheduled Linda Eder performance and the now added Valentine’s Day free concert. Throughout the night and next day, staffers contacted media vendors and partners to spread the word.
Within 24-hours, the Houston media, including the Houston Chronicle, Culture Map Houston, SUNNY 99.1 KODA FM, KROI News 92 FM and KUHF 88.7, informed the community that Valentine’s Day was saved with an alternative concert, and shared details about Eder’s rescheduled performance. Patrons learned that all current Eder tickets would be valid for the May concert, or that they could opt to exchange tickets for a few other Symphony performances this season. Symphony supporters expressed their understanding on the organization’s Facebook page, as well as their enthusiasm for the symphony’s quick reaction to the cancellation and excitement to hear the talented string players perform one of the most recognized works in classical music.
The non-ticketed 7:30 p.m. performance was seated on a first-come, first-served basis. Several hundred people gathered outside Jones Hall before the doors were opened in order to claim their seats– perhaps a premium or box seat they would never typically occupy. In the end, more than 1,200 happy audience members were in attendance to sway to Vivaldi’s beloved music. Hanson, proud of the organization’s quick efforts, began the concert with thanks to all those involved and in attendance, while also grabbing a quick cell-phone pic of the lovebirds in the audience (then posted on the Houston Symphony’s Facebook fan page).
Thanks to Houston’s cooperative spirit, this Valentine’s Day was one that even 12-inches of snow couldn’t stop.