Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra during a recent performance.EXPAND
Gustavo Dudamel leads the orchestra during a recent performance.
Vern Evans

L.A. Has the Country's Most Important Orchestra — But Can You Afford to See It?

The Los Angeles Philharmonic scored one for the home team last week in the ongoing tit for tat between New York and L.A. over which coastal mecca has All the Best Things.

That victory came via some major props from the New York Times, which ran a story about the orchestra’s recent Reykjavik Festival with the headline “Los Angeles Has America’s Most Important Orchestra. Period.”

Boom. It’s always great when a member of the other team voluntarily declares you the winner.

According to classical music critic Zachary Woolfe in that New York Times piece and music critic Alex Ross in the New Yorker a few weeks before, the L.A. Phil’s reign as Queen of American Orchestras is the result of 1.) its innovative programming, which focuses heavily on new music, 2.) its commitment to diversity onstage and off, 3.) the successful social justice initiatives of its music education department as represented by the Youth Orchestra of L.A., 4.) its enviable financial stability and 5.) its superb home-field advantage thanks to both Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.

Of course, any Angeleno who has been inspired by our hometown band already knew all of this, but that New York Times piece got us thinking: With so many interesting and “important” musical opportunities available to us, how do we best take advantage of them without breaking the bank?

Because the L.A. Phil’s programming is so intriguing, its conductor so charismatic, and its hall so iconic and picturesque, demand for tickets is high, and high demand for a limited number of seats translates into relatively high average ticket prices compared to that of other city’s orchestras. But we did a little digging and discovered there are actually plenty of ways to find affordable LA Phil tickets if you know where to look and when to buy. Here’s what we learned:

Be flexible
Want premiere seats to hear Dudamel conduct Beethoven or Mahler on a Saturday night? Expect to pay Beyoncé floor-seat-level prices. “But if you’re flexible, you will definitely find something,” says Shana Mathur, the Phil’s Vice President of Marketing and Communications. Mathur suggests booking seats for less popular days and times like Thursday evenings or Sunday afternoons. “Like with many entertainment offerings, if you’re willing to go at different times or sit in a different place, there are affordable options.” After all, the music will sound the same no matter where you sit (Disney Hall’s acoustic design provides excellent quality sound throughout the hall), and there are actually some spectacular views from the center of the top balcony and behind the orchestra.

Use your phone like a phone and call the box office
Each season the L.A. Phil offers over 5,500 seats scattered throughout Disney Hall for just $20. Those seats sell out quickly, and can be hard to find online late in the season (single tickets for the 2017/2018 season don’t go on sale until August). But Mathur says the Phil frequently releases extra $20 seats to meet demand, and calling the box office is an easier and faster way to find out when and where those seats are available than searching by individual concert and seat section on the website. When you call, ask about both “$20 seats” and “bench seats,” the latter of which are also $20 and, when available, go on sale on Tuesdays two weeks before a given concert.

Try something new
The number one reason all these New York critics are so envious of L.A.’s orchestra is the Phil’s programming, which features more new music by living composers than any other orchestra. The good news is that tickets to the orchestra’s new-music series (Green Umbrella) have a much lower average ticket price than regular classical concerts featuring works by All the Famous Dead Guys. So skip the Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and check out something by a composer you’ve never heard of before. You’ll pay less (tickets to Green Umbrella concerts range from $30-$58), and you will get to check out what the world’s best classical composers are creating right now.

Pro tip 1: This fall the Phil is bringing back its popular Noon to Midnight new music festival, a 12-hour, non-stop smorgasbord of innovative contemporary art and music. At just $15, tickets to this festival just might be the best value you’ll find all year.

Pro tip 2: Tickets to chamber music concerts and organ concerts are similar in price to Green Umbrella programs. In general, go small and new instead of big and old for the best deals.

Check third-party ticketing options
If you’ve got a particular concert in mind and can’t find what you’re looking for via the L.A. Phil’s box office, try a third-party discount site like StubHub or Ticket Liquidator. These sites tend to have plenty of relatively low-cost terrace seats, even at big, high-demand Dudamel concerts.

Be a student
If you are a full-time high school or college student with a valid student ID, there are a number of ways for you to snag $10 and $20 tickets. For starters, sign up for Phil’s “Student Insiders” program, which gives you access to great seats at discounted prices. Student Rush tickets also go on sale two hours before each concert, but availability may be limited. Students can also purchase a five-concert season pass to Green Umbrella concerts for just $50.

Listen al fresca
Ah, the Hollywood Bowl. It’s beautiful. It’s outdoors, and you can BYO booze and picnic. It is also the most consistently affordable way to hear Dudamel conduct his orchestra. Most orchestras have to travel to Colorado or upstate New York for their summer seasons, but the L.A. Phil has a second summer home right in town, and it is one of the best low-cost ways to hear the orchestra.

According to Mathur, 40 percent of tickets for the L.A. Phil at the Hollywood cost $29 or less. “At the Hollywood Bowl, ticket prices are approved by the county, and they play a significant role in making sure that the pricing there continues to be accessible,” she explains. “They are huge proponents of our dollar ticket price on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Bowl, and they are really conscientious about our price ceiling there.”

Pro tip: At the Hollywood Bowl, parking and concessions can be the most expensive part of your evening. Plan ahead and pack your own picnic and bottle of wine. To avoid high parking fees, take a Lyft or grab the shuttle from a remote lot.

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