Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

What You Paid For

April 04, 2012

Recently it was announced that pianist Maurizio Pollini would be canceling his spring engagements in the U.S due to illness including two solo performances at Carnegie Hall as well as others in conjunction with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Carnegie Hall sent out a notice notifying ticket holders of the cancellations on Wednesday noting that replacement performers had been found for all the scheduled appearances including the solo recitals. I had purchased tickets to one of those two solo recitals and was surprised to learn that Carnegie Hall did not plan to offer the possibility of a refund for those particular engagements and I tweeted about it. Then, Carnegie Hall responded and invited me to contact them.

I decided to do so as they suggested and thought I'd share my note to them with you as well. In the world of performing arts, we've all learned that what you're promised and what you get in a particular performance can often be very different. And I think most audience members have a really high tolerance and understanding for cancellations and substitutions - we're all human. But there are situations where audiences begin to feel taken advantage of, and I think this qualifies as one of them.

To Whom It May Concern:

Thanks for the response to my tweet from Wednesday concerning the cancelled Maurizio Pollini solo piano recital at Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April, 29. One hundred forty characters isn’t really enough to have much of a conversation, so as you suggested I’m sending you this note which I’m also posting on my site. I’m sorry to hear that Mr. Pollini is ill, and wish him a speedy recovery. It is always disappointing for everyone involved when artists are forced to cancel appearances in any setting, but we are all human and not machines which is part of what makes live performance so unique, exciting, and special as I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s also great that Carnegie Hall was able to recruit other superb artists to take over for Mr. Pollini’s upcoming appearances in New York. I was pleased to hear in the official notification I received from Carnegie Hall today, that pianist Garrick Ohlsson had kindly agreed to perform a recital in Mr. Pollini’s absence on short notice and that the performance will include a similar all-Liszt program. Mr. Ohlsson is a world-class performer and I’m sure he’ll give a wonderful performance.

However, as a ticket holder for the original event, I was disappointed and surprised to find that Carnegie Hall offered few options to current ticket holders for the performance in the wake of the cancellation and change in the scheduled offering. I had contacted the Carnegie Hall box office after being notified about the change on April 4 and was told that exchanges of my tickets were being offered for other performances within the same piano recital series, but that no refunds were being offered. In my opinion, such a stand is a clear sign of disrespect to the Carnegie Hall audience.

I have no objection at all to Mr. Ohlsson or the replacement program offered in Mr. Pollini's absence. What I do have a concern about is that the substitute performance on offer is significantly changed over what was originally advertised and sold to ticket buyers. Certainly substitutions are always to be expected in all areas of the performing arts. Conductors may not appear as scheduled with orchestras, vocal artists may change in an opera, and soloists in a larger music program are often substituted for a variety of reasons. It is understandable why a performing arts organization could not take an economic loss on a performance after a big star cancels when dozens of other artists have been involved in a concert or opera for weeks of preparation prior to an unexpected change. However, I think there is a difference between one or even a few artists being replaced in a performance that involves dozens and dozens of others and a solo piano recital where the only person scheduled to perform is the only one who won't be there regardless of the quality of the substitution.

When almost nothing about the originally billed performance remains the same, including none of the originally announced artists, the change is not so much of a substitution, but a completely different offering. Of course not offering a refund in this specific situation is certainly within Carnegie Hall’s right to do. As with all ticket purchases for live performance, ticket buyers like myself know clearly that artists and programs are subject to change without notice and adequate warnings are given about the impossibility of refunds or exchanges in such an event. But while substituting the sole performer in a performance while not offering ticket holders a refund option may be within a presenter’s rights to do, it certainly isn’t the right thing to do.

I’m not writing because I personally am concerned about the money I spent on these tickets. I am writing and posting this letter because I feel that not offering ticket holders in this instance a full range of options to change their plans, including both exchanges and refunds, is disrespectful and raises questions about the organization’s overall commitment to audiences through customer service. I wish you all the best with the upcoming recital and the rest of the season and look forward to many future evenings at Carnegie Hall when visiting New York.



Have you heard Pollini live lately?
Without agreeing or disagreeing with your position on Carnegie Hall policy, i just want to tell you one thing - you are probably not missing much. About two years ago i heard him in an all-Bach recital at La Scala and it was absolutely dreadful - not anywhere close to the superb pianist he was in 1980s.
Thanks for the comment MarK. I actually have never heard Pollini play live before which was part of the attraction here. But you reinforce the very point I was hoping to make here which is the relative skills or condition of the artist in question is beside the point. I enjoy hearing Mr. Ohlsson play a great deal. However, it is not what I signed up for in this instance and what has been offered in substitution is so significantly changed in total composition from the original plan, that it seems only fair that more options are offered about making a change myself including getting a refund.

It doesn't matter who the substitution was in principle. Whether it was my Aunt Tilly or the resurrection of Liszt himself, if the only artist on a program is the only one not appearing, I think that constitutes more than a reasonable inconvenience.
MarK, I've read a number of reviews of Pollini's 2011 recitals in London, and they were all excellent. Sorry you got such a bad performance, but Pollini's evidently been fine on other occasions.
With all due respect, Lisa, do you always trust printed reviews? At the recital i attended in Milan two years ago, the audience gave him a long standing ovation, but the fact is that his playing was lousy nevertheless. It was terribly boring and it was extremely unclean too. Otherwise, perfect... Not only that, but he was visibly quite happy with his performance which is a sign that his ears have deteriorated possibly even more than his hands - a fatal shortcoming for a performing musician. In 1970s and 1980s he was definitely among the world's top pianists and i admired his playing THEN very much.
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