Will audiences be tempted to explore “The 20th Century Piano” for just $10?

In an intriguing marketing strategy, Recitals Australia is launching their 2013 series by encouraging audiences to “pay what you think these concerts are worth”. The bold initiative, put in place for an innovative new series entitled The 20th Century Piano, is aimed at encouraging concert-goers to try programs of 20th Century classics and newer music. Audiences won’t quite be asked to pass financial judgment on what they have just heard, but they will be asked to pay at the door, before the concert, with a minimum contribution of $10.

In his sales pitch, Recitals Australia President, Anthony Steel, said, “These outstanding musicians will play programs consisting of important and vital compositions of our time, much of it off the beaten track. We can promise you three most stimulating concerts, at prices designed to encourage you to give them a go.”

Similar schemes have been explored in the past, particularly by rock bands, with a reasonable rate of success. In theatre the “pay what you can” night has often been seen as a way to boost a quiet Monday box office. In this case, however, it’s not so much a question of the quietest night of the week, but what is perceived as “difficult repertoire to sell”.

The 2013 Adelaide season features three formidable musicians – all either expatriate Australians or residents – playing masterworks of the 20th century piano literature. The season kicks off with New York based, Australian virtuoso Lisa Moore. Crowned “New York’s Queen of avant-garde piano” by The New Yorker, Moore will perform an eclectic program including Bartók and Janacek as well as works by two of New York’s most exciting young composers, David Lang and Missy Mazzoli. Moore also performs music by South Australian composer, David Harris.

Prize-winning Adelaide-born pianist Ashley Hribar has played to great acclaim in Europe and is a leading advocate of contemporary and improvised music. His program features North American Ballads by Frederic Rzewski, composer of the notoriously fiendish 80 minute pianistic epic, The People United Will Never Be Defeated! In a similar vein, his “Ballads” is a virtuosic display of protest songs from various labour movements. As well as the world premiere of Snezana Nesic’s intriguingly titled A Study For The Beginning Of Time, Hribar will perform his own works including a collaboration with Rzewski, Rubinstein in Berlin, which includes a sizeable text which he speaks from the piano.

The season ends with a recital from the British pianist, Mark Gasser who performs Olivier Messiaen’s Vingt Regards Sur l'Enfant-Jésus, his monumental cycle of “contemplations” on the infant Jesus. Written in 1944, Vingt Regards is a scintillating and colourful exploration of Messiaen’s Christian faith – the slow movements touch the sublime. Gasser is no stranger to pianist super-challenges having performed the death-defying hour and a quarter Passacaglia On DSCH by Ronald Stevenson in Australia last year.

The Recitals Australia Concerts take place in Adelaide on May 3, September 15 and October 11