Promoter lets ticket buyers decide what classical music is worth

Augustana Arts, one of Denver’s premier classical music presenters, is upending the way it sells tickets to concerts. Starting this season, customers will be able to set their own admission prices for most of the organization’s offerings.

The new “pay what you choose” system gives classical fans several options when they go online to purchase tickets. They can opt to pay the recommended price of $25, or get a reduced ticket at $10 or $5 — or decide to pay nothing at all. It’s as simple as clicking the box of choice at checkout.

All tickets are general admission, so there is no hierarchy guiding who sits where in the venue.

Notably, customers seeking tickets for the upcoming season — kicking off with a weekend of concerts starting Sept. 23 — can also select a “pay it forward” option, which allows them to pay more than the suggested price. That provides a convenient way for patrons to support Augustana at a higher level and to subsidize fellow patrons who prefer to pay less.

Augustana hopes those who contribute more — because they can or because they want to — will offset revenue losses that will inevitably come with the new pricing system. The organization also will launch a separate fundraising appeal to help balance the books.

Executive director Lynn Nestingen said Augustana Arts has a few goals in mind with the change. The organization, which has been presenting concerts at various venues for 26 years, hopes to make its offerings more accessible. Like many classical organizations, Augustana wants to broaden audiences beyond the usual classical crowd, which tends to be older and economically advantaged. Removing economic barriers is one way to do that.

But the change also invites audiences to think about their role in the production of concerts — a costly endeavor for a presenter like Augustana that pays all of its musicians every time they perform.

Customers might ask themselves: What is a concert truly worth — both to the individual who attends, and to the community at large? Who deserves to be there?

“We trust our attendees to make that honest assessment, and that strengthens our bonds with the community.” Nestingen said.

Augustana is the first local presenter to standardize a variable pay option, and it has some strengths going in. The organization has a solid and diversified support structure fueled by a combination of funders that range from government agencies, like SCFD and Colorado Creative Industries, to arts-friendly private entities like the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and the Denver Foundation.

All of those funders stress accessibility and encourage the organizations they assist to get creative with how they get people in the doors. “Pay what you choose” is part of that effort.

But Augustana also has a quarter-century of providing programming that music fans want to support, both through ticket buying and individual donations. Augustana gets by because it offers high-quality, audience-friendly fare.

The wide range of those offerings will be on display during the 2023-24 season, which opens with two concerts by its in-house ensemble, the Status Chamber Orchestra. The program includes contemporary composer Kevin Puts’ Flute Concerto, set to feature ensemble member Tamara Maddaford.

Status will play the program twice, first during a 7 p.m. Saturday concert at its usual home, Augustana Lutheran Church, the local landmark at Alameda Avenue and Elm Street. That will be a paid event. The next day, the performance moves to the main pavilion in Denver’s City Park. That 3 p.m. concert is free and will be preceded by a family-friendly “instrument petting zoo.” Audiences will also be invited to immerse themselves in the event by actually positioning themselves alongside the players.

“The audience sits within and around the musicians,” Nestingen explained. “They can choose to sit between the violas and the cellos, or sit next to the trumpets.”

Other creative programming over the season includes a Nov. 19 screening of the 1923 silent film “Safety Last!,” starring Harold Lloyd. Organist Andrew Peters will improvise a musical soundtrack as the film plays.

Along with traditional programming, such as a Feb. 24 “Magic of Mozart” program, will be less-expected concerts, like the harpsichord showcase set for April 19, a collaboration with the American Guild of Organists.

One special event is a Dec. 10 concert of “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which will feature music from Stratus and narration by local singer Hazel Miller.  That concert is one of the few events where Augustana will set formal ticket prices.

But most of the season, led by orchestra director Adam Torres, will fall under the new pricing system, and Augustana is eager to see how it works out. Will audience numbers increase? Will new faces show up at the door? It’s an experiment that every arts organization in the region can observe.

“We’re not going to judge someone on how much they paid for a ticket,” said Nestingen.

For more information on Augustana Arts and its concerts, call 303-388-4962 or go online at

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