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The spat between Utah Symphony & Opera and subscribers over Abravanel Hall's third-tier seating refuses to die.

A week after the orchestra aborted an unpopular plan to close Abravanel Hall's third and highest tier, the arts organization doubled ticket prices for third-tier seats, angering some subscribers who feel they're being pressured to move to cheaper seats on the hall's floor.

"I don't like the way they're bullying us. It's not fair," said subscriber Doris Holladay Johnson of Salt Lake City, who plans to not renew her six-concert ticket package for the 2007-08 season. "It's our favorite place to sit, and now it's going to cost us double. I'm just very disappointed with the way they've treated us."

"My feelings are hurt," agreed subscriber Camille Gambles of Salt Lake City, who also won't renew. "I'm a schoolteacher, so I can't really afford expensive seats. I feel like I'm being picked on. So I've decided I'm not going to support the symphony anymore."

In a March 21 letter to subscribers, the orchestra announced third-tier tickets for the upcoming season will be $144 for six classical concerts, $288 for 12 concerts and $408 for 18 concerts, roughly twice the current prices of $72, $144 and $216. The price for a single seat in the third tier will go from $12 to $30.

The orchestra also is raising prices in some other sections of Abravanel Hall, but not as sharply.

Marketing director Sean Toomey said the price hike is needed because the third-tier seats are undervalued. Although the orchestra's operating costs are going up, prices for third-tier seats had not increased for at least five years, he said.

Toomey described most third-tier subscribers as veteran concertgoers who prefer the balcony's isolation, bird's-eye views, higher temperatures and easy access to seats. But the third tier's $12 ticket price often attracted newcomers who didn't like those features or the top tier's unusual seating pattern, in which some seats are laid out behind one another instead of side by side.

"The third tier is the only section we get complaints about," Toomey said. "If we left it at $12, we would continue to get people who were unhappy."

Toomey said the price hike is part of US&O's effort to "rescale" Abravanel Hall by pricing sections more according to demand. The orchestra also is lowering ticket prices in some sections of the floor, and third-tier patrons who don't want to pay the higher prices can now find seats on the floor for $12, he said.

"This will give people lots of options," he said. "I think our prices are quite accessible. I challenge you to find any other orchestra where you can get an eighth-row, left-of-center seat . . . for $12. It's a giveaway."

Subscriber Karen Perkins of Holladay said she is happy to pay the higher prices to retain her beloved third-tier seat. The orchestra tried to close the third tier as part of an effort to relocate patrons closer to the stage and make the hall appear more full, but reversed course after a petition drive protesting the move attracted 118 signatures. Toomey on Thursday called the attempt to close the third tier "a mistake."

One patron, Lynne Finney of Park City, believes the orchestra doubled ticket prices to punish third-tier regulars who complained. After she called the decision to close the third tier "extremely stupid" in a March 10 Tribune article, Finney said Toomey called and berated her for complaining to the press.

"I care very much about the symphony. But that's outrageous," she said. "I've never heard of a corporate person calling up a customer and saying, 'You can't talk to the press.' "

Toomey says he spoke to Finney about the third-tier issue several times but denies criticizing her for her comments to the Tribune.

"I would never tell anyone that," he said. "I don't know what I've done to upset her. We're bending over backwards for people. But some people are a little irrational. I've gotten letters from people who equate our decision to close the third tier with the decision to go to war with Iraq."


* BRANDON GRIGGS can be contacted at or 801-257-8689. Send comments to