Monday, February 8, 2016

Marketing, Dance and the Video

My violinist friend just sent me a couple of videos that she said showed what classical musicians had to do to market themselves these days. Maybe so, but I have some misgivings. Here is the first one:

Great beginning using a string orchestra arrangement of the second movement of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8. Wonderful music: intense, driving, cogent and permeated with Shostakovich's musical motto: DSCH, the notes D, E flat (Es in German), C and B natural (H in German). The music is so powerful that even the agitated jump-cut, music video style hand-held camera work doesn't really distract. But then, hilariously, the director comes on and starts waxing rhapsodic about, wait for it, Benjamin Britten?!? Who never in his life wrote anything half as intense or exciting as the Shostakovich. Are we just not supposed to notice how dull the Britten is in comparison? He says how "dark, terrifying and sinister" Britten can be, but the music in the background is very dull indeed. The "dark, terrifying and sinister" we just heard, was composed by Shostakovich.

Music marketing like this may pull a few more concert-goers, but if they fall for this clumsy and misleading picture of the music, then they are likely to be casual attendees. The people who know enough about the music to be laughing out loud at this are likely to be discouraged from attending, don't you think? Dumb marketing, whatever the "production values" is just, well, dumb.

The other clip, also marketing The Scottish Ensemble, is even worse, though not as funny. This one is about a collaboration with a dance group to "interpret" Bach's Goldberg Variations. Oh, if only he were still alive so his lawyer could be suing them. The message here is that if you have fancy enough slo-mo camera work and groovy enough choreography and nice looking musicians and dancers you will be able to almost completely overshadow one of the greatest compositions in Western music. It wasn't easy, but they managed it!

All I can think of is a group of musicians out busking some Bach and a bunch of little kids come along and start kibitzing and cavorting in front of them. In his best W. C. Fields voice, the leader stands up and says: "go away kids, you bother me, and you're interfering with my gig!"

In case it needs to be said, the Bach is rather a complete piece of music, needing no cavorting to be appreciated. And, it is extremely difficult to try and play it while people are leaping about right in your face. I wish I had a subscription to The Scottish Ensemble's concert series so I could cancel it!

There, I've had my say, now explain to me how I am just a mossback, curmudgeonly reactionary in the comments.


Marc said...

Perhaps people leaving TSE's Britten, having nothing in their heads apart from the passage or two of Shostakovich, will be shaking them & saying to each other, 'well, that wasn't what I expected': but if they really were so clueless that they weren't aware that Britten lives in a different musical world than Shostakovich and were, notwithstanding that, intending to enjoy the music, I suspect that Britten-- I'm not familiar with the song cycle the TSE fellow was talking about-- might make a decent impression; who knows.

What if the Bach with leaping were the only performance of Bach available to hear in the current season? how terrible that'd be!

Bryan Townsend said...

You were supposed to tell me what a curmudgeon I am, not agree with me!

Ken F. said...

I agree with you completely, one curmudgeon to another!

Marc said...

I was indulging my usually repressed but secretly transgressive self by not telling you you are a curmudgeon.

Christine Lacroix said...

Bryan if the program and performers were attractive would you really turn down a concert because you didn't like the marketing? And for musical ignoramuses like myself the marketing would catch my attention but I wouldn't be able to judge it on it's musical merits. Maybe they're aiming at people like me and supposing that the mélomanes will probably come anyway. Recently in Montpellier in an effort to attract younger people the Orchestre de Montpellier organized a concert (Mozart) that was free for students. Over a thousand students turned up and they were forced to turn away at least a thousand more. There were photos in the local newspaper of a huge line of people hoping for seats covering the Place de la Comédie. Free tickets, better than tacky marketing ploys?

Bryan Townsend said...

Oh, thank goodness Christine, for not agreeing with me! I almost always attend concerts because of the program. I recently sent a note to our local concert society complaining that they announced the program for a string quartet concert by saying that the artists would play "Haydn's String Quartet in C major". I pointed out that Haydn wrote ten string quartets in the key of C major and was it really too much trouble to tell us which one they would be playing?

What irks me about the marketing is the way that the music is given short shrift in favor of some kind of visual pizazz or distraction. There is a reason people often close their eyes when listening to music.

It is wonderful to hear about a thousand people wanting to get into a Mozart concert, but having to be turned away! I hope they did an additional performance so they could attend?

David said...

Bryan, you certainly sound like a curmudgeon! I should know, having in been a curmudgeon-in-training for several years. If you ever find yourself in the sleepy but georgeous town of Tobermory at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula on the shores of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, join us as we sit on the stoop of a downtown store and grump about the youth of today, their skateboards, bad fashions and poor posture. We would be glad to have you as an honorary member.

Christine Lacroix said...

Bryan I think I'm probably the only non-mélomane commenting on your website so my opinions will often be different. I guess I win the prize for being your peskiest commentator. I couldn't find the article about the Mozart concert online to forward to you but if I remember correctly they were encouraged by the response so will continue. And it wasn't just a thousand people it was a thousand young people. The students re-tweeted the concert announcement massively. It worked!

Bryan Townsend said...

@David: plus their lack of punctuality and thrift! Thanks for the wonderful invitation. I don't know when I might be up in your neck of the woods, but I will keep it in mind. And if you are ever down Mexico way...

Christine, you are the only one that claims to be a non-mélomane! But I think you come up with some of the best comments and questions.

Christine Lacroix said...

Well thank you for the compliment Bryan. Some time ago you said I had 'interestingly different' takes on things and I wasn't quite sure if you were insulting me or not!
I dug the newspaper article about Mozart in Montpellier out of the trash to see what they had actually said about their plans for further concerts suite à leur succès and believe it or not I imagined the bit about them being encouraged by the response. Isn't it amazing how the human brain functions? I was sure that I had read that they were encouraged and intended to continue. Not a word to that effect. Only that they had added chairs around the orchestra to make room for as many students as they could. That was all. Guess that's how urban legends get started.

Bryan Townsend said...

Moi, say something insulting? Pas de tout! (Unless it was really funny, of course!) You do come at questions from a different angle, which is just what we need sometimes.

Yes, interesting--we do tend to think we saw or read or heard what we strongly expected and if it isn't there our memory might fill it in. So why weren't they encouraged?

Christine Lacroix said...

Here is the text of the article:
La queue, c’est pour Mozart!
Impressionnante file d’attente, l’autre jeudi, devant l’Opera-Comédie où l’orchestre national de Montpellier allait jouer Mozart - triomphalement - sous la direction de Michael Schønwandt. Dans le cadre de sa vigoureuse politique de rajeunissement du public, l’Orchestre, que dirige Valérie Chevalier, avait, en effet, organisé un concert gratuit spécialement dédié aux étudiants. Immense succès: de nombreux jeunes, très sages, on relayé l’info entre eux et ensuite massivement ‘twitté”. “Impressionnés par le nombre nous sommes allés jusqu’a installer des chaises en fond de scène derrière les musiciens, confie la direction. Malgré cela, il ne nous a pas été possible de tous les accueillir. Ils étaient vraisemblablement près d’un millier a n’avoir pu rentrer et 1,143, plus chanceux, a l’intérieur de l’Opera-Comedie.” Mozart, deux cent cinquante ans plus tard, toujours la….

Christine Lacroix said...

....and here's the program:

Concert réservé aux étudiants
Entrée gratuite sur présentation de la carte d'étudiant

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphonies n° 39 en mi bémol majeur, KV 543
Symphonies n° 40 en sol mineur, KV 550
Symphonies n° 41 en ut majeur « Jupiter », KV 551

La trilogie finale des symphonies est assombrie par des ennuis financiers et des "idées noires" pour Mozart. Mais dans la 40e, le compositeur sera entouré de ses grands amis clarinettistes, Johann et Anton Stadler. Et la 41e ? Avec sa lumineuse grande fugue finale, c’est le génie de Mozart qui triomphe en majesté.
Magistral équilibre des proportions, et même annonce au passage d’un autre génie, Beethoven !

Bryan Townsend said...

Excellent! So it was a one-off concert just for students. They should do this every year as it would really build a young audience. Even if they offered the tickets a half-price.

David said...

Christine, the Mozart in Montpellier experience you describe seems in some ways to support Bryan's line of thinking (which is, if I may paraphrase: "the Masterworks of classical music don't need extraneous pyrotechnics and add-ons to have an impact on, and enrich, an audience".) It sounds like the full house in Montpellier had a full program of "pur laine" Mozart, most likely without light shows, dancing musicians and other circus act elements to distract from the experience.

à bientôt


Bryan Townsend said...

You can't go far wrong with the last three symphonies of Mozart!

Christine Lacroix said...

Hello David
Yes the Montpellier example could be considered to be enlightening. Here they do make all sorts of efforts to engage young people and families through programming and attractive prices. The family concerts are scheduled during the day for children and are usually sold out months in advance. But at those prices who could refuse? Here are some extracts from the 2015-2016 program:
Extraits du programme:

Le public de demain sera celui qui aura fréquenté les salles de concerts aujourd’hui. Pour ce faire il dispose d’une offre adaptée pour venir en famille découvrir les œuvres du grand répertoire.

Spectacles en famille:
Les spectacles en famille sont le reflet d’une programmation destinée à la jeunesse, proposée lors de représentations scolaires et désormais ouverte aux familles.
Tarif enfant 2€/adulte 5€ Découvrez la programmation Jeune Public à partir de la p. 104.

La Tutti’Pass est réservée aux moins de 30 ans. Elle permet d’accéder à 4 spectacles pour 20 € seulement (spectacles à choisir parmi les opéras ou les concerts en abonnement). Il suffit de
se présenter muni de sa carte, une heure avant le concert choisi au guichet de la salle de spectacle. Vous pourrez alors accéder aux places disponibles. La Tutti’Pass est strictement personnelle et renouvelable dans la saison. Des rencontres artistiques sont régulièrement proposées, n’hésitez pas à fréquenter notre site, notre page Facebook ou à nous suivresur Twitter pour ne rien rater.

adulte enfant

65€ 33€

Le Pass’Culture (en vente au CROUS) est réservé aux Étudiants de moins de 30 ans. Valable dans les différentes structures culturelles adhérentes, il coûte 9 € et permet d’acheter des places de spectacles et de concerts à prix très préférentiels.

Sorry it's in French for those who don't know the language. Try copying it into Google Translate if you're curious.

I don't think that the Montpellier example means that other marketing ploys might not work too. But I can certainly understand that they might seem tacky and inappropriate to you true classical music lovers.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Christine. That is a long and complex brochure! I will have to study it at leisure. But solid classical programming!

As everyone knows, my easy-going nature is legendary. I am all in favor of the marketing and promotion of classical music because, of course, we are always looking to build audiences. The only teeny-weeny thing that I ask, well two, actually:

1. That it be ACTUAL CLASSICAL MUSIC we are promoting and not some godawful dog's breakfast of pseudo-pop and

2. That it be presented in a way that does not COMPLETELY BURY THE MUSIC in a welter of cavorting ninnies and video excrescences.

Is that too much to ask?


Christine Lacroix said...

Is that too much to ask? Probably! People have amazing taste. Some years ago I spent a weekend in the Cevennes mountains in a bed and breakfast. The surfaces of the walls and the furniture were completely covered with artificial flowers, figurines, and knick knacks of every variety. I didn't know that kitch could be so lethal. I can't think about that weekend without feeling vaguely nauseous. So, good luck with the music! Nothing is more irritating than other people's taste, with the possible exception of other people's politics.

Bryan Townsend said...

That lasting nausea speaks well of your aesthetic sensitivities!

Ah, but everybody loves Mozart.


See the comment to today's post on Mozart.

Martin said...

'Are we just not supposed to notice how dull the Britten is in comparison? He says how "dark, terrifying and sinister" Britten can be, but the music in the background is very dull indeed.' Of course, the term 'background music' could perchance suggest why this Britten piece (whichever it is) might possibly sound dull here. I have listened to a lot of Shostakovitch in my time and now I can't help finding it all laid on rather deadeningly, a bit like too much Marmite spiced with wormwood. I would give all of his work for Britten's 'Nocturne'. I find Weinberg dull, too. Allan Pettersson seems far superior to me. But of course, my remarks on Shostakovitch imply that my aesthetic impressions and judgements have changed, sometimes wildly so, over the decades (7 & a bit): I used to love 'The Teddy Bears' Picnic' (but only the Henry Hall version, NOT Bing Crosby!).
May I comment on the outbreak of jeunessisme recently observed in Montpellier according to Mme.Lacroix above? What about offering cheap passes to impoverished oldies, then? I can't afford the ticket prices of the Berlin Phil!

Christine Lacroix said...

By the way Bryan, I don't 'claim' to be a non-mélomane, I admit it! Totally different!

Bryan Townsend said...

You almost insist on it!

Christine Lacroix said...

I sometimes feel like a stranger in a strange land on this website! Foreign language and all!

Bryan Townsend said...

But you seem to find this strange land interesting? One of my core motivations in life is to discover things that are new to me--curiosity in other words.

Christine Lacroix said...

Yes I find this strange land most interesting and enjoyable. What were the chances that I ever would have heard Glassworks or Little Black Buzzer, to name just two, without the Music Salon? I'm only surprised that you don't have more people commenting.

Bryan Townsend said...

Despite my pretty good traffic numbers, which are always increasing, I usually only have a small core of commentators. I suspect that a lot of people are hesitant to comment either because they don't feel "qualified" or because they don't disagree strongly enough with what I am saying!

Christine Lacroix said...

They don't feel qualified! Hasn't stopped me! They should spend some time reading my questions and comments. That should be reassuring.

Bryan Townsend said...

Exactly! Your comments are often some of the most interesting because they come from a fresh perspective.