Sunday, April 22, 2018

Musings on Marketing

I mentioned to a Canadian friend via email that after I have done the recordings in Toronto I might arrange for some sort of release via CD or something of them and some other recordings of my music, even though, as I said there was obviously no commercial potential. He immediately wrote back to say that there was the name for the album right there: No Commercial Potential.

Then I was reading Sviatoslav Richter's memoirs this morning and was noticing the enormous shift from the kind of simple self-deprecating honesty that he exhibits to the self-serving promotion and marketing that seems obligatory in all performers today. Here let me quote some passages (all taken from Bruno Monsaingeon's book  Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations):
I remember that on 27 June [1949] ... I'd for once in my life given a really good performance of the Tchaikovsky Concerto, at Dzintari, near Riga, on the Baltic.
It was [in Prague] that I first heard Václav Talich, one of the greatest conductors I've ever worked with, even if our recording of Bach's D minor Concerto is unfortunately not very good.
I gave my first recital at Plzen. It wasn't a success, no doubt because I was from Russia. Also, I had to play in factories.
Recordings have always been a problem for me. I don't like them, especially my own.
Glenn Gould came in 1957. I attended one of his concerts. He gave a stunning performance of the Goldberg Variations, but without the repeats, which took away some of my pleasure. I've always thought one should boo musicians--and there are lots of them--who ignore the composer's instructions and omit the repeats.
I was terribly nervous during this first American tour and in a state of almost permanent panic ... I was unhappy with my performance. Bunches of wrong notes!
There was also the recording of Brahms's Second Concerto with Erich Leinsdorf, one of my worst records, even though people still praise it to the skies. I can't bear it. I've lost count of the number of times I've listened to it in an attempt to find anything good in it. Each time I'm appalled. Tam, param, taram, param. A Tempo di allegretto, you bet! Leinsdorf took it as an allegro, constantly pressing ahead.
He goes on to say that the exorbitant praise showered on him ruins the relationship with the public because it tells them what to expect. Very tellingly he says:
What's the point of watching a pianist's hands or face, when they really only express the effort being expended on the piece?
Instead of the actual musical content, of course. Nowadays it seems that watching and appreciating the effort being expended is the whole point. And the attention isn't always focussed on the hands or face, either!

The situation today is that frank discussion from performers is largely prohibited in the interests of marketing. Performers are trained, like so many seals, to say the same 100% positive self-serving things in every interview:

I'm reminded of that bit in Bull Durham where Crash tells Nuke how to do an interview:

Let's end with part of one of those terrible performances in that first American tour in 1960 with, as Richter says, bunches of wrong notes:

Ok, I heard a couple of wrong ones. And a lot of great musical expression.


Marc said...

At the level at which I experience music (the local symphony and other ensembles, the OBF) it is always the press flacks for the organisations and the local critics that I 'hear', not the performers themselves reflecting on their performances. Local critics-- I don't want to impugn their good intentions, not at all-- but they are 'in a relationship' with the local marketing people, after all. When there was a semi-famous soloist here a while back, e.g., I heard two or three wrong notes in a couple of different places and an entire phrase that was off somehow (in a way I can't articulate)-- not that these mistakes lessened the loveliness of the evening in any serious way but if I were writing for the public I'd feel obliged to point out at least whatever went on with that lengthier passage (about which there was not a word in the local newspaper). That would be something that would engage the serious audience's interest, one would think, a 'morning after' engagement of some sort in which the artist could review his performance, take questions about it. Who'd pay for that, however, I don't know. Thank you also for a happy listen to Beethoven's piano sonatas nos 3 and 9 this evening! there are 6+ hours of Richter live! at Carnegie Hall in 1960-- he must have been there for that entire October week.

Bryan Townsend said...

Richter's first visit to the US in 1960 involved the concert with the Chicago Symphony doing Brahms and six different Carnegie Hall recitals that included an all-Beethoven program, an all-Prokofiev program (a rarity in the US at the time), another program of Haydn, Schumann and Debussy and so on. Pretty impressive!

That's a good suggestion, Marc. What seems to be going on is that the local organizing institutions have as their primary goal the selling of tickets. A laudable aim, certainly, but the difference between selling frozen fish sticks and selling tickets to a Beethoven recital has a lot to do with the knowledge and appreciation of the audience. One builds that over time with "educational outreach" as it is called these days, and also with higher-level criticism. In the short term, the arts institutions would undoubtedly resent any real criticism, but that is because they are just focussed on selling tickets to the next concert.

I would like to do reviews in the local paper of classical music concerts here, but they would likely not want to print them because they would be resented by the local music organization who are promoting the concerts and, importantly, buying advertising in the paper. What they get for that is frequent laudatory promotional articles before most concerts. What I would write would often not be that laudatory!

Will Wilkin said...

There was a Frank Zappa "Hits" disc called "No Commercial Potential". Zappa frequently parodied popular music and popular culture, and had a special animus against record companies because they did not let their artists have enough control of the "product."

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks for that, Will. And, oh no! I may have to go with my backup title: "Compositionally Thin" which was the comment of a composition professor at McGill regarding one of my early works.