Unwelcome advertising

We’d all be shocked, I think, if we saw a Nike swoosh behind the musicians during a classical concert. Of course commercial sponsorship helps keep classical music alive, but commercial sponsors are supposed to know their place.

Yet there’s one kind of advertising we constantly see — advertising for the brand of piano being played. I was at a mostly wonderful concert Saturday night, a recital by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson at Zankel Hall in New York. Peter Serkin was her accompanist, and there it was, on the side of his piano, placed so the audience can see it — “Steinway & Sons,” in golden, slightly gaudy letters, along with the company’s logo, a none too pretty stylized lyre.

This is gross. I wonder when and how it started. Certainly the Steinway my parents had when I grew up was free of advertising. If anyone knows when and why that changed, please let me know. I have an idea that Bösendorfer started doing it, and that Steinway, their competitor, imitated them. But is that true?

Regardless of the history, the practice really ought to stop. During the concert, I wondered if Carnegie Hall — of which Zankel is the newest and most delightful part — could simply paint their pianos, getting rid of Steinway’s flagrant self-promotion. Probably not, I thought. Steinway, after all, is their official piano. They naturally benefit from the deal; they don’t want to piss Steinway off. Besides, putting more paint on a piano, or the wrong kind of paint, might hurt the sound.

But can’t Carnegie — and other honest classical music institutions — protest? I can imagine a coalition of, let’s say, Carnegie Hall, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and a few top soloists. Suppose they all went to Steinway and the other piano companies, with lots of people pledged to back them, and respectfully but strongly asked (not to say demanded) for all this advertising to be removed. I don’t know what would happen, but I wish somebody would try.

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