I get around, Alan Gilbert gets around

Some places you can find me:

In Symphony magazine, the publication of the League of American Orchestras. I’ve got a piece on the revolution that orchestras need. I think it’s one of the best things I’ve done. Very hard-hitting, but optimistic. The spirit of rebirth (I’d like to think) in action.

And then on a blog called Orchestra R/Evolution the League set up, as a lead-in to its annual conference. I’m one of the regular bloggers there, and the theme of my first post was Robert Burns — how we in classical music have to learn to see ourselves (and our field) as others see us. It’s not very pretty. But it can all be reborn!

I went into orbit in my second post, which — not that anyone keeps stats on these things — may be the first time Berlioz and the post-punk band Pussy Galore have ever been mentioned in the same piece of writing. I was thinking of the meaningless “celebrations” that orchestras are forever mounting. Oooo, let’s celebrate Brahms this year! Compare that to the genuine celebration that the reissue of the Stones’ 1972 Exile on Main Street album is creating.

People love that album, or are intrigued by it — it’s “semiconscious,” said Ben Ratliff in the New York Times, and also loose and wild, and was recorded (most of it) in a basement. And because we don’t encounter it every day (unlike Brahms, whose presence among orchestras is constant), it’s an enormous pleasure to think about it (and hear it) again.

Berlioz and Pussy Galore come up when I thought about transforming existing repertoire. Pussy Galore did a single-take assault on Exile, and Limor Tomer, back in the Berlioz year of the past decade, did a Berlioz show at Joe’s Pub in New York, which was full of surprises. (Now she’s doing astonishing things as executive music producer at WNYC, New York’s public radio station.)

Oh, and Alan Gilbert?

I’m wild — really, truly, happily wild — about three videos he and the New York Philharmonic made, to publicize his performances (starting tonight) of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre. He hangs out with Death. They eat ice cream. They talk about the Rite of Spring (Death wearily puts up with a story he’s heard a thousand times). They play Guitar Hero. Death — shrouded in black, speaking some scabrous language I wouldn’t dare identify — is unforgettable. Alan is game, cheerful, and lots of fun as Death’s straight man.

If everyone in classical music put out material like this, the field might be reborn tomorrow. And the Philharmonic is selling lots of single tickets to Le grand macabre, so they’re clearly doing something right. What role the videos play in that would be fascinating to know, but even without knowing that, it’s clear that something’s going very

(And, much as I like the writing I’ve been doing, Alan has more fun than I do.)

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. a curious reader says

    the nicest thing about the videos produced by the phil: everybody looks like they’re having fun. it’s not stuffy, people are joking, there’s freaking DEATH eating ICECREAM lol. it’s awesome!

  2. Phyllida Law says

    I completely agree that classical music marketing needs a kick up the pants but the trouble I see with the Alan Gilbert videos is twofold:

    1. The humour, such as it is, on display in the clips has nothing whatsoever to do with the Berlioz and anyone drawn in to attending a performance on the basis of this is liable to be alienated or disappointed, and put off any future forays.

    2. Gilbert comes off looking like exactly the kind of nice but nerdy character, albeit a good sport, that most non-classical music lovers assume most classical musicians are. The Rite of Spring joke is a complete insider joke and the acting in the rest is true high school geek acting.

    I don’t mean to be a downer about these genuinely original attempts to lure new audiences to an already daring programming venture but there is a terrible risk in all marketing of raising too high, of just wrong, expectations. Audiences of any ad don’t like to feel they’ve been duped. Maybe you’ll get one or two converts, taken by surprise by Berlioz.

    But I’m not surprised a classical music lover – you, Mr Sandow – who also wants to see his world safe in a youtube universe, excited about this advertising. You are exactly who the ads will appeal to most, and you were probably going to go anyway.

    Phyllida, thanks so much for this. You’re not being a downer at all. You’re making a lot of sense, and making me rethink my enthusiasm. I know the people who made the video, and it would be interesting to ask them who, exactly, they thought they were trying to reach..

    And I’m especially convinced by what you say now that I’ve seen the performance. Those videos had nothing to do with anything in the music, text, or staging, and in fact the Death actor in the videos was more memorable — by quite a lot — than anything on stage at the performance. So you may be right if you want to conclude that this was another example — fun as it was to someone like me — of incoherent PR/marketing in classical music.

    I’ll take to heart your last sentence. I keep saying that people in the classical music world need to pay attention to how classical music — and classical performances, and institutions — look to the outside world. I think I forgot to do this myself, in this case. Thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Phyllida Law says

    I meant Ligeti. I don’t know why I kept typing Berlioz. Not exactly similar!

  4. Bill in Dallas says

    Mr. Sandow: in the context of your last paragraph:

    “I keep saying that people in the classical music world need to pay attention to how classical music — and classical performances, and institutions — look to the outside world. I think I forgot to do this myself, in this case. Thanks for pointing it out! ”

    take a look at this exchange on “Sticks and Bones”:



  5. says

    I don’t think the High School Nerd-esque nature to the films is really a weak point.

    We’re not trying to convert the core of American Idol’s audience to come and see Ligeti. There is, however, a core group of fairly nerdy, former high school music and/or A/V club kids who don’t attend classical music concerts that are ripe for the picking. They fit into all the demographic of an arts attendee, but for whatever reason haven’t bothered to head over to the Phil’s website to see what’s going on. This would at the very least generate some clicks.

    I would like some more Ligeti in the spots, not because I love Ligeti, but because it would be nice to get a person’s attention and then give a little more of a taste of the music. Other than that, I love these.

  6. says


    “If everyone in classical music put out material like this, the field might be reborn tomorrow.”

    I’m sorry, I agree with you on so many issues but not on this. Over on Sticks and Drones I write about this all the time (someone linked above to my most recent post on the debate between Context and Urtext)and I do a series called “Putting the ASS in clASSical”. This approach is what I am talking about. It’s all cute and sexy, but it will not build a sustainable audience base and might turn people off us in the end. I am going to post about it this week, my last post kind of sums up what I feel is the best approach. We have to relate to causes and interests in order for our audience consider “Marrying” us i.e become subscribers. This approach is speed dating for the purposes of a one night stand leaving people confused and not that into us! Besides 9 million plus people and the NY Phil needs to resort to this to try and sell a few thousand seats? If that is case we are in trouble! Not to promote yet again, but the grass roots approach is summed up here:


    keep pushing our buttons though, I love it!

    Ron Spigelman