Or maybe Alan Gilbert doesn’t get around

Here’s another view of the Alan Gilbert/Death videos that I raved about so strongly in an earlier post. To clarify the context — and to put myself squarely in the bullseye of the criticism raised here — I’ll recall that liked these videos (which advertised the New York Philharmonic’s performances of Ligeti’s Le grand macabre) so much that I said this about them:

If everyone in

classical music put out material like this, the field might be reborn tomorrow.

And now comes this comment to my post, from Phyllida Law, which says the following. (Since comments are public, I feel free to repeat them in my posts.)

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 Ligeti.
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.

Touché to that last point, which, now that it’s been made to me, seems clearly true, even obvious. My excitement could well have been premature, especially in light of the performance itself, which I’ll talk about in a future post. And also since an important part of putting something on YouTube, for me, is the viral marketing plan that goes along with the video — that is, the plan to create some excitement among a particular target audience online. Did the Philharmonic have a plan like this? That could be the subject of a future discussion.

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  1. says

    Why should all classical music marketing have to focus on winning the hearts and minds of those who have little organic interest in it? These videos are a great communication to a seriously underappreciated demographic: the youngish person who likes classical music already and likes developing their interest in it. Maybe they know who Ligeti is, but don’t have a professional’s knowledge of his output. And unlike the subscription audience, they are putting a lot of thought into how to spend their classical music dollar and are open to guidance and inspiration.

    Most classical music marketing is not directed toward this consumer: it treats the music like an expensive wristwatch, a twee yuppie status symbol, or some kind of terribly imperfect substitute for primetime television (Sex! Torture! Murder! What happens when Tosca gets pushed to the edge????). None of this appeals to the concergoer who is interested in actually liking the music for what it is.

    But funny little viral videos like this, approaching the music in a way that is humorous, but knowing, speaks in the same language this concertgoer does and catches their eye. He or she understands what Ligeti is about, or would with about two seconds of context. They aren’t going to be upset that the concert didn’t turn out to be a bunch of sketches with a dude in a grim reaper costume. But, that’s what separates good marketing that knows its audience from a pamphlet patiently explaining your potential concert experience is all about, no?

    Bottom line: this marketing thing doesn’t have to be one size fits all. Why dismiss one approach just because it misses the lowest common denominator segment of the audience?

  2. says

    In February of 2009 I conducted the Japanese premiere of “Le Grand Macabre” at the National Theater in Tokyo in full-production to a crowded hall for 2 performances AND without resorting to any gimmicks. I have always maintained that GIMMICKS DO NOT WORK. Full stop!!! They are nothing but self-abuse of the elevated art of music and ironically are ineffective, just as Ms Laws points out in her comments. I am sorry but I find all that obsession with marketing a dead-end, driven by desperation of a political system that refuses to support the arts in a meaningful way unconditionally!

    Based on personal experience and observation I am convinced that audiences -includig those in the USA- do not like to be looked down at and do not appreciate it. On the contrary, they like to feel proud of being part of someting SPIRITUAL and ELEVATED. “Le Grand Macabre” is one of the cornerstones of 20th Century classical music and a unique effort in that art, and it should be presented as such to the potential listeners UNAPOLOGETICALOLY. Sincerely, U. Segal