Here’s a thought that’s been on my mind for a while.
Well, fine. A move into current culture. Contemporary branding.
Two problems, though. The images vary. Some are low-res. Painfully low-res — you can see individual (giant) pixels from eight feet away. That’s got to be fixed right away.
But the second problem is deeper, and more interesting. When the images are good, they’re very good. They light up the street. Lincoln Center looks beckoning, festive, and — to use the word again — completely contemporary.
But is that what performances there are like? Not many of them. Not the classical music presentations — not the New York Philharmonic, not the Chamber Music Society, not most of the events Lincoln Center itself produces. (Opera presents a slightly different problem, which I’ll get to in a minute.)
So now the branding could backfire. To the extent that it succeeds, people might come to Lincoln Center expecting performances that felt like the video displays. But they won’t get that. So the branding — worst-case scenario, I’ll grant, but a possible one — proves deceptive. It might even turn people away, once they’ve been burned, and word starts to get around.
The opera variant of this possible problem isn’t so bad. The Met has been branding itself with striking images, typically one photo each year, taken from the new production that opens the season. These photos show up on the sides of buses all over New York. They make the Met look hot.
And some of the productions truly reflect that. But many don’t. If you go to the Met on a random night, you probably don’t get a visual experience comparable to the branding images. So the Met, too, has this problem. To the extent that the branding succeeds, it might be deceptive.
But at least they’re trying. As everyone knows by now, Peter Gelb wants the performances to work as contemporary theater. It’s a long struggle, when you’re doing seven performances each week, and something like 20 productions each year, many of them (unavoidably) old. But still he’s trying.
The New York City Opera looks good onstage, too, and in fact — with their recovery from near-extinction proceeding brilliantly under George Steel’s direction — they might, on a random night, look even better than the Met. Not as spectacular; they don’t have the money for that. But just as contemporary. Or even more, because they do so few productions. Each one can be carefully honed, to be real theater.
The bottom line here? The problem isn’t the branding. The problem is the content that the branding advertises. Until classical music changes decisively, attempts to spiff up its branding run the risk of looking empty, shallow, opportunistic, because they don’t correspond to what’s actually offered.
Fix that, though — help classical music be reborn as contemporary art — and then we’re in business. And the branding makes sense.