A failure of SHIFT — there wasn’t much buzz

Why I’m writing these posts about SHIFT *a festival featuring orchestras from around the U.S., coproduced in Washington by the Kennedy Center and Washington Performing Arts, with all tickets affordably priced at $25): 

Because the festival wasn’t marketed well, wasn’t promoted well. And will come back next year, so a look at its problems could be helpful.

And because the mistakes are instructive. Others can learn from them.

Four lessons:

Think!

Use common sense.

Think really hard about how your marketing will look to your target audience.

Plan your marketing when you plan your programs. Not because you only want to do popular programs, that will sell tickets easily. But because you need to know where you stand, how many tickets the programs you plan are likely to sell. If you don’t like the answer, you can adjust the programs, adjust their marketing, move performances to a smaller space, or — if you can afford this —  accept fewer ticket sales.

But at least you’ll know. And you’ll have a chance, long in advance, to set things up as strongly as possible.

In an earlier post, I asked if SHIFT was a success or a failure.

Looking only at the concerts, and leaving aside an assortment of community events, this is what we saw. Four orchestras played. One nearly sold out the more than 2000 seats in the Kennedy Center concert hall. Two filled about half the seats. And the fourth sold way less than half.

That’s not a success, even if half-full houses seem to be the norm in DC these days. But if one concert nearly sold out — and the audience cheered — then there’s hope!

So call SHIFT a work in progress.

One thing that failed

And this, I fear, is a biggie. There was no advance buzz. As far as I can tell, people in the Washington, DC classical music world weren’t excited. They weren’t talking about SHIFT. If you asked them, they’d say they’d go to the concerts. But there didn’t seem to be much interest.

Worse than that, there was, if anything, a kind of anti-buzz — skepticism about the festival, doubts that it would succeed.

The reason for the anti-buzz was very clear. SHIFT was positioned as a continuation of the Spring for Music festival in New York, which brought orchestras from around the country to Carnegie Hall, with all tickets $25.

And which was perceived as a failure.

So why continue the failure in Washington?

More on that next week. About how it was a promotional blunder to link SHIFT — or let it be linked — to Spring for Music. And how that could have been avoided.

But there was another reason SHIFT didn’t get much buzz

And that’s because — quite apart from any Spring for Music link —  it wasn’t conceived clearly, and it wasn’t promoted well. Starting with its name, SHIFT.

What does that even mean?

Contrast Nissan’s famous “Shift” ad campaign. I’d see their commercials, and the meaning of shift was always clear. It was used in many ways. Like “Shift the way you move.” I get that. This was a car commercial. Nissan has changed, the commercial implied. Now it has great new cars. So if we drive one, we’ll shift — drive differently, move through life differently.

And then of course there’s a  subliminal reference to something we all do when we drive, shifting gears.

But “SHIFT: A festival of orchestras”? What does “shift” tell us there?

Nothing that’s immediately clear.

Deciphering the word

I think I know what “SHIFT” is trying to say. Orchestras have changed. They’re energized, vital, doing new things. They’re alive in their communities.

Or, in other words, they’ve shifted, and we should shift what we think of them.

But how does SHIFT, as the name of a festival, without any further context, tell us that? There’s a thought process going on, but we don’t know what it is. We have to guess on our own.

So of course the festival didn’t generate buzz. We didn’t know what it meant, what it was supposed to accomplish. Or why we should care.

Which would have been easy to fix! Just tell us what’s going on. In direct, lively words we can all understand.

A modest suggestion

For instance — as I said in my earlier post — they could have called  the festival “Orchestras Unleashed.”

Let’s not argue over whether that’s a great name. Or whether it described what the SHIFT producers had in mind.

Just consider its virtues (or the virtues of another name like it).

It’s clear. It promises something. Promises something we might like to see. People in the DC classical music world, I think, could have gotten behind it.

Plus, special bonus — it might have helped WPA and the Kennedy Center plan their festival more sharply. Much easier to build on a clear idea than a vague one.

Next, the buzz killer — linking SHIFT to Spring for Music.

Re the SHIFT idea:

Maybe WPA and the Kennedy Center wanted to do the kind of hip marketing Apple is famous for.

But Apple’s ad campaigns are simple, and hit home very strongly. Take what I think is the most famous one, “Think different.”  When it launched in 1997, anybody buying a computer knew what it meant. “Be different — buy a Mac! Everyone else has a PC.” 

Not that those words ever had to be used. The message didn’t have to be spelled out. And was reinforced by photos of artists, thinkers, and social figures — people like Maria Callas, Einstein, and Gandhi — who really did think different(ly).

Original Source: A failure of SHIFT — there wasn’t much buzz

Thomas Adès : The Exterminating Angel ROH London

Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel at the Royal Opera House, London,  reviewed in depth by Claire Seymour in Opera Today : The most detailed review so far !

The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf

The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
he opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf

The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf

The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf
The opera’s score is an ingenious re-enactment of the past in the present. But, in this work Adès’s characteristically and remarkably skilful parodic eclecticism does more than remind us that our experience of music is filtered through our memory of past musical experiences – from medieval song to modernism; here, such musical echoes imply own our entrapment. So, in Act II the ‘Fugue of Panic’ layers snatches of Strauss waltzes – and Adès imagines the latter as teasing and taunting, ‘Why don’t you stay a little longer? Don’t worry about what’s going on outside’ – as the artifice of which the waltz is a symbol, and upon which the guests’ sense of propriety is founded, is exposed as illusory. – See more at: http://www.operatoday.com/content/2017/04/the_exterminati.php#sthash.Qv0SpwEh.dpuf

Original Source: Thomas Adès : The Exterminating Angel ROH London

Mumbo Jumbo Mantras at the BBC Proms

What’s really going on behind the scenes at BBC Radio 3 and at the Proms?  Before cheering  the end of TV themed Proms like DrWho, Cbeebies etc etc, let’s look analytically behind the maudlin platitudes. So Alan Davey, head of BBC R3, has finally twigged that “new” audiences aren’t necessarily Proms audiences ?  What a revelation ?  The “theory: that you get people into the Albert Hall and they see what it’s like and that it’s actually quite nice, and they come back for something else.” is mumbo jumbo mantra,  mindlessly repeated to numb dumb minds.  .

Since people go to the Royal Albert Hall all year round, for all kinds of events, why should they be afraid of the building ?  That’s supposition without substance.  It’s not houses that scare the punters by perceptions based on falsehood, like “elitism” which the nonsense mantra stupidly reinforces.  The success of Proms in the Park should be evidence that people can have a good time with classical music, of a sort, whatever the situation, without downgrading core product ?
 
Given that classical music can be accessed in more ways now than ever before, why should physical attendance be a prerequisite? Didn’t someone at the BBC realize that they broadcast worldwide and online, or don’t they tell each other  ?  That is the “new” audience for classical music, potentially greater than ever before. But policy makers are trapped in the Stone Age of “bums on seats”.  The government, and the Arts Council England are straitjacketed into geographical, small scale thinking that bears little relation to reality.  All over Europe, orchestras, opera houses and concert promoters are wise to the fact that technology reaches bigger potential audiences. And audiences who have more choice are more sophisticated, less easily fooled by gimmick marketing. The way ahead is not dumb down but smart-up.  That’s why top quality new concert halls have been opened in centres of excellence like Paris and Berlin: the Philharmonie de Paris, the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin,  and La Seine Musicale.  Even Hamburg, a little of  the beaten track, has raised its game with the Elbphilharmonie.  Some may gloat that we don’t need a world class concert hall. But culture is global industry: being Luddite is Little Britain blindness.

And why pick on the Dr Who and CBeebies, which were so successful they sold out fast, providing income for other things ?  Those were fun and surprisingly high quality, liken the Science Prom a few years back. Nothing wrong with a populist tag, as long as the music is well chosen and well performed.  And that’s where the new announcement shows its flaws.   Does someone, somewhere, like trash as long as it doesn’t promote the BBC ?

There arre plenty of non BBC brand gimmicks this season.  A lot of Proms , even those with mainstream classical music, seemed aimed at audiences who don’t care much about music, and are easily fobbed off by big names and safe repertoire.  John Wilson, light music, film music, are all OK in small doses,  but not elevated to canonic status.  How the “sensory” Prom for people with disabilities will work when the Royal Albert Hall, itself is not at all disability-friendly. A significant part of the core audiences, many of whom have  who have dedicated a lifetime to the Proms, are now excluded because basic facilities are so inadequate.   Even the website’s annoying. They’ve even killed the composer search section in the Proms archive !

The over-riding philosophy seems to be that whoever is making policy has neither faith in the core product, serious music, nor faith in the ability of audiences to discern the difference between trash and treasure.  This is absolutely not what Sir Henry Wood stood for. But the new Regime blithely uses his name for self-promotion and flogs the anodyne Ten Pieces mentality instead. Ten Pieces was a joke once: now it’s too moronic to bear.  It’s a symptom of the lemming-like rush towards mindless stupidity.

The real problem lies not with the Proms and the BBC but a whole cultural dumbing down, enshrined in Government policy towards the arts and towards the BBC. I’ve written about this many times over the years (Follow the labels below on arts policy, BBC  policy, music education, etc etc  The Elephant in the Room ? Political agendas, not economic reality.   The arts are a big part of this country’s economic success and international status.  The arts aren’t cheap because excellence is always hard to attain. But everyone benefits when a nation has a thriving arts culture.  The BBC and the arts serve Britain do more for British prestige and foreign policy than goonish sabre rattlers and dubious allies.  Mess up the arts and mess up big time.  Witness the demise of the ENO and the denigration of London as a whole.  So what is really going on?

We live in an age of Trojan Horse Politics, everywhere and in many fields. Voters are manipulated into “taking control”  while handing over control to vested interests whose interests have little to do with good governance or even public benefit.  We need to face the fact that many would be delighted to see the BBC scrapped because it competes with private interests. But if private interests are so great, why are they so afraid of competition ?  The idea that culture is part of civilization prevails :  The Royal Albert Hall stands as a monument to an enlightened age where policy makers had faith in the ability of ordinary people to progress through knowledge. Unfortunately, market forces operate for the benefit of whoever profits by fair means or foul.  Market forces can be manipulated, against the wider interests of the community.  Some ideals we cherish, like public health, education, the arts and the environment,  need communal, involvement.  When  market forces become mantra,  the minority profit at the expense of the majority. Market forces are a political construct, and not necessarily good for the wider economy. 

Original Source: Mumbo Jumbo Mantras at the BBC Proms

Lively Bruckner, Bartók, Debussy – Roth, LSO Barbican

François-Xavier Roth conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in:Debussy, Bartók, and Bruckner. Roth has a flair for designing thought-provoking programmes that stimulate the mind as well as the spirit.  He’s also a good communicator whose enthusiasm inspires listeners as well as musicians – no surprise he’s now the LSO’s Chief Guest Conductor.

All music is “new” in that good music is original. Hence the value of making connections that enhance the unique qualities of each work.  Debussy Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune was a breakthrough. Though we hear it so often, it’s bracing to remember that it was written 123 years ago It defies categories. Its exoticism stretches tonality, its chromatics at once rich, yet clean and modern. Think of fin de siècle art with its curving forms, against chaste backdrops.  The Prélude lends itself to dance because it is sensuous, yet also lucidly disciplined.  You don’t mess with dance or iut falls apart. No chance of that with the LSO and Roth.

From the familiar to the much less familiar Bartók Viola Concerto sz 120 with soloist Antoine Tamestit.  A bit of an orphan work,  revised and completed, perhaps to fit conventional taste. But the point is not whether one likes or dislikes a piece so much as figuring out how it works.   Oddly enough, I kept thinking of Gérard Grisey Les espaces acoustiques. Though the pieces re completely different,, they both explore the character of viola.  Hence the combinations : viola, then flutes and oboes, the viola suddenly strident, communing with trumpets, then horns.  There are elements of dance, Gypsy czardas, Scottish reels and even, possibly jazz.  Perhaps I thought of Grisey because Roth and the LSO prefaced Bartók with Debussy, priming me to think in terms of microtonal colour. “spectralism” to use the buzz word.  By this stage in his life, Bartók wasn’t in a position to innovate, but we can get a glimpse of what might have been.

And so to Bruckner Symphony no 4 . As so often the title “Romantic” is misleading.  It’s not romantic in the sense of Hollywood and not even in the sense of Wagner.  Note the instrumentation, which is relatively limited.  Consider the use of horns and rustic imagery.  Aha ! Bruckner’s doing Weber Der Freischütz, or even Beethoven’s Pastoral, even Smetana, in entirely his own way, of course. Thus the passionate tremelos and the sense of physical movement. Bruckner, dancing !  The relatively restrained forces of the LSO keep, the textures vigorous and lively. Very well suited to Roth’s energetic style.  

Original Source: Lively Bruckner, Bartók, Debussy – Roth, LSO Barbican

English Bluebells

English Bluebells by Roger Thomas

In Spring, English woodlands turn sapphire, carpeted by bluebells.  Oddly, though, there aren’t many poems which mention them. Perhaps they are too humble ?  I prize them, though, beyond many garden flowers, for they turn up year after year.  There is a poem, by Anne Bronte, but iut’s a bit twee for tough little b’s like bluebells.  But here an extract:

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

Original Source: English Bluebells

A Jet-setting adult student makes time for piano

No need to say Play it Again Sam, to Sam P. who’s been a super dedicated piano student ever since he approached me for lessons in Berkeley, nearly 4 years ago. And if we factor in a significant interruption of instruction due to Sam’s Acrosonic Console having been shipped to London when his company transferred him to Europe in 2014, he’s left with about 3 solid years of study. Along the way, we’ve doubled up on lessons to accommodate his rigorous travel schedule that includes departures to India, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Amsterdam, Dubai, etc, with a Tanzania Safari thrown in.

Sam has a meticulous approach to practicing. He relishes a deliberate and thorough journey through his assigned compositions that includes parceled, layered learning and he has no affixed deadline in his explorations. Most of all, he appreciates the process of musical discovery; how it spills over into other life activities, such as Chess for which he has a passion. He observes “patterns” in his pieces that have a direct tie-in to the game.

I had a chance to interview Sam about his piano studies after he landed back in London from Abu Dhabi. Since he’s working on Beethoven’s “Fur Elise,” a crown jewel piece for many students, I decided to separately include excerpts from his most recent lesson that focused on rhythmic unity between sections. Viewers will notice Sam’s earnest and methodical approach to this composition, that also infuses an awareness of the singing tone and how to produce it. He’s been working assiduously on relaxing his arms and wrists, while shaping phrases within a vocal model. For a time, Sam took singing lessons, until his travels made it nearly impossible to focus seriously on voice AND piano. I’m glad he gave the PIANOFORTE top priority!

Original Source: A Jet-setting adult student makes time for piano