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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford


Early autumn is the time when music journalists and critics receive the polished and colourful, often exotically attractive brochures announcing that the new season of concerts and recitals is once more ready to open its rich harvest to the public. The advertising is each year ever more adventurous, its invention the result of often substantial expenditure on the creative input of graphic designers, artful photographers who will transform even the most scholarly of conductors into hairstyle adverts and turning the most appealing of soloists into airport novel covers.

Gone are the days when concert announcements were just the words. Now they mix provocatively posing airbrushed girls with guitars and piano strings and other instrumental body parts and the members of ensembles strewn around woodlands or factories or stately houses, all to seduce an audience into turning away from their television or DVDs or leave their iPods in the car to join the live experience. It may work in the great capitals of the world, but in the smaller cities and towns, where concert going is the weary routine of the elderly, it matters little who or what is happening, they will probably not go anyway.

And what is being advertised in these hardly fresh concert series is, even with the touring international orchestras and ensembles of renown, the same tired repertoire, Haydn, Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven, a little Wagner, some Weber and Mendelssohn, Schubert and Bach, Berlioz and Schumann, and if adventure is in the air, a Mahler Symphony, some Strauss or a Stravinsky ballet. It is all so predictable and, season after season, the same sort of thing. Violinists touring the regions bring Bruch or Mendelssohn, pianists Chopin or Mozart, cellists Dvorak or Elgar.

Managements claim they bring what the audiences want, but if each new season continues to unfold with high budgets for publicity departments and designers and unimaginative and stagnant programming, there will soon be nothing for the public relations employees to work on. It could all be put down to the fact that orchestras, even more than ensembles, are just too expensive now to operate on anything more than a limited standard repertoire. With egocentric conductors and soloists flying the earth with only a handful of scores which it is economical for them to present as many times as possible, and orchestras rehearsed to play each of the programme six times in ten days for maximum reward, it will not be surprising if the orchestral concert disappears with the rain forest and everything else we are slowing destroying.

With music it is the programs (and players) that need rejuvenating rather than the slick artwork that announces them each year.

Copyright © 9 October 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


From: Alistair Hinton
Whilst there is undoubtedly truth in what you contend here about programming issues, I do think that your overall conclusion is somewhat unfairly negative and generalised -- in other words, it's surely not as consistently bad as all that?!

I am inclined to agree, however, that too much money is too often invested in the glitz and gimmickry of publicity as though the PR folk responsible for it think either that insufficient people will attend public performances without it or (worse and more arrogant still) that it's an art-form in itself that's more important than the music and its performances to which it ostensibly draws atention -- money of which some could otherwise be far more effectively invested in the commissioning and public performances of new works (well, I would say that, wouldn't I!). I suppose that it would be difficult if not impossible to conduct a meaningful survey of this kind of thing in order to try to reach reliable conclusions on the differences (if any) that it may make to audience figures in a climate admittedly replete with all manner of potential distractions from concertgoing, but that doesn't make the idea any the less attractive in principle.




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