Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony

A provocatively titled blog post made the rounds the other day: “Maybe Atlanta Symphony Should Lock Out Its Marketing Department Instead.” It included a link to the Atlanta Symphony brochure for the ill-fated 2014-2015 season. I clicked it, thinking to myself, well, it can’t be any weirder than the Dallas Symphony’s Beefcake Beethoven

And then mid-thought this loaded.

aso brochure 1


Holy –

Holy wow.

I might as well warn you: I’m gonna talk about naked people now. So if you’ve got a problem with reading about naked people, I’ll catch you later, once I start writing about 990s again.

So let’s talk about this image. Who are those? What are those? Massive nymphs. Massive naked nymphs. Naked women. Hovering above a hall of patrons who presumably cannot see them, because if they could, they’d be cowering in terror. So there are invisible naked lady nymphs. And bloody red paint smears and long billowing strategically draped scarves. (I was hoping that the concert hall might stand tall as the last refuge in the Western Hemisphere from Christian Gray’s culturally omnipotent Red Room of Pain, but apparently that was too much to hope for.) It also looks like the brochure was originally planned to be square, but instead of shifting the nymph layer or adding another naked lady or bloody paint swirl, the designer just said, “*** it” and pulled one side of the nymph layer so it was a 4:3 ratio, and then called it a day.

Whew. Okay. That’s over, I thought to myself as I turned the page, and then —

aso brochure 2

THEY’RE BAAAAA-ACK. But they’ve escaped the concert hall – (maybe they were locked out) – and they are now cavorting in some kind of mystical vase land. A bloody vase land. Painted vase? Painted statue? A deformed pumpkin? Two butts? What is that? I don’t know. Also angel wings in the background. I think.

aso brochure 3

Angel wings?

The two nymphs on the left, they… They… They look like they’re a couple, is how I’ll put it. I didn’t know the South went for that.

And that blonde one seems suspiciously nipple-less. Just had to get that off my chest. (BOOB JOKE!)

Question: what are they selling here again? Fifty Shades of Gray or orchestra concerts?

Then in the next page: sexism!

aso brochure 4

We’ll bring you…great beauties who are great talents (Nicola Benedetti, Laura Ardan, Midori, Leila Josefowicz, and Kelley O’Connor), powerful men who are also great talents (Thomas Sherwood, Charles Settle, and Emanuel Ax)…

Niiiiice. So the noteworthy traits about the women musicians (in order): they are great beauties, they are great talents. The noteworthy traits about the men? They are powerful, they are great talents. So only the women are praised for their physical appearance? While the men are praised for being…powerful? God forbid we have powerful women, apparently? And on top of that, they’re using anonymous ladies’ naked bodies to promote their product? Maybe to celebrate their seventieth anniversary season, the ASO is trying to revert to gender roles of 1944.

Or… Maybe there’s another way to interpret that lack of symmetry in that statement. Did you have trouble labeling Emanuel Ax as handsome, ASO? I know lots of ladies up North who would disagree with that assessment. Especially after he played Osmo’s historic farewell concert with the Minnesota Orchestra Musicians after they’d been locked out for a year. Standing up for artistic injustice is hot.

We’ve prepared a season of full of spice, romance, intrigue, and love

Bwahaha. Oh, yeah, the ASO 14-15 season has been just dripping with love so far. (Granted, they got the intrigue down pat, though.)

Phew. Okay. So now that we’re moving into the serious section of brochure that deals with Actual Serious Concert Information, surely the red nymphs have served their purpose (whatever that was) and are no doubt going to fly off and…


WHAT THE ****????!???!??

Okay, WELL NEVER MIND THEN. So not only did we get MORE paint, MORE ribbon bondage, and MORE nymphage, but we’ve got a twisted orgiastic lady who is, I’m pretty sure, ecstatically flashing the cello section with her basketball-sized bosoms.

Well, the uncomfortably sexist vibe of this brochure has to end at some point…

[Don Juan is] joined by two works from Mozart, a well-known lover of women as well as music…

But it’s not ended yet, apparently. How this smooth aside reads: “Hey, ladies! Mozart was a straight man! He loved ladies! HE LOVED BOOBS! Doesn’t that make you want to buy a ticket to see his piano concerto? Ladies, where are you going???”

Also, I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess that when they mention Tchaikovsky 4 later in this brochure, they are not going to say anything about him being a great lover of men.

aso brochure

Then here we get random one-word headings from what seems like a free-association game. Create! Moody! Arousing. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want to go to an arousing concert with two thousand other people. Thanks but no thanks.

And as the brochure goes on, the quality of the writing declines precipitously.

Commonly known as “The Choral,” the Ninth was one of the first symphonies to use a chorus. Written when Beethoven was completely deaf, he never heard it performed in its entirety…

He was deaf…and he never heard it?

Mind blown

Mind blown

There’s one concert description that reads like the result of a bet to see how often the word “organ” can fit into a single sentence:

Organist Cameron Carpenter, a dashing, über-talented young organist, brings a new vibrancy to the organ by designing and building a portable digital instrument that replicates the sounds of a grand pipe organ.

Given the focus of the brochure on all the SEXXXXXX! I’m a little concerned at any concert description that talks about organs that frequently.

Dvorák’s Cello Concerto captures all of the grandeur of a big symphonic concerto and conveys the composer’s grief at the loss of his sister-in-law, Josefina, with whom he was deeply in love (in spite of being married to her sister).

Did you catch that? Dvorak loved his sister-in-law, despite (and here’s the shocker) he was married to her sister.

The first female conductor of a major U.S. orchestra and one of the best, Marin Alsop returns to the ASO after a long absence.


Waaaaaaaait. Marin Alsop is “one of the best” “female” conductors? If you were talking about a man, you’d totally refer to his gender, right, ASO? Gustavo Dudamel is one of the best male conductors, right? Riiiiiight.

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony was almost his last — and he almost didn’t compose it. Thankfully he did

He almost didn’t compose it but he did. I totally need to buy a ticket to that

Dance along to Ravel’s Pavane

I love it when audiences twerk to Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Oh, and look; Tchaikovsky 4:

Tchaikovsky once wrote, “an artist lives a double life: an everyday human life and an artistic life, and the two do not always go hand in hand.”

Aww, nothing about how he was a great lover of men? Why not? Unless the only kind of sex this brochure is selling is straight sex. But wait, you’re selling orchestra concerts. Why are we even talking about sex?

Then for some reason the free association word headline for the Tchaikovsky/Dvorak concert is…

aso brochure 7

Schooled. It’s schooled. Schooled? Urban Dictionary says schooled means “to teach a lesson to” – with a bit of a humiliating connotation. So – what? Dvorak was schooled for loving his sister-in-law? Tchaikovsky was schooled for…living a double life? Schooled for being gay? I was schooled because I wasted so much time trying to figure out what the hell the word “schooled” means in this context?

aso brochure 8

Oh. The nymphs again. Okay. Well. At least this one found a shirt. Can’t quite tell if her search for underwear was successful. I’m going to assume it was, instead of spending time zooming in and analyzing her crotch.

This concert description was the point that I would have started grinding this brochure under my high heel, if I’d have had a physical copy:

aso brochure 9

First off: “Mussorgsky’s piece inspired by the art created by his dear friend Viktor Hartmann”? Um, yeeeeah. It’s always a risky thing to determine sexual orientations from the remove of centuries, but more than one writer has theorized that Mussorgsky thought of Viktor Hartmann as more than a “dear friend.” Once again, the brochure seems fine with glorifying straight desire, while brushing potential gay desire under the rug.

But the more irritating part: linda? Linda?

Who. The. Hell. Is. Linda?

This question threatened to BURN a HOLE in my BRAIN. What did it refer to? A soloist named Linda? A hidden word search? A random placeholder word that wasn’t replaced by a sex synonym before the brochure went to print?


It took SCOTT CHAMBERLAIN over at Mask of the Flower Prince, with his background in Latin American studies, to explain:

Well, “linda” is a Spanish word for “nice.” If you like, for example, someone’s shirt, you would say, “Ah, que linda es su camisa!” It presumably refers to the Rodrigo and de Falla works. But if I have to explain that to you….

… I just… WHY? WHY? How many people were involved in the design of this brochure and how many people said, “Oh yeah, this makes perfect sense.”




aso brochure 10

Woah. Um, those are nipples. And a dagger. And a bottle of red nail polish. Because nothing says “great symphonic music” like nudity, nipples, lace, daggers, and red nail polish.

Okay. So look. I sympathize at how tough it is to write these concert blurbs. I occasionally contribute to Save Our Symphony Minnesota’s Facebook page, and I know how hard it is. Especially when you have to come up with a lot of blurbs in a row. Eventually you seriously just get to the point where you’re like “it’ll be a great concert blah blah blah big orchestra blah blah blah come hear it blah blah blah.” But still. This…is just bad. And I hate being so critical. I really do. But the blunt truth is that the people involved with this project are either not very good at designing brochures and writing blurbs, or not being given the time and resources they need to do a good job.

If the Woodruff Arts Center wants an example of how it’s done, look…look…well, look at the Minnesota Orchestral Association!

*shocked wide-eyed silence*

*the entire orchestra world stares at SOTL holding up the MOA as a role model*

Yes! That Minnesota Orchestral Association! Their brochure this season was fabulous. Logically, gorgeously laid out. Pictures of the audience, the musicians. Celebration of the connection between players and community. Space for a meaningful paragraph about each intelligently designed program. An emphasis on the spiritual uplift music provides. Heck, quotes from Shakespeare. No naked ladies, no suggestions of bondage, no naked ladies flashing the cello section. It’s a brochure you’d feel comfortable distributing among kindergartners or your grandparents. I sort of feel that that ought to be a prerequisite for an orchestra season brochure: that you should feel comfortable distributing it among kindergartners or your grandparents.

The more level-headed of you will probably say, “Emily, cool the crap down. It’s just a brochure.” No! It’s not “just a brochure.” Season brochures give clues about how the organization views itself, what its priorities are. A brochure is a microcosm. If there’s a bad or nonsensical brochure that doesn’t reflect the core qualities the product the orchestra is selling, then I believe that’s a sign there are bigger problems at play in the organization’s entire marketing strategy. Is that such a crazy thing to think?

The ASO has complained that its ticket revenue is going down. Cutting the number of concerts you give will do that.

But I can’t imagine this bizarre sexist tone-deaf sex-obsessed brochure and campaign is helping matters, either.



Filed under Labor Disputes

34 responses to “Naked Nymphs and the Atlanta Symphony

  1. Emily, Bless your heart. And thank you for digging so much deeper. It is hard to believe that a multi-million-dollar institution can produce such amateurish crap when the stakes are so high. But this is the nonprofit arts where professional standards are embarrassingly low and where people defend their right not have to behave like businesses right up to the point where they declare bankruptcy.

    Thank you also for solving the LINDA mystery – sort of. That one had me going. That and PIPELESS. And PLACATED. And BESEECHED.

    Your post cracked me up. Keep up the good work. This industry needs more iconoclastic voices like yours.

  2. Barbara Hodges

    Oh, Emily! You’re wonderful! I’m still chuckling at the ridiculousness and total waste of resources surrounding this ASO season brochure. The musicians must be embarrassed, to say the least, that they are lumped together with it.

  3. Kathy

    Inspired blog post… And – Incredibly weird, poorly written brochure. I wonder how much that little gem set the ASO back?

  4. A both a community orchestra musician and a graphic designer & editor …
    I. Love. This. So. Hard.

  5. Dr Stanley "Nefario" Romanstein PhD

    My dear friend, mentor and former boss Miss Hepner is pretty proud of the brochure.

  6. And I have to say, the nymph with the dagger is holding it all wrong. I could disarm her in a heartbeat. Stupid nymphs.

    Besides, I always thought naked nymphs with daggers was more a Bach kind of thing, rather than a Sibelius/Beethoven kind of thing.

  7. Cztph

    The almost naked fleeting nymphs rocketing over the musicians is probably a clear sign of how the ‘administrators’ view their orchestra. There is little connection.

  8. Maybe they were thinking of increasing earned revenues by locking out the orchestra and turning Symphony Hall into a bordello? All the drapes and such…

    But some graphic problems go back to the beginning of the last season, including the Program Booklet Massacre incident, when content was gutted and really poor, goofy graphics and design were the order. Long story, but that got essentially half-fixed.

    But one campaign DID impress me, and that was “ASO. Go!” because it was simple, clean, fun and did something I had been urging for years: Let the public know who the musicians are, no less than a baseball team gets the fans enthusiastic by knowing who their team’s players are. With a major league sports team, the fans get to know their team. Why not the same, to the same degree, for a major league orchestra?

    The one of the dumbest ASO marketing graphics was a Tosca-like femme fatale in a red dress holding a bloody knife — to advertise Scheherazade! Hello! Rule One: Know something about what you’re marketing!

  9. This was a highly entertaining post. Well done, yet again! I found the paint swirls very annoying, as well as the “dripping” font for words such as “rapt”. What a tawdry season brochure. They must have been trying to outdo the Dallas offering for last year….

  10. dugsdale

    Good lord, what a mess. Staggeringly self-indulgent, utterly inept and incompetent, oblivious to the essence of the product it’s supposedly selling, using erotic subtext in a clumsily un-erotic way to promise…what, exactly? All I know is, someone who unaccountably still has a job approved this crap, and actually thought it was “good.”

    I’m afraid the quality of our ruling elites these days has plunged straight into the toilet, and if Dougie Hertz’s comments are Exhibit A, this puerile mess has got to be Exhibits B, C, and D.

    And as always, thank you, Emily. You’re the closest thing to a fairy godmother/god-daughter as orchestral musicians have. Concertgoers too, for that matter.

  11. Michael Granados

    In the interest off balance I should point out that the actual marketing employees who created this brochure are the same ones who have been making the ASO’s brochures for the last 25 years producing some very fine work. They are employees who are working at the direction of their bosses. As you may have noticed in other areas the ASO leadership has been less than inspiring. So sure blame the marketing employees for the ASO’s ills, because a professional horn player never flubbed a note ruining the audiences enjoyment of a concert. It shouldn’t be a competition for blame but a team effort for success where everyone plays their part.

    • Which is why I said they weren’t given the time or resources (resources meaning anything from money to worthwhile instructions from the top) to accomplish good work.

    • Michael, you are right to defend the good people who do ASO’s marketing. It’s not their fault. The arts are full of talented marketers who do the bidding of executive leaders who, when it comes to marketing, are incompetent. The question is, should these incompetent leaders be allowed to run financially troubled arts organizations at a time when professional marketing is the key to survival?

      • As someone who spend an entire career in marketing, I must say that the first responsibility of a good marketer is to be truthful to their leaders and true to their brand. This brochure violated both of those principles. Either the marketers for ASO are inexperienced and thus, unfamiliar with the concept that they need to speak up when their leaders propose something so contrary and damaging to their brand, or they were so intimidated by the poor leadership of the organization that they were afraid to speak up. Or, perhaps they did speak up, and were silenced by threats of retaliation. We probably won’t know. In the worst case, someone proposed this concept as “cutting edge creative,” or possibly someone’s idea of a joke. In any event, the organization needs a thorough housecleaning of incompetent staff and leaders.

      • dugsdale

        Oh, I have no doubt there are solid pros in the marketing department. I plowed that field myself for a couple of decades, and it’s usually easy to tell when clueless gits who hold the purse strings have decided that what a professionally produced piece needs is some “bold strokes” and “vision”–and then proceed, without a hint of embarrassment, to impose an “artistic conception” like…red swashes and pixies and atrocious copy. It’s of a piece with the arrogance and obtuseness with which the ASO and the WAC have been run.

  12. However, I would like to add a bit of caution to comments in this vein: “The two nymphs on the left, they… They… They look like they’re a couple, is how I’ll put it. I didn’t know the South went for that.” however much in humor meant.

    Atlanta is perhaps the largest mecca for the LGBT community outside of San Francisco. And while I “don’t go to that church” myself on personal orientation, I thought that was something that needed t9o be set, um… straight, so to speak. as the common geographical bigotries against the American South do arise every so often. Please take care in mis-characterizations, especially of the anomaly of Atlanta within the broader South.

    It is indeed part of mis-characterizations of “backwardness” which lead to such a notion that Atlanta “doesn’t need” a major symphony orchestra, and make it possible to actually hear such added comments as, “Well, if we want to see real culture we can always get on an airplane and fly to New York.” Fine for the NYC-centric, and are are certainly more than a few here. But that attitude does nothing in terms of supporting our own cultural scene here in the 9th (or 10th) largest economy in the nation.

    When you look at Atlanta overall, it has problems like any city of its size and sprawl, but an economy which can’t support a major symphony orchestra is not one of them. What is required is the will and vision of leaders who want a great orchestra for a great city, rather than assume no one here knows any better because we’re “in the South.”

    We’ve had those innovative, visionary leaders at the top of the cultural scene in the past. We indeed have some such people around today. But, evidently, we don’t have them at the very top right now. That can change and should.

  13. Adam Kuenzel

    Ya know, Emily… I never realized I was the only one who could see the flying nymphs in Orchestra Hall. I thought EVERYONE could see them. As stakeholders they were upset by the lockout, too.

    • Stephanie Sarich

      Adam, I’m surprised the Minnesota Orchestra’s principal flute players can perform such wonderful solos while being distracted by those nymphs…your concentration skills must be phenomenal.

  14. CT

    Why are the nymphs all Caucasian and so pale? Do they have anemia or scurvy?

  15. Sean

    Holy wow is a lot nicer than what I was thinking, what the F..rank.

    Those are clearly naiads ( Who are flying. Not in the water. So ghost naiads in the sky? The red curtains they are flying in symbolize death. Death from above? Then I think there’s a wedding. Red Death changes to Blue Death. There’s a daughter born. Green Dagger Death. And *scratches head* the orchestra is playing the Ghostbusters theme! Because niaids plus death from above plus a wedding must equal them being super pumped because they cheated Death from the Ghost Naiaids in the Sky.

  16. Stephanie Sarich

    And why are they so skinny? Note the well-delineated ribs. They must have artificial boobs to be so “well-rounded” on top for such thin creatures. So we’re promoting sex above music (literally here, it would seem), sexism, nondiversity, and anorexia to boot…wow, good job here.

    I hope those dear Atlanta musicians don’t, er, catch something from above them…looks rather unsanitary to me. (Wait, they’re locked out and not performing now anyways…whew!)

    Welcome to classical porn. What a joke. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it (wincing while doing so) with my own eyes.

  17. Rebecca

    Am I the only one who sees the second, darker figure whose head is covered by the scarf or whatever it is in “Smitten?” I saw the foot protruding in the lower left and then figured out the rest. What the h–l does that mean?

    I never did find “linda” and would appreciate having it pointed out.

  18. Mary

    I recently picked up a print copy of the brochure and here’s the thing: the paper is very nice and very expensive. So there was clearly a significant budget set aside for production of this brochure.

    I’m not against using some sexiness in trying to sell the symphony to a younger crowd. But this isn’t even sexy – it’s ghoulish. The floating nymphs look more like dead bodies than anything else.

  19. Robert

    Thank you, Rebecca above, for pointing out your problem finding the word linda. I had to try to read all the copy four times to finally find it. It is almost in the middle of the blow up for March 19/21, in puce, the color. I thought it was just me, the guy with partial red-green color blindness and other eye problems. But I was not alone. And it means cute, pretty, beautiful, etc.

  20. Hil-arious! Perfectly lampooned! Sometimes I think the spinners spend too much time in the bubble.

  21. Martha

    I could not stop laughing at how ridiculous that brochure is! Thank you for writing to support the true artists…the MUSICIANS! These articles are fantastic.

  22. Jeff Blanks

    Lots of nearly naked nymphs have graced classical record and CD covers over the decades; maybe that’s where the “inspiration” comes from.

    • cztph

      The Naked Nymphs represent a Folly, a party of sorts, circling above the musicians, almost jesting and laughing while the musicians in turn are being devastated from (the offices)

  23. Pingback: ‘Monumental’ Adjective Abuse at Minnesota Orchestra | MARKETING THE ARTS TO DEATH

  24. Greg

    Oh dear, oh dear. How embarrassing. Here, ASO management, take a look at how it’s done in Boston:

    Click to access 14-15-bso-subscription-brochure.pdf

  25. Pingback: Arts Leaders’ Egos and Bad Arts Marketing | MARKETING THE ARTS TO DEATH

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