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.
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 —
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.
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!
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…
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.
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?
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…
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?
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:
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?
WHO IS LINDA?
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.”
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.