Peter Oundjian – Did he approve this message?

25 Oct

Gustav Mahler

Gustav Mahler, spiked hair, eye-liner and a necklace of bullets

Luminato ad,Toronto Star, Saturday, 28 May, 2011

The people who created, approved and distributed the ad for Luminato, exhibit a  distressingly high level of  vulgarity and lack of respect.  It looks like something a young school boy would do to a history book photo, but this ad was done, I think, by adults.  There can be no doubt about the ad’s purpose. Explained in words Luminato will understand, it’s to make moola and put butts in seats.

The authors of this ad thought they were doing their job.  Audience attendance at concerts of western abstract art music is generally down and perhaps the clarity and visceral effects achieved by modern recordings and hefty ticket prices have kept young people glued to their iPods and out of concert seats.  Of course there is the recent economic disaster.

All of the aforementioned and many more subtle factors are driving administrators to make ever more desperate attempts to attract audiences and raise money.  Also reasons I believe, for the bewilderingly ugly advertisement reproduced above.

Peter Oundjian was born in 1955 about the time Leonard Bernstein began to bring his Mahler message to the  public. Bernstein’s passion for Mahler precipitated  today’s glut of Mahler music, particularly his symphonies, cycles of which have been made by every conductor with a recording contract.  Mahler was a welcomed financial boost to the recording industry and symphony orchestra attendance. All five of the recent  Royal Conscergebouw Orchestra concerts in Toronto featured a Mahler symphony and all were mostly sold out. The last of these yearly concerts featured Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Tim Rice, the former Washington Post, and Pulitzer Prize winning music critic said he’d rather listen to anything by Rossini then anything by Mahler. I happen to agree. And yet I have as many Mahler CDs in my collection as I have of any other composer save some contemporary favorites and a slew of piano pickers. When I ask myself why I collected all these recorded performances, I am reduced to a few basic answers.

Mahler employs vast orchestral resources – who can object to those  hammer strokes of fate? –  and uses them in dramatic ways, usually during climactic movement endings which for length and loudness rival anything in the orchestral repertoire. These are juxtaposed with simple folk tunes,  Klezmer and German beer hall music.  Mahler’s rubatos, combined with passionate string glissandi, contend with any Hollywood depiction of unrequited love. I can only absorb so much of Mahler’s angst. Enough already!  So I listen to  Rossini. (My latest buzz is his opera IL Viaggio a Reims.)

To whom was the Luminato ad addressed? As I gaze at the desecrated face of Mahler, I try to think of anyone I’ve seen at a  Toronto Symphony concert with spiked hair, eye-liner and a necklace of bullets. Or, anyone who socializes with same. The point seems to be, “Let’s shock customers into looking at the ad.” They succeeded. I looked.

The only weakness is the ad’s failure to make me want to attend the concert. Hyperbole. Isn’t it grand? Is hyperbole Mahler’s Fifth or pathetically juvenile marketing stratagems, or both?


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