Friday, 21 April 2017

SHIFT — a weird PR gaffe

Resuming my blog after a gap…

I'm sorry that I said some provocative things about the SHIFT festival in DC, and then fell silent.

I hadn't planned that. But life intervened, taking me by surprise, when my schedule got crazy.

My bad. I apologize.

And I also apologize for something off-base I said in my SHIFT post:

Special note for the Kennedy Center: Mason Bates has been your composer in residence for two years. With no disrespect to him or his music — he's someone I've known cordially for years — you might ask what it means that the concert featuring him drew the smallest SHIFT audience. Something maybe isn't working in your composer in residence promotion.

Yes, the performance by the North Carolina Symphony did sell fewer tickets than the other SHIFT concerts (by quite a lot). And they did play a Mason piece.

But wrong to suggest that Mason's name didn't sell tickets! How could I know that? Maybe sales would have been lower still if his name hadn't been on the program.

Apologies, again, for going off track this way.

But there's another issue

Why — in all the PR I've seen for that concert — wasn't Mason billed as the Kennedy Center's composer in residence?

This is crazy.

Here  — from the joint Kennedy Center/Washington Performing Arts web page for SHIFT — is the PR blurb for the North Carolina concert:

The orchestra offers an innovative program, deeply evocative of North Carolina, represented in particular by four composers with ties to the state: Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Mason Bates, and Robert Ward.

Caroline Shaw gets props (as she should) as a Pulitzer Prize winner. Mason gets nothing. He's just a name on a list.

Even though he's the Kennedy Center's own guy! Personally chosen (I'd assume) by K Center president Deborah Rutter, after the success she had with him as composer in residence when she ran the Chicago Symphony.


Don't they want to give their own guy props?

Don't they want to be courteous to him, and mention that he's an important figure at the place where the concert will be given?

Wouldn't they hope Mason's name might sell some tickets, if they reminded people in DC that he's on the home team, a composer whose music they maybe have heard and liked?


And it gets worse

In promo emails for the concert, from the North Carolina Symphony and also from Washington Performing Arts, there's also not a word Mason as composer in residence

Aren't those groups collaborating with the Kennedy Center?

The orchestra writes a longish paragraph about Mason, praising him as the second most performed living composer in the US. But doesn't say he's composer in residence.

WPA gives a special nod to Caroline Shaw. Pulitzer Prize winner! She'll make a "special appearance" at the concert! Mason's name isn't even mentioned.

(And, for even greater craziness, the email doesn't say that Caroline's "special appearance" will be as a violin soloist, playing her own piece. Sorry for the emphasis, but…they didn't think to publicize Caroline as soloist? Nor did they on the SHIFT webpage, which I quoted above. What word would you use for that?)

How could this happen?

These look like silly mistakes.

But maybe there's some deeply overthought reason for not mentioning Mason's DC title.

"Let's see…if we give him props for his K Center work, we're putting the K Center ahead of WPA and the orchestra, because he's not composer in residence for them…"

Which might just possibly make sense at 3 AM, to people with deeply furrowed brows. But then you fall into something else that seems wrong, promoting Caroline more than Mason. And you look bad to any informed observer on the outside.

In the past, I've blogged that the classical music field doesn't do PR very well. (Or here, or here.)

I fear this is one more example.


Did Mason's name sell tickets to the North Carolina concert?

I'd think the Kennedy Center would want to know. Would want to know what impact their composer in residence has in their city. Selling tickets isn't the only way to measure that, but it's one way.

And, more generally, I hope they and WPA did audience studies for all the SHIFT concerts. What made people choose which one to go to? What made them want to go to SHIFT at all?

Having that data would — to put it mildly — help WPA and Kennedy Center plan the continuation of the festival next year. 

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