Category Archives: Steve Smith

Pianist Greg Kallor at Weill Recital Hall Tonight: Getting (an Audience) to Carnegie Hall

Late this morning, I spotted pianist-composer Gregg Kallor’s performance tonight in Weill Recital Hall (at Carnegie Hall).  Here’s the blurb from Time Out New York:

The composer-pianist’s recital starts off with Chick Corea’s Children’s Song sandwiched between works by Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky, demonstrating Kallor’s fluid ability to move between the jazz and classical realms. Also on the program are works by Bartók, Louise Talma, Thelonius Monk, Brad Mehldau and Annie Clark, plus a world premiere of Kallor’s own A Single Noon.

This sounds (or should I say “looks”?) fascinating. So I’m going. I love composing performers and performing composers and think we need more of that. Performing musicians who create music.  And juxtaposing different musical genres is fascinating as well–doesn’t always “work,” so we’ll see.  I’m wondering how this sort of program will feel in a formal space like Weill.

Getting (Yourself) to Carnegie Hall

There’s old joke.  “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” a tourist asks a man with a violin on a New York street.  “Practice!” he replies.

To elaborate:

The idea is you get good, and Carnegie Hall books you.  That’s rare, unless you have a big name, either as an established artist or as a fast-rising young/unconventional performer or group.  It takes quite a bit for Carnegie Hall itself to hire you to play.

The alternative is you get good and someone else rents the hall and presents you.  Tonight’s concert is an example.  It’s underwritten/presented by the Abby Whiteside Foundation as part of a series of four concerts this spring.  Each recital has, or had, a very interesting mix of music, including a lot of new music. I’ve enjoyed exploring the foundation’s website–obviously Ms. Whiteside was a inspiring teacher.

Getting an Audience to Carnegie Hall?

Well, there’s the publicity and marketing.  What do the presenter and the hall do to let people know about the concert?  When it’s a rental, like tonight, it’s all up to the presenter.  The hall will post information on it’s website and sell the tickets, but the real responsibility is for the people presenting the concert.  The web is so important–as I said, I found tonight’s concert from the Time Out New York site.  What else was done, I don’t know.  Some organizations hire a publicist for their events.  I get a zillion emails from publicists about events here, but I’m evidently off the radar for the publicist for these concerts (if there is one).

Some other thoughts:

I don’t quite understand why the Whiteside Foundation website pages for these concerts, each of which are in Weill Recital Hall, feature the same photograph of the Perelman Stage of Stern Auditorium, cluttered with chairs for an orchestra concert.  Why not use a photo of the actual venue?

Carnegie Hall has recently revamped it’s website, and it looks a lot better than it used to.  Still pretty boring, but no longer mystifyingly ugly, so it’s a big step forward. Ironically, while it has nifty panoramic photos of the interior of the halls, there are no easy-to-find, easy-to-download photos (hence the lack of photos here).

A good, well, let’s say terrific, website for a major performing arts center is a massive, expensive operation.  To be genuinely engaging, especially for people under 40, it needs extensive multimedia integration with audio and video.  Maybe more of that will emerge as time goes by.

But why wait? If [le] poisson rouge, which has at least as many events as Carnegie, can have such an effective multimedia website, why can’t Carnegie, now?  Surely Carnegie Hall could could get plenty of interns to do the work. So maybe there’s something going on over there to prevent much video.  Even the New York Philharmonic, which is often criticized for a supposedly-boring web presence, has extensive video integration.

Meanwhile, the listing in the Time Out New York music pages, run by the amazing Steve Smith (who has superhuman energy and dedication to the musical life of New York) made me much more interested in tonight’s concert than this description on the Carnegie Hall site:

Program

  • Works by Bartók, Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Gregg Kallor (World Premiere), Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, and Stravinsky
Steve or one of his colleagues must have taken the Foundation’s press release and written the paragraph I quoted above. I’ve had the experience of seeing a long, unfocused press release and then how beautifully it was transformed into an engaging short paragraph by someone at Time Out.  I wrote earlier about hearing Steve, along with his NY Times colleague Nate Chinen, talk about a sense of mission in his work: it’s about getting people to go experience events. And you can tell it from his writing.  Someone at Time Out took the time to write a paragraph that makes you want to go, that states succinctly what’s fascinating about this concert.  The Carnegie Hall listing simply tells you what’s on the program.
Something seems backwards here. Why should a music writer be working harder at this key element than the people putting on the concert?  In the best of all possible worlds, the concert presenter would supply the hall, in this case Carnegie, with some engaging copy.  Maybe even a photo.  Here, the Foundation doesn’t even have engaging copy on its own website.
I don’t mean to bash anyone here.  As I say, it takes a lot of work.
I organize a dozen free concerts every summer in Greencastle, Indiana.  I’ve been doing it as a volunteer, and I don’t have a huge amount of time to put into publicity–especially audio and video. I look at my own press releases now and realize how much they, well, suck.  But my thoughts are turning to how to draw in more people to our concerts in Indiana, and to concerts everywhere.  It’s obvious that good, short press releases and a genuinely engaging web presence, including a website, blog, and active presence on Facebook and Twitter are essential.
Oy!  Such a lot of work.  And I need to practice.

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Filed under Composer-Performers, Greg Kallor, Publicity and Publicists, Stern Auditorium, Steve Smith, Time Out New York, Weill Recital Hall

Sweet Plantain and Fernando Otero at 92Y Tribeca

Ugh!  So behind again in posting. I gotta learn how to do a quick post about a concert I attend.

On Friday March 11 at the 92nd St Y TriBeCa, the string quartet Sweet Plantain, as uncategorizable as it is excellent, played a great set of original music and covers of Cuban pieces, opening for the phenomenal pianist Fernando Otero and his group (which included a killer, sexy bandoneón player).

Sweet Plantain

As I sat with a friend in the club setting (nice bar area and tables in front of the stage, which surprised me-I was expecting something more like the Upper East Side 92nd St. Y’s concert hall) of the venue’s main space, so delighted to be hearing terrific music by musicians I’d never heard of until recently, I got why Steve Smith and Nate Chinen were so enthusiastic about preparing event listings when I heard them speak earlier this month.  Of course if you care about music, you want people to know about what’s coming up so that they will actually attend the events.  It was through the Time Out New York fabulous music listings (Steve’s in charge of those) that I had found out about this event by looking to see what was scheduled for the night.  “This is amazing!” I thought.  “More people should be here.”  And I realized that if I were writing/blogging about music as a full-time gig, I’d want to be telling people about shows like this in advance, too.

Since then, it the only person I’ve talked to about the show who already knew of either Sweet Plantain or Otero went to school with David Gotay, Plantain’s cellist.  No one, even my pianist friend who is nuts for Piazzolla and tango music (very much a part of Otero’s language) had heard of Otero–who won a frigging Latin Grammy, for crying out loud.

Now you do.  Check them both out–well worth it.  Sweet Plantain plays with technical virtuosity, energy, commitment, and a sense of fun and adventure.  And they do original music.  The return of the performer-composer is such a big part of the revitalization of the music formerly known as “classical.”  Not only is this sort of we-want-to-connect-with-audiences creativity very healthy for music, but it’s also a fantastic way for a young group to establish itself in the musical marketplace.  And Otero?  Well, his Grammy-winning album is great (I became such a fan at the show that I actually bought one–would have picked up a Sweet Plantain album, too, it they’d had some for sale), but in person he (and his colleagues) are phenomenal.  Electrifying.

(And this was a pretty quick post.  Whew!)

[edited to correct spelling of Otero.  Oops.]

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Filed under 92Y Tribeca, cellists, David Gotay, Music Writers, Nate Chinen, Performance Venues, Pianists, Steve Smith, Sweet Plantain (string quartet)

Three Guys with a Mission (SJ XI)

My New York sojourn began with the Chamber Music America Annual Conference, which marked my first real involvement with this marvelous organization, which does so much to promote small-ensemble music making and networking among musicians and managers, publicists, educators, journalists, etc..  Since the conference, where in a few days I probably got enough material to design my new course on career skills for young classically-trained musicians, I’ve attended two CMA grant-writing workshops and two free “First Tuesday” events, presented each month at St. Peter’s Church in the Citigroup building.

February’s session was a fascinating talk by Adrian Ellis [pdf], the Executive Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, who exudes a deep sense of mission as he articulates its importance.  So do Steve Smith (Time Out New York music editor, New York Times classical critic, and blogger) and Nate Chinen (pop/jazz critic at the Times), the panelists at yesterday’s (March 1) event, “Meet the Music Press.”

We all know these are challenging times for the arts, not only because of the general economy but because, as controversial NEA head Rocco Landesman has infamously observed, supply outstrips demand.  Ellis emphasized the danger of organizations devolving into survival mode and losing sight of their missions, the importance of which he returned to many times.  He elaborated on a variety of topics, outreach being perhaps the most critical.  With much of country “two to three generations beyond routine arts education,” the task falls to arts organizations.  Jazz at Lincoln Center, he said, is “basically an education machine with programming.”

Chinen and Smith don’t refer to themselves as arts educators, but they are, roses-by-another name, working in a for-profit world.  Both spoke of their roles as advocates for music and musicians.

They started out by discussing how event listings (Time Out; find the Times ‘Week in Music” listings in the center column here).  Heck, I thought that would take just a few minutes:  send your stuff in by the deadline and the interns will take care of it.  Turns out these guys are passionate about and take great pride in the listings they prepare–letting people know about what is going on seems to be their mutual raison d’être. It’s not a get-it-in-on-time-or-you’re-out-of-luck thing;  in addition to the emails and physical press releases they receive, each proactively scours the web.

They covered reviews more quickly–the real passion of each obviously lies elsewhere. FYI, at the Times, classical reviews are assigned by the editor and chief music critic; the four jazz/pop writers, on the other hand,  pretty much manage themselves, deciding what to cover and who will cover it.  For these tasks and others, Chinen said there’s a collective “sense of stewardship” for their area.  The best way to get reviewed, besides being famous and important, is to catch the attention of one of the individual critics (even among the classical staff).

Feature articles, including profiles, are what seemed to really turn these guys on.  Chinen likes to write stories “that make you interested in something you didn’t know you were interested in.” (Hope I wrote that down right, Nate.) When Smith pitches a feature article to the Times, its has to be something he believes in so strongly that “perspective as an advocate” comes through.  What really engages him? The “people who are keeping classical music from being a dusty graveyard.”  It’s an “exciting, creative time,” and he wants people to now about it.

So what about negative reviews?  “Disputative criticism” (a term new to me) is fine with the culture is healthy.  Space is limited;  why waste it on sharpening knives over an emerging artist? Not that they don’t write critical reviews from time to time or that even feature articles may contain critical assessments.  But Chinen says, “Often times I exercise my critical urge by means of omission.”

Three men on a mission.  Glad they’re around.

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Filed under Chamber Music America (CMA), CMA 2011 Conference, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Music Writers, Nate Chinen, sabbatical journal, Steve Smith