Monday, October 27, 2008

Selling out?

While thumbing throught the arts section of the New York Times this past weekend, I was surprised to find a full-page ad of Lang Lang. Seeing anything classical be advertised in such grandiose proportions was unexpected for me, but what was even more surprising was that it was not an ad for Lang Lang, but for Audi.

I am perhaps behind on this, but I was unaware of Lang Lang's official sponsorship by Audi. After a little investigation, I found that he is required by his contract to show up to all of his concerts (including his performance at the Olympics) in an Audi vehicle. Moreover, the (weak) connection they try to make is that their "virtues" are the same - dynamic performance, perfected execution, and so on.

This makes me wonder - could the future of classical music include sponsorship of artists that is akin to that of athletes? Corporate sponsoship of music is not a new concept. Festivals, concert series, and even music schools (Longy has actually thought of turning to corporate sponsorship to help ease its financial strains) have all had corporate sponsors in the past. However, I have never known an individual performer to be touted in this way.

It shocked me. I have never appreciated the amount of money that goes to organized sports in this country. And more importantly, where does a lot of that money come from? Corporate sponsorship. I have always lamented the fact that professional athletes make so much more than most professions (obviously not just musicians) and that people will prefer tenfold to see a baseball game over a Schubert concert.

However, with this ad, I felt confused. I'd always hoped that a classical musician could attract the attention and praise on a level that was equal to that of sports, but seeing this left a bad taste in my mouth. I realize that there aren't a lot of other options to bring attention to music at such a national level, but what could this lead to? Kissen signed by a multi-million dollar deal with an energy drink company trying to make a connection between their drink and his "energy" in his playing? Schiff coming on stage and unveiling a Steinway tattoo? (remember Tiger Smalls?)

I realize I am going off the deep end, but I do want to open this up to the class. I'm not sure how to feel about this. I feel hypocritical supporting corporate sponsors for programs and not individual musicians - and I don't think individual musicians aren't deserving of that kind of money, but somehow this wasn't what I envisioned. What do you all think?


Amanda said...

Fascinating. I would not have expected this development either. While on the one hand I agree with you that there is something sinister about corporate advertising, I wonder if the phenomenon might not be good for classical music as a whole, or at least be an indicator that mainstream society is embracing classical music yet again.

The way I see it, Lang Lang would not be a very lucrative advertiser if most of the world did not know about him, or if they did, thought he was boring. His being used means he has reached superstar status with appeal reaching beyond that of classical music lovers. It says the general public recognizes his virtues instantly and could possibly equate them with something they could actually use. Granted, it is possible Audi could be throwing their money away, but I'm guessing they did their research.

So this means that perhaps "classical music" has reclaimed a certain place in everyday American society, but I'm putting the term in quotes because it probably refers more to Cook's "museum" of classical music than the diversified world classical music inhabits today. I do not know the full extent of Lang Lang's career, but I have seen many recordings where he plays pieces from the "canon," and these are probably what come to people's heads when they see his advertisements. It is perhaps not a bad thing in and of itself, but it would be nice to see a "new music superstar" out there making the big bucks.

SarahLee said...

I was super eager to leave a comment but I see that Amanda has already beat me!

SarahLee said...

I'm now writing another comment because, in my excitment (or clumsiness rather) I accidentally published the last comment before I was even finished.
I've always wondered about the same thing. Should "classical" musicians have corporate sponsers. I often also wonder if I was offered that much money, would I take it? Would I sell out? I would really love to say that I absolutely wouldn't be on an Audi (or in my case...Mercedes) advertisement. But I'm honestly not sure if I could.
I do understand that in a way I should be pleased. Anyone can say what they want about Lang Lang, but the guy has some chops. The guy has done the right things and made himself pretty famous. He's gotten people to give recognition to a pianist, and a classical pianist at that. I don't think a classical pianist has been a household name since maybe...Horowitz? In that way, he has helped us. If it gets people listening shouldn't we be happy?
Are we being elitist? Sound familiar? Maybe we're (or I am) jealous.
Or maybe we want the world to listen to the "right" kind of classical music, from a performer that doesn't try to look or act like a rock star. Maybe we're afraid of becoming too mainstream. I could go on and on and on about this. Maybe some more things to think about. Because I do feel like he's a sell out. But this is making me think, exactly why do I feel this way. By the way...check out Lang Lang's sneakers.

Shilpa said...

I just wanted to add my opinion to this. On the one hand, I feel just as cynical about this subject as anyone else and on the other I feel a great deal of indifference. Lang Lang is a bit of a “rock star” in classical music these days. This is nothing new, there have been and still are others, Pavarotti, Yo-Yo Ma, just to name a couple. When I was in high school, I out right refused to listen to Pavarotti because of how famous he was and because of what I thought he stood for. I disregarded everything that he was and did for opera because of his commercial fame. I would have called him a “sell-out” too. Of course, all of the rumors that Pavarotti could not read music and never rehearsed did not help at all. I realized I was wrong sometime during my undergrad after seeing a video of him and Joan Sutherland talking about vocal technique. It made me realize how hard he worked throughout his career to get where he was. It also made me forgive the choices that he made in his career, if there was anything to forgive at all. I guess all of this makes me wonder, what is it that makes an artist a sell-out? Is it the amount of money or fame they attain? It seems to me that in the world we live in, these two things are an important indication of success. In this way, success is equated with “selling-out.” Perhaps part of the issue is the way in which the artist attains this success, which in my opinion, is really up to the artist. I guess the cynical part of me says it just does not matter. This actually brings me to Amanda’s comment on classical music reclaiming a certain place in society. I actually don’t think classical music will reclaim anything (and here comes the cynical part). The only people claiming any sort of vindication here is Audi (if they have made good choice in their spokes person) and Lang Lang. I don’t know this for a fact but I really don’t think that all of the same people who are buying tickets to see Lang Lang are investing their time in classical music in general. They are there to see a super star who happens to play classical music. I do not blame Lang Lang for being this super star just as I don’t blame Pavarotti for “The Three Tenors” anymore. I think that classical buffs may have bought tickets to see these performers but non-classical buffs that also did the same are not necessarily rushing out to see other classical musicians. It’s not really about the art at that point it’s more about the “super-star.” To me, Lang Lang, the Audi advertiser is completely separate from Lang Lang the artist. I guess he really has two jobs, one is as some sort of a super-model rock star and the other is as the pianist. I hope what I am trying to say makes sense. Thanks.

Ivan Todorov said...

First i would say that I am not in love with Lang's playing but he is not bad either. I personally like all these things that are happening around him (Audi, Adidas deals, whatever). Why shouldn't these things happen to classical musicians? Getting those kind of "deals" certainly shouldn't be the main goal for a musician (which is not impossible but certainly does not promise a long carreer; the kind of thing that happens with some pop "stars"), the main goal is still going to be being a good musician.

As I am writing this I am begining to find at least the Adidas deal funny and a little weird. Going to and leaving after a concert in a nice car is not that bad, right?

But sometimes this whole thing IS confusing probably just because is so uncommon.