[Dixielandjazz] How to Make Art (read OKOM) Conmmercially Succssful.

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Nov 7 06:19:36 PST 2004


This may not be for everyone on the List. (What is?) But for those faced
with the difficult task of presenting OKOM, as bands or as promoters, there
are some VERY INTRESTING insights here. Just relate Gelb's approach with
legitimate (:-), VBG) classical music to how yours might be with jazz.

Others may find it a good read too, but if you are not interested in reading
about how Peter Gelb presents Classical Music successfully to the general
audience, then please delete now.

Steve Barbone 

November 7, 2004 By ALLAN KOZINN NY. TIMES

How Do You Get to Lincoln Center?

MY philosophy," Peter Gelb said just after his appointment as general
manager of the Metropolitan Opera was announced, "is that art can be both
commercially successful and artistically successful."

Now that he is about to run an enormously expensive enterprise - one that is
kept afloat by large corporate and private donations, rather than ticket
sales - Mr. Gelb may reconfigure that belief somewhat. But there is much to
be learned about his tastes and preferences, and the way he thinks about
music, by examining his 22-year career running CAMI Video, where he oversaw
classical music documentaries and concert films for television and home
video, and Sony Classical, one of the world's oldest and largest classical
music labels. 

No doubt his views were shaped by his early work in the music business, with
the emphasis on business. As a publicist for Gurtman & Murtha Artist
Management, in his early 20's, Mr. Gelb was charged with presenting
classical musicians as stars that anyone - not just classical music fans -
might find interesting. At the Boston Symphony, where he started as a
publicist and became assistant manager, he became involved with the
nitty-gritty of a high-budget working ensemble. But it was at Columbia
Artists, which he joined in 1982 when he was not yet 30 (he turns 51 on
Wednesday) that he had his first taste of running his own show.

"Ronald Wilford did not hire me to be a manager," Mr. Gelb said, referring
to the company's president. "He gave me an office and a salary, and he said,
'You decide what you want to do, and create your own job.' And out of that,
CAMI Video was born."

All told, Mr. Gelb produced 50 programs for CAMI Video, and won a number of
Emmy and Peabody awards in the bargain. Because he was also managing the
career of Vladimir Horowitz, the great, eccentric pianist became his first
subject, by way of a recital filmed at the Royal Festival Hall in 1982. The
performances were not uniformly great, but the reception proved that there
was a hungry market for Horowitz on video, and Mr. Gelb was intent on
filling it. 

He decided, though, that straightforward performance programs were not the
best use of either television or video. For "The Last Romantic," in 1985,
Mr. Gelb enlisted Albert and David Maysles, documentary makers renowned for
a vérité style that creates the impression that the subject is at ease and
unwatched, and that the viewer is right in the room. The film shows Horowitz
preparing for another of his periodic comebacks, this time a return to
recording, with the microphones and equipment set up in his apartment.

Amid a lot of sycophantic fluttering, he offers pithy reminiscences and
gives uninterrupted and often dazzling performances. It was, in other words,
the best of both worlds: a documentary with an album's worth of performances
on which the documentary does not intrude.

That is not to say that Mr. Gelb forswore concert video entirely. "Horowitz
in Moscow" captured the pianist's first appearance in Russia in 61 years,
and unlike the London program, captured Horowitz's flair for both fireworks
and lyricism. Mostly, though, Mr. Gelb was drawn to the documentary
approach, and to the Maysles version of it. He collaborated with them on
several films, most notably the 1990 "Soldier of Music," about the cellist
Mstislav Rostropovich's first trip to Moscow since his defection in 1974,
and "A Baroque Duet," which offered a collaboration between the soprano
Kathleen Battle and the trumpeter Wynton Marsalis in 1991, just a few years
before Ms. Battle was booted off the Met roster, and before Mr. Marsalis
packed away his classical career and devoted himself fully to jazz.

By then, Mr. Gelb was also gaining experience producing opera video. In
1987, while still at Columbia Artists, he became director of the media
department at the Met and the executive producer of its televised opera
productions. In truth, the Met's productions during his tenure did not look
notably different from what it had been televising for a decade, although
the company switched from broadcasting live to videotaping performances.
Still, it was during Mr. Gelb's tenure that the Met produced its most
ambitious telecast, Wagner's complete "Ring" cycle. A traditional production
by Otto Schenk, with naturalistic sets by Günther Schneider-Siemssen and an
estimable cast that included James Morris, Christa Ludwig, Hildegard Behrens
and Siegfried Jerusalem, these 1990 performances still hold up well on DVD.

A production of Stravinsky's "Oedipus Rex" at the Saito Kinen Festival, in
Japan, proved a crucial step on Mr. Gelb's path to the Met, not only because
he became involved in every aspect of the work's planning and staging, but
because his choice of director - Julie Taymor - represented an increasing
interest in drawing on artists from outside the classical music world.

Ms. Taymor had directed a film version of Shakespeare's "Tempest'' in 1986,
and her biggest successes - "Titus," "Frida," "The Lion King" and, of
course, the Met's new "Magic Flute" - lay before her. She had, in fact, not
yet directed opera, but Mr. Gelb believed that, given her signature approach
to costumes and staging, Stravinsky's acidic, ritualistic retelling of this
episode from Sophocles would benefit from her touch. What she came up with
was a beautiful and sometimes creepy futuristic production in which the
principals wore headpieces that looked like Easter Island carvings. With a
cast that includes Jessye Norman, Philip Langridge and Bryn Terfel, it is
the best of the several productions of the work available on video.

When Sony Classical (the successor to Columbia Masterworks), intent on
updating its multimedia catalog, bought CAMI Video in 1993, it put Mr. Gelb
in charge of a division that oversaw not only video but also the American
operations of the record label. Gunther Breest, who took over Sony Classical
in 1989 (and moved it to Hamburg, Germany), had come from Deutsche
Grammophon with a distinguished video catalog of his own: the copious
archives of the conductor Herbert von Karajan, which still form a
centerpiece of the Sony Classical video line.

But with costs mounting, Mr. Breest was fired, and in 1995 Mr. Gelb was put
in charge of Sony Classical's international operations. It was at Sony, more
than at CAMI Video, that he made his philosophy felt. Recording programs
built around the standard repertory were frozen, and most were eventually
buried. An approach that Mr. Gelb billed as a new way of looking at
classical music came into focus.

In part, the approach was to redefine classical music. And in this Mr. Gelb
had an important ally on the Sony roster, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. When Mr.
Gelb decreed that the jazz and country fiddler Mark O'Connor should be
considered a classical composer, Mr. Ma lent his formidable name and cello
sound to crossover projects like the folksy, attractive but decidedly
nonclassical "Appalachia Waltz."

Mr. Ma's flexibility also helped shape new ways of dealing with mainstream
repertory. When he decided to record his second version of Bach's
unaccompanied cello suites, he offered Mr. Gelb an adventurous package, a
video series, "Inspired by Bach," in which each suite performance would be
part of a collaboration with an artist in another discipline: the
choreographer Mark Morris, for example, or the garden designer Julie Moir

It unquestionably represented an inventive way to present familiar music,
and Sony issued an unencumbered CD set for those who prefer the music

Another central tenet of the Gelb era at Sony has been that anything written
for films is classical music. When, soon after he took over Sony, Mr. Gelb
spoke about recording new music, the composer he mentioned most was John
Williams, whose scores (including the full "Star Wars" complement) remain
central to the Sony catalog. Now Mr. Gelb would probably add James Horner,
whose score for "Titanic" proved the fluke hit of the decade in 1997, with
sales of nearly 11 million copies in the United States alone.

Perhaps to give the film roster artistic heft, Mr. Gelb has forged a
relationship with Ennio Morricone, one of the few contemporary film
composers whose music (which includes the scores for "The Good, the Bad and
the Ugly,'' "The Mission'' and "Cinema Paradiso'') has a distinctive,
sharp-edged personality. And Mr. Gelb has commissioned concert composers,
notably Tan Dun and John Corigliano, to write film scores.

Now Sony Classical soloists regularly perform in film soundtracks. Mr. Ma is
heard in Mr. Tan's score for "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and Mr.
Williams's for "Seven Years in Tibet." The violinist Joshua Bell, who seems
as eager to cross the classical music boundary as Mr. Ma, plays in Mr.
Horner's score for "Iris" and John Corigliano's for "The Red Violin." Mr.
Gelb persuaded James Levine to conduct the soundtrack for "Fantasia 2000,"
the sequel to the 1940 Disney classic. Even the normally strait-laced
Riccardo Muti turned up on Sony conducting a disc of music by Nino Rota,
mostly from films.

The performers who have not piled onto this gravy train - those who just
want to explore the standard repertory, as they did in decades past - have
increasingly been marginalized at Sony Classical. The question they are
undoubtedly asking is not what Mr. Gelb will do at the Met but whether his
departure - and the Sony merger with Bertelsmann and its BMG Classics line,
still in the works - will mean a return to classical recording as its
performers and fans have always known and loved it. 

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