A Tale of Two Symphonies

By Scott MacClelland

THE 2017-18 seasons of the Monterey and Santa Cruz Symphonies are now published and current subscribers are being actively solicited to renew their subscriptions. This task falls mainly to the marketing staff, which basically comes down to two people: Nicola Reilly in Monterey and James “JD” de Leon in Santa Cruz. Though they are both fairly new in their posts, each brings a considerable depth and background to their tasks and both will be spending part of their summer putting new faces on their respective institutions, most obviously with new websites.

NR (1)Reilly, a violinist who, alas, is too busy to play in the Monterey Symphony, has academic credentials in marketing and administration, served as program coordinator in global health for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was marketing director for the Seattle Chamber Music Society from 2006 to 2012, for the Medieval Women’s Choir during the same period, and, from 2013 through 2015 the Carmel Bach Festival. (Between her posts with the Bach Festival and the Symphony she worked for CSUMB as development director for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.) Now, she works on targeting new and future audiences and dives deeply into databases past and present. She says most of their subscribers are resident of Monterey County—with very little attendance from out-of-county—including Carmel, Pebble Beach and other Monterey Peninsula communities. As to attendance, she told me, “My hunch is that we’re selling in excess of 75 percent of our houses.” While at the Bach Festival, she says they learned that direct mailing worked primarily as “a reminder” to their subscribers and tickets buyers. Still, “Direct mail is what works.” She also says the Symphony has reached an agreement with KAZU’s to broadcast their concerts on the station’s HD channel. “A long term goal for me is making our content available.” (As an important commitment, the Monterey Symphony now holds its solo artists over in order to play selections from each of their subscription concerts to public school students.)

IMG_3596With a composer/conductor father, de Leon’s life has been full of music. In his youth he learned to play several instruments. At 17, he applied his talents as a graphic artist and designer to creating art for book covers, movie posters, magazines and advertising. At 19, he bought his first house at Pleasure Point where he could indulge his passion for surfing. Soon he made a poster on a commission from Jack O’Neill, the surfing guru whose wetsuits changed the whole game for generations of surfers and others in love with water sports. That led to a long-term position in O’Neill’s art department creating logos, graphics, display ads and packaging. Once promoted to senior designer in product development, de Leon created designs for everything from backpacks, sunglasses, wallets and watches to an entire line of wetsuits plus related accessories. “I was so stoked that Jack decided to provide me with a job doing what I love, including a 500-yard commute to my office and the requirement that I surf every day as a part of the deal.”

Then, in 2000, he founded his own business, 57 Design, with offices in Capitola, and began to enlarge his creative portfolio with branding, websites, advertising and product design. Until he added the Symphony to his clientele, seven months ago, he has done creative work for Nike, Harley-Davidson, Dell, Covewater, Surftech, Santa Cruz Waves and many more.

Expect to see noticeably different outcomes in marketing between the two Symphonies. For example, during the current Santa Cruz Symphony season, de Leon started publishing glossy, full-color, 8 ½ by 11-inch brochures—several of them—promoting the next two or three concerts. (The current one is 8 pages. When we talked I wondered how much such a piece costs. He said about the same as the old 8 ½ by 5 ½-inch post card.) Pursuant to a redesigned website, he has beefed up the current one and uses it as an email blast, including short videos of music director Danny Stewart and concertmaster Nigel Armstrong talking about different composers and artists on the upcoming concert programs.

Meanwhile, Reilly has continued using more traditional marketing strategies and demographic-tracking techniques. These include display advertising in various local media, local corporate partnerships and the inevitable grant-writing. “We use a great level of social media,” she says, pushing their new “Symphony of Flavors,” a preconcert reception held at Sunset Center. “It’s really successful in continuing to spread the word.” Having decided that their run-out concerts in Salinas had become unsustainable, they are now beefing up attendance by Salinas and Salinas Valley residents, including a new $10 student ticket. “Another goal is to provide transportation through community groups in Salinas and South County. We want to eliminate barriers to attendance.” (At a recent Carmel performance, I sat behind two full rows of dialed-in middle-schoolers from Gonzales.)

Obviously, de Leon has his finger on the pulse of social media and has accelerated its use on behalf of the Santa Cruz Symphony. For technical guidance and advice, he turns to ACSO, the Association of California Symphony Orchestras. Having grown his business by constantly designing new but ephemeral glitz and sizzle, he is more at home creating on the fly. “Before you’re done talking about a new trend, it’s over,” he says. “Proven marketing should work across any medium.” Referencing the great success Stewart and his Symphony had with Yuja Wang’s appearance early in the current season, not to mention Beethoven, he says, “My job is make rock stars.”

The Monterey Symphony has an annual budget of $1.8 million and, in addition to other projects and performance events, puts on six subscription concerts per season. Their concert booklet handout, folded to 8 ½ by 5 ½ inches, is updated throughout the season to cover the two most current programs and other current news. The Santa Cruz Symphony budget stands at just under $1 million, and, also with other projects, offers five subscription concerts per season, with performances in Santa Cruz and Watsonville. (Next month’s extra, featuring a return of pianist Yuja Wang, is being promoted separately.) For years, their concert program book has listed each entire season in one unchanging 8 ½ by 11 inch handout. Musicians in the Monterey Symphony are paid better than those in the Santa Cruz Symphony. Both organizations have long-embraced youth programs, including school performances that require busing, and working affiliations with youth orchestra programs.

In their way, both Symphonies offer an excellent product that over recent seasons has only gotten better. Each has a talented music director at the helm. (The Monterey Symphony even has an internal mechanism—a music committee—whose input is constructively embraced by music director Max Bragado-Darman.) Each has something valuable to ‘sell.’ As a man seasoned in the difference, de Leon says, “Fashion comes and goes, style remains.”


1gidon_kremerBy Gidon Kremer (in British English)

AN EXCITING new classical music competition held last week in Las Vegas has broken with long-established traditions. Its thoroughly innovative approach left audiences mesmerised, the winners speechless and jury members ecstatic.

To start with, the rules for selecting the winner incorporated a vitally important element that had previously been ignored or dismissed as irrelevant. The standard criteria of technical merit and artistic ability were supplemented by a “physical appearance” requirement. Marks were awarded in five subcategories, one of which was “glamour”. A degree of nudity among female competitors was obligatory. The amount of body movement and the number of changes in facial expression exhibited during the participants’ performances were also measured. No one who kept movement to a minimum had a chance of winning a prize.

Rivalry in this new category was particularly fierce. The rules were also enforced mercilessly. On the day of the final round, the audience was agog when one of the favourites (because of his ability to play exactly like one of the jury members) was eliminated on the spot for failing to wear a tie or a jacket. A young cellist from Georgia turned up in a dress that revealed too little cleavage and was only allowed to continue – on payment of a substantial fine – because her dress complied more than fully with the thigh exposure rulings.

Exciting innovations were also applied to technical merit and artistic ability. The benefits of modern technology are at last being applied to assessments of the arts! Technical merit was assessed technically – what else? Sensors were used to judge the precision of the pitch, a stop watch to judge the speed of a performance, and a decibel measuring instrument to judge the volume of sound and its variation during the performance. With staggering results!

“By taking advantage of technology, we wanted to bring music competitions into the 22nd century,” the organisers commented. “Apart from adapting the examples set by sports and beauty competitions, our aim was also to remove all doubts about the fairness of the jury’s decisions.”

In the category of artistic ability, vibration measures were used to score the beauty of the sound, while an applause meter (duration and volume of audience applause) was used to establish the overall success of the performance. The composer’s original markings – checked by a specially invented device which is able to follow the score bar by bar – determined the authenticity of the tempo. For the first time ever, the members of the jury were required to reveal the marks awarded to the individual competitors (in each of the three categories) immediately after each performance (as in figure skating).


In order to ensure a more objective view of musical interpretation, publishers were asked to include restrictions in the musical scores. This prevented candidates from playing a piece “too slowly” or “too fast”. In the future, works for which there are no appropriately marked scores will automatically be excluded from the competition repertoire.

As for the commissioned work, composers had to agree to include a certain number of notes and rhythmic challenges. The work performed last week also complied fully with the parameters previously known as “technical difficulties for orchestral musicians”, a further prerequisite for selection.

World-class jury

The star-studded jury included the famous violinist Sour Creamer, cellist Ninja Naisky and pianist Shorty Short. Their selection procedure broke new ground. Apart from submitting to a compulsory hearing test, they were required to provide home-made video or audio tapes of their own performances. They had also all attended preparatory courses on new technology, ratings and value assessment as well as on bias enhancement and self-profiling. All participants in the last three rounds of the competition had to vote for the jury member whom they wanted to judge their performance. Each candidate had only one vote.

Looking to the future

The resounding audience response to this new approach to classical music competitions has prompted the organisers, who all feature high up on the list of the world’s wealthiest people, to extend their techniques to other, related areas. Their foresight is astounding.

Starting next year, competition winners in all musical disciplines will be obliged to compete in further annual championships with rounds at regional, country-wide and worldwide levels. Capitalising on the success of this year’s competition, arrangements are also being made to introduce worldwide tours for all championship winners, similar to the ATP tours for tennis players.

“The enhanced objectivity in this competition immediately highlighted the potential for further development,” the organisers said. “We saw what was being done in the world of sport and thought, ‘Why not?’ Our present plans have the additional advantage of ensuring a higher income for jury members and event organisers.”

Licence to play

Also beginning next year, a new, annually renewable licence will be introduced to limit the number of unprofessional performances. The “licence to play” will be automatically issued to all competition winners. Without a licence, competitors will be effectively barred from all concert appearances.

Abuse of the licence will be subject to sanctions, the severest penalty being a three-year obligation to play 10 scales on stage before each recital and compulsory attendance at one of the new training courses for arpeggios and double stops.

New rating agency

What happens to winners once the competition is over? This neglected area will now be addressed in a proposal to track the activity of all winners by using a brand new scoring mechanism (i-play). The fewer concert appearances, the lower the score.

In order to contribute to the added value of competitions, further measures will be necessary to safeguard or enhance their status. “Based on practices in the banking sector, we are now busy setting up a rating system for all performing artists who cease to take part in competitions or who manage to avoid them entirely,” a spokesman for the competition sponsor, Grabitall Foundation, informed us.

The system will be monitored and updated by the well-established rating agency Substandard & Poorer, which will also assume the task of monitoring the i-play scores. All musicians worldwide will be obliged to play at a set number of international festivals. Records will be kept by Substandard & Poorer. Failure to gain a certain percentage of positive reviews will result in their disqualification as seeded artists. The decision of the agency will be final.

All ratings and records will be publicly available on the internet, the aim being to focus management’s attention and enhance their search for new “stars”. The most immediate advantage will be a marked reduction in the expenses incurred by managers while tracing new talent worldwide.

Further training

In conjunction with the University of Acoustic Distortion, courses leading to a diploma in artistic appreciation will be launched in the autumn. Further advice in this field is being sought from the internationally acclaimed Centre for Mindbending.

Similar courses to those attended by the jurors at this year’s competition are planned for agents and music critics. They will be of particular benefit for those who base their judgements on prejudice, gossip and rumours. Following a basic course on music appreciation, courses will include optional modules on mind-reading and subjective judgement.

For musicians, a degree programme that will include modules based on the above courses is particularly suitable for competition winners who are awarded top marks for “self-absorption”.

Modules on “developing ambition”, “conquering the world” and “how to be loved by mankind” will form part of the core curriculum. Each participant will also be obliged to spend at least nine hours a day listening to recordings of his or her own performances and to read a minimum of five reviews a day on his or her own playing. To prepare them even more fully for future competitions, they will be encouraged to take at least one course in Russian roulette.

Ensuring the future of music

The competition organisers are now seeking advice on the establishment of a worldwide accessible library of all annual competition recordings. Apart from the advantages of being able to compare artists’ performances, such a library would be the ideal means of making karaoke versions of the recordings available on the internet.