Beer / Drink / Humor / Music News & Info: Classical

Classical music marketing: Norm Lebrecht needs a beer or two (updated)

VB_2Back in 2007, long before All is Yar was a mere Fig Newton of my imagination, Victoria Bitter (VB) beer company teamed with the Melbourne Symphony and Orchestra Victoria — playing together as the “Victoria Bitter Orchestra” — to create a unique commercial:  it featured the combined orchestras playing VB’s jingle using variations on a theme of VB bottles in lieu of their regular instruments.  They posted the commercial and a behind-the-scenes video on YouTube, to the thanks and amusement of us all.

After I created this fine blog, I posted the two videos as well as some commentary and suggestions on other potential partnerships (click HERE to see the videos & suggestions).

It turns out that one of the men behind the creation of this commercial was Matthew VanBesien, formerly of the Melbourne Symphony and, as of January 2012, the soon-to-be Executive Director of the New York Philharmonic.

Well, noted classical music writer, Norman Lebrecht, has decided to take issue with Mr. VanBesien and said commercial.  He titled one of his own recent blog posts:  “How NOT to sell your orchestra,” and in reply to one of the comments writes:  “Bad idea to present orch as a bunch of bored slobs, woken up by a draught of beer. Image counts.”

Really??!!!  I don’t always agree with Mr. Lebrecht, but I’ve read a couple of his books, follow his blog, and generally respect him as a writer.  But he’s coming across as an uptight fuddy-duddy on this.

Lighten up, Norm.

To show my support of the fine folks at VB, I think I’m gonna have to go find some of their beer this weekend, and I will raise a frosty cold mug and say a toast in honor of Mr. Lebrecht in the hopes that he finds his sense of humor.  Perhaps I’ll smuggle some into the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra concert on Saturday or the Los Angeles Philharmonic concert on Sunday.  Anyone want to join me?

UPDATED (10:56am PDT):

I tried to point out to Mr. Lebrecht that the commercial itself and associated behind-the-scenes video do not show the orchestra as “a bunch of bored slobs, woken up by a draught of beer” as he purports, but rather quite the opposite:  that they are keen on doing an excellent job.  (I should have added that they looked neither bored nor drunk, but I didn’t.)

Furthermore, I asked whether his issue was that the orchestral musicians were associated with beer specifically (as if that should be beneath the dignity of orchestral musicians), or with alcohol in general (i.e. perhaps a wine or scotch commercial have been better).  His response:

They perform a tired, false caricature of their hardworking profession and do a disservice to the orchestral cause. Isn’t that enough?


I have no idea what he’s talking about.  If someone else has a clue, please enlighten me.  (If you want to see my full question to him and his response or perhaps to join in on the fun, click HERE.)

And here I thought Mark Swed and Andrew Patner were the most out of touch music writers around . . .

P.S.  Andrew Bain, Principal Horn of the LA Phil, came from the Melbourne Symphony.  During the time the video was created, he was actually still in a previous position with the Queensland Symphony, but perhaps he still has a story or two from one of his former colleagues . . .

Related Posts:  Symphony in Beer

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