Tag Archives: Proms

BBC Proms, a branding disaster

21 Aug

BBC PRoms 2013It is this time of the year when eager press releases accompanied by expertly Photoshopped images start coming out of the Beeb’s press office. They concern the now regular Proms in the Park format that is happening concurrently with the actual last night at the Royal Albert Hall. Over time they have stretched the meaning of classical to breaking point by inviting musical stars and entertainers. This year a pair of old timers return, Miss Jenkins and Mr Boe. They endemically crop up as the star attraction at one of those arena classical pap nights and it still makes me wonder if the Proms brand means anything for the BBC.

They keep promoting it as the premier classical summer festival (this year with an execrable campaign using the RAH as a glorified egg cup, see below) and then they contradict their own promotion by inviting popera stars to head those outdoor events.

It is a very contradictory statement by the Proms bosses and it opens them up to questions of good management of a valuable brand that is slowly losing its hardwon reputation and meaning. There is always a discussion of what the programming of the season has to contain and how it should embrace the real world outside the classical bubble. By inviting Boe and Jenkins the BBC organisers are essentially making a statement of non trust to the very genre they promote. In the past they had no issues selling out the Hyde Park event with either Angela Gheorghiu, Bryn Terfel and Placido Domingo headlining. Now it seems they depend year after year on popular entertainers as if admitting defeat that bona fide classical stars can’t sell out the large outdoor venues.

Ultimately isn’t the Proms brand about promoting and disseminating classical music to the widest possible audience, why do they feel the need to call on to people without the training or essential credentials? Boe and Jenkins will claim to have performed for the Proms without ever having to step on the platform of the Royal Albert Hall, a veritable own goal by the Proms bosses. 

When singers like Joyce DiDonato, who is singing for the RAH last night, do so much to bring a new audience to classical music and opera, an organisation of the size and influence of the BBC is seen as cowardly and predictable.

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A story of deception and extreme gullibility – Paul J Guest

20 Nov

In the last year I have met a lot of people in the classical music / operatic circuit one particular acquaintance was Paul J Guest, who I had chats with on Twitter and I finally met him during the Daniel Barenboim concert at Tate Modern on 8 April 2011. He seemed friendly enough but as the night continued he seemed fond of name dropping and clearly seemed as keen on networking as he was of hairspray. He told me he was dating a well-known indie opera director and that his day job was as a repetiteur for the Birmingham Royal Ballet, like with any acquaintance one takes that kind of info with a pinch of salt and not make the effort to cross-check them.

As the months went past I noticed that his Tweets were changing their content and gave the impression that he was very well networked and was working for a number of online publications. I was thinking everything was going swimmingly for this fellow, he started writing sleeve notes for new classical releases, he seemed to be in demand for talks and even featured in a Proms programme. All this seemed too good to be true and in many ways showed how susceptible to chancers the classical PR circuit really is.

A musician friend alerted me to a change of fortunes for Paul and how he was making claims that were proven from unlikely to outright false. That and his retreat from most social media made me want to investigate in a fairly detailed manner.

Self-definition

Looking over a number of articles published by him one pattern came through clearly…in every single publication a new title will show up, a new claim to relevance would be made. Lets have a look at a few.

Huffington PostPaul Guest is a writer and playwright. Paul has written on culture for The Guardian, Huffington Post, Ceasefire Magazine, The Arbuturian and MUSO Magazine. His essays have appeared in programmes for the BBC Proms and Nimbus Records. Paul is currently writing his second play entitled ‘I’m A Stranger Here Myself’.

GuardianPaul Guest is a classical music journalist and musician – follow him on Twitter @pauljguest

Journalisted: Current/Opera and Classical Music Correspondant at The Arbuturian
Experience/Music Theatre Skewed/Bachtrack/Musiquebox Magazine

CeasefirePaul Guest is Ceasefire‘s Classical Music and Opera critic. He also contributes to MUSO magazine, WIRED, Classical Music Magazine, and is the resident interviewer at Opera Britannia.

BBC Proms Programme for Prom 51: Paul J Guest is a musicologist, curator and author of We’re Sitting in the Opera House, a new history of opera, to be released next May.

Of course the wildest and most varied claims came from his Twitter profile

From the above you would assume he was in the process of writing a book and being a playwright and any other occupation under the sun. Now, why didn’t anyone question a 19-year-old being able to make such claims?

Four weeks ago a certain PR agency that helped him get most of the gigs to date and a number of other professional supporters got an email from Mr Guest telling them that all his claims were false, that he only attended the Junior year of the Guildhall School of Music and he apologised reassuring them that he was getting help for his mental health issues.

At that point it seems the penny dropped for all his supporters and also his website and Twitter account disappeared. Thankfully a number of his tweets are still archived online giving us an interesting insight at the kind of claims he was making online alongside all the rumours he was spreading in person. He would name drop as if his life depended on it, pretending to work for the Royal Opera, the Royal College of Music amongst many more claims. Shall we look into some of them?

Claims:

He happily told people in music circles that he was commissioned by Bloomsbury to write a multi volume history of Opera book (also mentioned in his Prom 51 programme entry)

All it took was a phone call to the publishers who denied any knowledge of said book or who Mr Guest was…

He was more than happy to insinuate on twitter and to blatantly tell acquaintances and new friends that he was working for the Music Director of the Royal Opera, Antonio Pappano.

After another phone call to Pappano’s assistant we were told ‘That name means nothing to me‘.

He also claimed in writing (and on occasions bragged in person) that he had interviewed Pappano.

A couple of emails later I was assured by the Royal Opera’s press office that they had no record of him interviewing the MD. I searched for such article to no avail.

He told a lot of musicians that he was conferred a FRCM (fellow of the Royal College of Music).

Again another phone call later and a quick browse at the publicly accessible list, the only person on it with the surname Guest was a Douglas Guest who was awarded the fellowship in 1964.

The FRCMs list is available in PDF form on the RCM’s website: http://www.rcm.ac.uk/about/historyofthercm/honoursandfellowships/FRCM%202012%20updatedJF.pdf

He claimed at times that his day job was as a repetiteur (as he told me face to face) at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Again a swift look at their website disproves that claim rather easily.
Here’s the list of their music staff: http://www.brb.org.uk/masque/index.htm?act=department&urn=118&tpl=orch1

His name dropping skills were extraordinary and overall shameless, I contacted a number of important figures in the Classical Music world only to get confirmations that they had no idea who Paul J Guest was.

My sources also informed me that he would wait for people outside the stage door of the Royal Opera House with a pile of scores and a baton, so they would get the impression he has been conducting. Numerous tweets mentioned working there…here is one:

I enquired about his self-identification as a musicologist and as an author by emailing the editor of the BBC Proms programmes only to be told that he was commissioned to write the article due to his familiarity to Emily Howard’s music output. I was told: ‘The author’s credit was supplied by the author‘ which seems a bit strange for the Proms not to look into the credentials of the commissioned writers.

But at least in retrospect this programme entry can be seen as the swan song of a man who took advantage of a lot of people on the back of the current PR trend for the cult of youth in the classical and opera world. Paul must have seemed like the perfect ambassador to carry on their ideas of renewing the frumpy old world of classical, one funky haircut at a time.

Here’s a recorded interview between the composer Emily Howard and Mr Guest.

Links

User accounts

Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/discussion/user/paulguest

Journalisted: http://journalisted.com/paul-guest

Published articles/blogs

Own blog used to be here: http://www.paul-guest.net/ but was allowed to expire

The Arbuturian

http://www.arbuturian.com/author/paulguest

The Huffington Post UK

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/paul-guest/

Ceasefire

http://ceasefiremagazine.co.uk/category/blogs/paul-guest-music-notes/

The Guardian (culture professionals network)

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/mar/22/music-in-offices-workplace-choirs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-network/culture-professionals-blog/2012/sep/07/last-night-proms-classical-audiences

Bachtrack.com

Two articles found here: http://www.bachtrack.com/reviews/list/3273

Opera Britannia

The Paul Guest Column: http://www.opera-britannia.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=507

 

No, Andrew Mellor I’m not privately educated and I’m not dreading concert halls and opera houses

16 Jul

 

Andrew Mellor wrote this scrappy piece for the New Statesman  clutching at straws on how to substantiate his own prejudices of what classical/opera audiences are like. The main thrust of his argument is the adverts in a BBC Proms programme advertising private tuition etc. He seems to go on some semiotic reading of the adverts and awarding the crown of elitism and high snobbery to the audience. His views are so far apart from my experience that I feel compelled to shortly write about them.

I grew up in Athens and was schooled there, the only fancy paid for tuition I received being my rather good English language school (for two hours after school, three times a week). Went to a few opera and ballet performances with my best friend to the disapproval of my parents. That was mainly due to the beautifully appointed Athens Concert Hall (Megaron) and its very cheap student standby scheme which we took advantage of to see some wonderful shows. It was a way in to a world I had very little contact with through my parents or my school (which had only rudimentary music classes, mainly dealing in history).

When I moved to the UK fifteen years ago I went to pop concerts, ballet and theatre. Never felt that any venue was out of reach or that the audience was unfriendly. Eventually I went to some classical and opera performances and again never felt patronised or awkward. When I took on a summer job at the Royal Albert Hall as a Steward for the 2000 Proms, it was a great opportunity to be exposed to a huge variety of events and more importantly the love of the musicians and the Hall’s staff for music.  This was an eye opener, being part of what felt like a big family, one night being lucky enough to see Tasmin Little with Simon Rattle and the next Petra Lang and Kurt Masur. Never for a second did the adverts in all the programmes that I read felt as a coded cry of the upper echelons of society telling me I was not welcome. What I felt being around all the other Stewards at the RAH and the audience was a great love and respect for the art form and the chance to be exposed to greatness, it had nothing to do with social rank or how I pronounced my vowels. In fact the only time I was exposed to unpleasantness was during a concert by Oasis and their horrible audience.

In the last five years I have been taking my partner to lots of performances of music, dance and opera and he possibly would be the one to confirm that we have never felt unwelcome to any venue. Even if some contemporary opera doesn’t totally rock his boat, he takes a lot of pleasure from the sojourns and deepening his knowledge of repertoire and musicians.

Additionally the advances in social media, the exchanges with orchestras, venues and artists have created a much tighter, warmer bond. We all know that opera and classical will remain in the fringes of mainstream culture, but orchestras like the London Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the English Chamber Orchestra, the Philharmonia Orchestra and many more are using their resources to promote their work and to make appreciation of it as wide as possible. The fact that the LSO will not be as popular as any given pop/rock act doesn’t make them a failure.

Most of the time the concept of exclusivity and high cost is foisted on those venues, but it’s far from the truth. Tickets for the LSO at the Barbican can be had from £8 and that is to listen to one of the most accomplished orchestras in the world with some very illustrious conductors and guest artists. I have been to many concerts where the food consumed at the cafe was more expensive than the tickets for this apparent elitist pursuit.

Equally there is no buzz like it when a favourite opera singer has a great night. No matter if I’m occupying a top price seat at Stalls or a £15 one at the gods of the Royal Opera House or ENO the deep sense of pleasure and satisfaction is the same.
Last week when I was watching Les Troyens from the cheapest seat in the House I was flanked by two people in the polar opposites of the audience. The lady on my right was wonderfully chatty and telling me about performances she had seen and what she was going to next. The gentleman on my left was clutching his opera companion with religious fervour while emanating the unpleasant smell of someone that hadn’t had a wash in a few days and refusing to engage with anyone around him. Was it the Royal Opera’s fault that this chap goes to performances and that he may put off some newcomers? Are newcomers to opera such scared, fragile little things that can’t fend for themselves? Those 5hours 22minutes spent in the company of those two people either side of me it was a metaphor for the larger world surrounding live performance.
There are the sweet, obliging, polite, warm hearted, generous people and then there are the less giving, passive aggressive, unpleasant individuals and anything in between the two. As in every other walk of life we learn to co-exist and trying to get on. When the calling of the great music is strong, nothing can mar the experience not even a very smelly, passive aggressive chap on my immediate left. So let’s stop victimizing the classical/opera circuit which is much more democratic and egalitarian than many other sections of British society. I am happy not to be part of an exclusive reception for the sponsors of a concert and I don’t feel excluded or let down, after all they subsidise my hobby. Live and let live.

PS The ultimate satisfaction I derive from my blogging and Tweeting activity is when one of my readers/followers decides to give opera or orchestral music a go. Sometimes it just takes that one visit and a love affair that lasts a lifetime begins. That is the very reason why I refuse to be negative for the future of “serious music” and opera, as long as there’s curiosity there will be audiences.

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