Ross And Ma Are Tops. Maazel, Not So Much

This week’s poll asking readers to vote for whether Yo-Yo Ma, Lorin Maazel, or Alex Ross best represents classical music to the general public based on their respective Colbert Report appearances generated a great deal of interest. The results (as of the evening of 10/30/08) were intriguing…

It was a photo finish between Ma and Ross

Readers preferred Alex Ross and Yo-Yo Ma by nearly equal amounts (45 & 42 percent respectively) whereas Lorin Maazel barely managed to garner even a sixth of overall votes. Of all the public comments and private emails I received about the poll one theme appeared in nearly every remark when readers took the time to describe which personality attracted their vote; unaffected sincerity. Readers seemed to vote for Ma and Ross for nearly the same reasons, they found both individuals to be straightforward, honest, and sincere but perhaps most importantly both individuals were capable of communicating without coming across as snobby.

The only comment about Maazel was from Matt Heller and I thought it was right on the nose. Matt observed that the show’s host, Stephen Colbert, showed a certain level of deference to the conductor whereas his banter with Ma and Ross “got more of his smarmy interview persona.” I would go one step further and say that Colbert sensed that the Ma and Ross were the type of guests who “got it” when it came to his style of entertainment and based on Colbert’s popularity and ratings, he must know something about connecting with the general public.

If anything, I think this is a good sign of things to come for classical music. Does it mean musicians of Maazel’s stature and his style of communication are obsolete tools? Of course not; but at the same time they aren’t necessarily the tools which classical music may want to use as frequently as in the past.

Alex Ross photo: James Hamilton
Alex Ross, photo by James Hamilton

Personally, my vote went to Alex Ross. He’s the kind of guy you want to go to a concert with and when you’re there you’ll be comfortable enough to be yourself. You know he’ll be able to tell you about what you’re going to hear but he won’t make you feel stupid for not knowing it. His laid-back passion and ability to convey the complex without being complicated is exactly what classical music needs. I don’t know if it exists or not but if there is such a thing as metropolitan folksy then Alex Ross is its personification.

In the meantime, I left the poll open so if you haven’t voted, stop by to watch the video clips and vote for who you think best represents classical music to the general public.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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3 thoughts on “Ross And Ma Are Tops. Maazel, Not So Much

  1. I haven’t seen all 3 clips yet, so I didn’t vote (have seen the Maazel & Ross clips). Interestingly, I remember that perhaps Colbert did tone it down with Maazel, or perhaps his “smarmy” faux-right-wing windbag pundit manner was more aimed at Kim Jong-Il and North Korea per se. One sign of Colbert’s deference was perhaps from the intro, where instead of Colbert doing his run across the stage to the normal set where the guest would be sitting, Maazel strolled on the set after his intro like one would see on any “normal” talk show.

    Maybe down the line (first, after we [hopefully] elect the smarter POTUS candidate with the non-creationst running mate next week), Colbert will get conductors on his show like MTT, David Robertson, Marin Alsop, or Alan Gilbert maybe after he takes over the New York Phil.?

  2. Nathan Gunn was on Colber earlier in the year to promote his performance in the New York Philharmonic’s “Camelot”. He wasn’t great, a bit too uptight.

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