Post Game Concert Interviews

The ubiquitous post game interview; you watch them after baseball/football/etc.ball games all the time and nothing quite beats the edutainment value of watching a good sports reporter take a coach or player to task over a less than satisfactory performance. Likewise, watching those same professionals reviewing the merits behind a win is equally enjoyable and certainly preferable to commentator/talking head game reviews. This topic became stuck in my head after reading about the trouble Proper Discord’s author recounted while attending a post-concert Q&A…

chatIn the article, Proper Discord (I have no clue what else to call him/her since the blog is anonymously authored) asked a piano soloist and composer “If you were in charge, what would you do to improve the traditional classical concert experience?” This question was reportedly not well received and eventually answered by the soloist asking for another question.

I would have loved to see the event unfold live but moreover, I wish post-concert Q&A sessions with frank, but sincere, questions were more common. Post game interviews following sports events help accomplish many of the “breaking through barriers” type issues that are helping keep potential ticket buyers at bay. They provide an unscripted, live glimpse into the reality of wins and losses and how those professionals deal with them.

Could such an open-ended atmosphere contribute to a potentially uncomfortable environment for conductors and artists? Sure, but why is that such a big deal? After all, they already work in a field with a separate, but symbiotic, profession dedicated to critiquing each performance (or at least, any chance they can these days). Why then, should Proper Discord’s question be considered apropos? What’s wrong with asking musicians about what listeners hear in a concert or think about the field? In general, what’s wrong with some tough questions?

I took a moment to Google some Major League Baseball post game interviews to see if tough questions popped up all that often and how professionals responded. What I found was a wide selection of interview transcripts and video footage and each one had at least a few sincere but tough questions (losers and winners alike):

Q: Your bullpen continues to struggle. What do you think about your bullpen?
A: Actually, they didn’t struggle. In the eighth inning, Reitsma couldn’t have made any better pitches. He just got blooped to death. The eighth inning is what killed us. It was actually a game, 5-3. There wasn’t a ball hit hard that entire inning. You know, you’ve got to give [the Astros] credit. With two strikes they put the ball in play. That’s where I give them credit, that’s for sure. But he’s not going to throw the ball any better than he did tonight.

Q: We all know about the Sanders home run and the bigger moments in the game, but when you replay this game in your mind later, what are the smaller moments that matter in this game to you?
A: Well, once again, our biggest man is our leadoff guy, and that’s David Eckstein. Bottom of the first, he singles to get something going. He has an RBI base hit. So I would look at our eighth-place hitter, Núñez, was involved with two hits in rallies. I mean, the big stuff, we can take care of. Albert had a great at-bat on that fifth run.

Q: How disappointing is this loss here tonight?
A: Well, obviously they’re all disappointing, but it’s just baseball. We’ve done a few things during the series to either maybe give them a run or give them some extra chances, and they’re obviously a good enough team to take advantage of those. Basically right now they’ve played good enough to be 3-1 and we’ve played good enough to be 1-3.

Q: Any concern the young players get the mindset, the negative mindset, seeing all the things that have happened to you guys?
A: I think the mindset is pretty obvious. Our clubhouse isn’t particularly down right now. That’s one of the cultures that we changed around here, because I think had I gone in my clubhouse tonight and seen everybody with their head down, to me that’s a sign of a losing team. And the sign of a winning team is in there and goes about their business like they normally do.

Here’s what I’d love to see in action sometime: a post concert interview session with members from traditional and new formats alongside patrons asking unfiltered questions and publishing unfiltered answers. I’m not aware of anyone that does this on a regular basis but if I’m wrong, I’d love to learn more about it!

Postscript: Given the fact that the Berlin Philharmonic is already broadcasting each performance online, perhaps they can work a US style post game interview session into the mix.

Post-Postscript: mixing sports content with traditional classical music concerts is not exactly a new idea. One of the best known (and entertaining) examples is Peter Schickele’s 1967 New Horizons in Music Appreciation.

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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7 thoughts on “Post Game Concert Interviews

  1. Drew–I read the original post, and from my perspective, the question “If you were in charge, what would you do to improve the classical concert experience?” was much too global. In other words, a more specific question might have been answered. To what exactly was the listener referring? We all knew, by reading the blog entry, what the problems were. After having attended several of these Q & A sessions myself, I can well imagine the panel’s response would be to want to move on, especially if the question came from a disgruntled audience member. Was it the programming? The quality of the performance? The conductor? Asking an all encompassing question about overall improvement for an entire evening out is senseless. It might be interesting to find out the other perspective.

  2. Drew,

    I agree that it would be nice to see some more honest discourse about how concerts went.

    The difference between a concert and a sporting event is that a sports team faces clear criterion for failure. They win or they lose. They beat the spread or they don’t. After the game, it is easy to talk about what went right or wrong in the context of the outcome: “This is the first game you’ve lost all season: what went wrong?” or “Last season was a disaster, but the team seems unstoppable this year: what are you doing differently?”

    In classical music, the outcome isn’t undeniable, so we deny it. We’d like to believe that we won every night, so we behave as if that’s what happened. We respond to criticism by telling the critic that they’re wrong – that they simply lack the sophistication to appreciate the win.

    In truth, the most common error in music criticism is to indulge in complex analysis of performances that are remarkable only for their mediocrity. It’s understandable when there is a word count to satisfy, but music critics aren’t blameless for the decline of their profession.

    In the article you mention, I criticized part of a performance by the San Francisco Symphony. The first half sounded poorly prepared, compared with the second. My +1 was attending her second ever classical concert, and even she noticed – yet a fairly typical response from musicians unconnected with the performance was “I would have a hard time criticizing anyone’s interpretation of Sibelius unless I had been conducting a major symphony orchestra for years.”

    This misguided approach is at the root of many of our troubles.

    We put musicians on a pedestal that the best of them don’t think they deserve. We pretend something complicated is going on, when it really isn’t.

    We make somebody other than the public the arbiter of a compelling performance, and then we wonder why it is only old snobs that come to our concerts.

    The first step in audience development is to listen to the audience you’re trying to develop, and that means that bad reviews from ordinary people are the most valuable feedback an orchestra can receive.

    -PD

  3. I agree, the question was pretty broad-based but it would have been interesting to know if the response would have been any different if a more specific question were presented. I do like the suggestion of looking at it from the other perspective (which I assume you meant, that of the soloist) and I don’t think the original question was entirely senseless as the general nature would have provided a platform to respond on just about any topic to my liking. It even leaves an opportunity to challenge the question itself; i.e. “why does anything need to be changed?” (albeit, that’s not my personal opinion). Ultimately (unfortunately?), without a regular post concert interview style forum in place, it’s all academic…

  4. Intriguing points but what struck me after reading a number of baseball post game interview transcripts (and watching vids) is the wide variety of questions that didn’t rely on the inherent win/lose nature of the game. These questions focused on the dynamic aspects of cause and effect, individual performance variables, and reasonable conjecture regarding trading players.

    Your points toward the end of your comment are entirely relevant and topic we examine here from time to time. But in order to bring about the level of audience input I think input suggesting, it will require orchestras to relinquish a certain degree of control over how ticket buyers experience the event. Most managers I meet approach that suggestion with trepidation to outright hostility. At best, I think it will be an uphill battle but advance kudos to any orchestra willing to pioneer that path.

  5. No argument here, but is that even applicable here? I don’t expect to see a classical music cable network spring up anytime soon or highlights from an evening’s post concert interview appear in the evening news but there are plenty of other useful outlets orchestras can make good use of to expand sincere audience interaction and develop increased awareness and interest.

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