Christopher StagerEdward Cumming  

The Relationship of the Music Director and the Marketing Director: Designing a Symphony Season

Christopher Stager & Edward Cumming
May 21, 2019

Editor's Abstract (Click to Hide)

Christopher Stager, a symphonic marketing consultant and a regular contributor to Polyphonic, had been consulting with my orchestra, the Hartford Symphony, for several years, helping our Music Director, Edward Cumming, put together each season's program and develop a marketing plan for that program.

The relationship between the two men is a solid professional friendship, full of mutual respect, and the passion each has for music is readily apparent. One evening, in Hartford's Catholic Cathedral where we were rehearsing a Bruckner Symphony, I noticed Chris pacing around the church, looking very excited. When I caught up with him at the break, he couldn't stop talking about the incredible acoustics in that space, and how perfect it was for Bruckner in so many ways. Edward joined us and they were off, with Chris describing a similar Bruckner concert series in Toledo, and Edward remembering yet another Bruckner performance, and both of them talking so fast I could barely keep up.

I knew then that I had to get the two of them to sit down and record their thoughts on programming an orchestra's season. And so they did; the results are really intriguing.

- Ann Drinan

Christopher Stager: Edward, why do you think that there is such palpable tension between the marketing side and the artistic side of an orchestra?

Edward Cumming: Probably the biggest reason for any kind of tension – although this is probably less so today than as recently as ten or fifteen years ago – is because music directors have their mission. They want to do repertoire that is important to them, and which they feel is important both for the orchestra to play and for the audiences to hear. And perhaps music directors aren’t always taking into consideration just how well programs will be received by audiences. This is where I think it’s important for music directors and marketing directors to at least try to find some kind of middle ground where they can work together.

CRS: That’s a good point. Being on the marketing side, I know the effect that Carmina Burana here or Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto there will have on sales. The bigger issue for a marketing director is how to present the more challenging, less salable program. To find a way to stretch the audience.

EC: For most orchestras, today is different from ten or fifteen years ago in that you can’t count on being able to sell a season just to your subscriber base. It has become much more important today to try to create programs that attract the single-ticket buyer, the person who’s buying tickets at the last minute. And if you’re competing with other arts organizations and presenting organizations, it becomes that much more crucial to create programs that will put you over the top.

One example of how you and I and Charlie Owens [the Hartford Symphony’s then executive director] work together very well is the program we did a few years ago featuring Berlioz’ Romeo and Juliet – this is a piece I doubt very few people knew. But they knew the title and so you said, “Well, sure, let’s do it.

CRS: I remember saying there was one week a year we could sell it, and that’s Valentine’s week.

EC: And sure enough, we had long lines at the box office. The Berlioz was a piece that was unique to that particular time. That’s a perfect example how a music director and a marketing director can work together to perform a work that the music director wants to do and the marketing director finds a way to make it successful.

CRS: I also had an experience in Toledo where they’re currently working through a Bruckner symphony cycle in a cathedral(as you are testing here in Hartford), instead of the concert hall.

I am not surprised by how well Bruckner sells in this acoustic space – it wouldn’t have sold nearly as well in the traditional hall. I’m finding that you can triangulate programming – with programs at the top of the apex, timing at the lower left, and venue or location at the lower right of the triangle. Where you do something and when you do something is as important as what you’re going to do. The marketing director can facilitate in helping you find the opportunity that will have the greatest success. That’s much more important than just looking at programs and saying, ”Hey, can we have more Tchaikovsky symphonies?”

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Comments (Click to Hide)

thanks for the great post. after reading your post i thinking about my own relation ship with our company marketing director. There a lot of thing that i am going to change. Thanks for the great article again ;)
JaneMc on September 1, 2019 at 3:05 PM

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