A marketing masterclass in the Middle East

February 23, 2018 by norman lebrecht


Our string quartet diarist Anthea Kreston is in Israel this week:


Walking in the old market in the port town of Jaffa, a 4,000 year old city abutting bustling, cosmopolitan Tel Aviv, I took a deep breath in. The stands of roasting nuts, the men huddled in conversation over cups of steaming tea, the buildings, with wires sticking out, crumbling facades and large cracks running jaggedly across sagging balconies, the carpet merchants with their eyes an inch from their old, battered wares, needles going up, coming down. I first took a walk around the perimeter (this is of course a loose perimeter – the Jaffa Market spills over, slides down alleyways), took a few forays into one stall, then the next. You have to duck to enter, the clothing or bells or lamps hang low, the walls lined with rough shelves, stacks of textiles from the ground to the ceiling, the air is thick with the smells of food, cigarettes, mouldering cloth. Then, I turned the corner, and peered into the heart of the market. A skinny little walkway, filled with men bantering, just a hint of light coming through the open roof. Taking a deep breath, I entered. I knew what I was getting into – haggling, compliments, questions, and this was going to be fun. The entire row of merchants turned my way, waving me towards their stalls. The first man said “what are you, a model?  So tall and beautiful!”, and it went from there.

I was a little overwhelmed, and decided to see if I could keep a steady but slow pace and make it to the end of this alley. Beautiful things hung everywhere – parts of old chandeliers, Bedouin clothing, scarves, jewelry, inlayed chess sets. I made it, then took one more loop around before sucking in and going in with a purpose – to find memorable things to bring back to my family from my magical week in Israel.

I was attracted by the small metal purses, silver studded with rough-cut stones inlaid. As I reached forward, the seller came out, taking the purse off and hooking it over my finger. 200 shekels. “How many daughters? I feel close to you – you have a big spirit – for you – 2 purses for 300”. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves – and for some reason, he though he could clinch the sale by showing me something on his phone. I assumed a photo of his seven kids, but up popped a video of his wife giving birth – head coming out and wife in full out bloodcurdling scream. An interesting sales technique, I must say. As he held this very closely to my face, I quickly thanked him – he noticed my reticence somehow, deftly turning the conversation around – “you have the face of a wise woman – are you a doctor? What are the names of your children?”

I did make it through – some belly dancing accoutrements, two old rings, and matching silver perfume bottle necklaces tucked into my backpack.

We are in a huge traffic jam, in the van being driven back to Tel Aviv from our Jerusalem concert. Being on tour in Israel is an absolute treat. We are based in the same boutique hotel just off the beach in Tel Aviv for five days, and we are driven back and forth to Jerusalem and Haifa. The audiences are funny – involved, a mix of ages, and they clearly show their preferences of the pieces – clapping wildly, in rhythm, and a funny thing – many people wave at us while we are bowing. Tonight, in Jerusalem, I was told that there numbered over 100 Holocaust survivors in the audience.

Tomorrow we have the day off, and I will meet a local architect at the old clock tower in Jaffa, an hour’s walk from the hotel. I met her through an organization which has local volunteer guides who will show you around town. I gave her tickets to Tel Aviv, and she came back stage after – a middle-aged woman with wild hair (my hair here in Israel feels like it is having some sort of homecoming – it seems like every second person I see has exactly my same hairdo – crazy and out of control) and a vintage knee-length jacket retrofitted with an impressive array of odd buttons – I think we will get along handsomely.

This past Sunday, I was home for one of my 14 hour quick-fix visits – help with dinner, clean, grocery shop, practice with the girls, do laundry, when I woke up at 2 am. Jason found me in the bathroom, in bad shape with a nasty stomach virus. After a couple of rounds, I go back into the other room, and drag a blanket and pillow into the bathroom. By 5 am I texted Quartet, and by noon it became abundantly clear that the concert that evening in Dortmund would have to find another solution. The wonderful Armeda Quartet stepped in for us, ending their program with the Schubert Cello Quintet, the second cellist being our very own Artemis cellist.

I recovered sufficiently to get my 5 am cab to the airport for the flight to Israel, and am nearly back to full strength. The Tel Aviv concert was a stretch, because I hadn’t had anything solid to eat for 4 days, but it went without hitch and I really really really hope I can eat some of the amazing locals foods tomorrow.

We are almost back to the hotel – out driver is driving like a absolute maniac and the boys are drinking beer in the back seats. Fun times.

Comments (13)

  1. Qwerty1234 says:

    I was at the Armida Quartet concert in Dortmund! It was absolutely truly fantastic!

    Glad that you’re recovering, Anthea!

    1. Anthea kreston says:

      Hi QWERTY,
      Sorry – there a ton of autocorrect mistakes in this entry. Thank you! Glad the concert went well, they are a fabulous group.

      1. Bruce says:

        Whatever. +1 for correct spelling of “accoutrements” 🙂

  2. YR says:

    Dear Anthea,

    I just wish to share with you that I’ve been at your Jerusalem concert yesterday and it was absolutely fabulous, delightful in every imaginable way. The audience was very engaged and attentive throughout (and much less noisy than the usual standard here).

    Just a little question if I may… there seems to be a trend nowadays of string quartets performing while standing up, I see more and more ensembles doing this. Is there any specific reason why? do you think it looks better, or makes the quartet sound better? To me personally it always makes the cellist look a bit silly..

    Not to say that it detracted from your performance in any manner, of course. Well done and please come again!

    1. Anthea kreston says:

      Dear YR,
      I think the Emersons started standing about 10 years ago when Gene Drucker was recovering from back surgery. They stood for many years and are again sitting. Artemis has been standing for about 10 years as well, and we travel with a custom-built podium for the cellist, which is quite high and regulates our heights. For me, standing is so much better – better for my back, better for my communication and concentration. There is no moment you can sit back and just play your eight notes. I also like being able to swivel and lean back – using a wider range of larger muscle groups. It is more free, and at the same time, more demanding of all of us. Hope that helps answer the question. What a beautiful venue that was last night! Thanks for coming!

      1. Sue says:

        The Australian Chamber Orchestra has been performing whilst standing for years.

  3. Marg says:

    I love these little forays in the the local areas with you as you go to different countries. It reminded me of my first visit to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The sights, sounds, smells, language, sales pitches …. all fresh and excitingly different!

  4. esfir ross says:

    How box-office count Holocaust survivor in the audience? Do they have special discount for concert? Did this information impress you?

    1. Anthea kreston says:

      Dear Esfir,
      The presenter told me about it A the concert was a bit delayed because of the time needed for wheelchairs to enter the auditorium. All presenters have special knowledge and contact with their audiences, and I was glad to be able to know a little bit more about the makeup of the audience that evening. Thank you for asking for clarification.

  5. Martinu says:

    I was at the Tel Aviv concert. Was really wonderful. The Bartok 2nd quartet left even the most conservative of audience, who view Bartok as a horribly modern composer, breathless.The Mozart (K.465) was an utter delight. Didn’t recognize the encore, though..
    Thanks, come again.
    Re. playing standing – why not, though the cellist always looks awkward.

  6. Mirel Iancovici says:

    There is a solution, namely, the cellist will stand up and play using Blockstrap
    Have fun !!

    1. Martinu says:

      And of course, the unforgettable scene from Woody Allen’s, “Take the money and run”.

      1. Sue says:

        Ah yes; one of ‘the early funny ones’!!

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