Washington doesn’t want you to know about Noseda’s new composers

Washington doesn’t want you to know about Noseda’s new composers


norman lebrecht

June 07, 2021

Gianandrea Nodeda at the National Symphony Orchestra has put together interesting pairings of Beethoven with two African-American composers, William Grant Still and George Walker.

In the NSO’s brochure, which is meant to sell tickets to subscribers, no information at all is given about the lesser-known Walker and Still. The sales pitch is all Beethoven.

Who do they employ in marketing these days?




  • Hayne says:

    I assume it makes the head of the KC happy. Have you ever pulled up the Kennedy Center website? It’s a sight to behold:)

  • A.L. says:

    Given that there is an undergoing effort to define LvB as Black, it makes sense to give him prominence for marketing purposes. Any which way, Black or white, Austrian or German, LvB is here to stay for good.

  • Anon says:

    Isn’t that smart marketing?
    You really want to lay the issue bare? Put the William Grant Still and George Walker on one program and the two Beethoven Symphonies on the other program. The truth will hurt.

    • Peter San Diego says:

      It’s not a zero-sum issue. They could market both LvB and Still and Walker. Beethoven will appeal to the chestnut-lovers and the others will appeal to those seeking new musical experiences, many of whom have had many experiences of Beethoven’s music, live and recorded.

      • Sue Sonata Form says:

        New musical experiences? Eurovision springs to mind. Yes, a select coterie of magnificently broad-minded music lovers.

        • Marfisa says:

          Why do I get the feeling that SSF has never listened to anything by William Grant Still (1895-1978) or George Walker (1922-2018)?

      • Anon says:

        Peter, you’re missing the point.
        Let me guess. The Still/Walker is the first half and the Beethoven is the 2nd half? It would be daring to do the opposite.

        • M says:

          haha, i have to laugh at this. before lockdown Staatskapelle Berlin with DB and Argerich had a concert at the phil. They put her on the first half (Prokofiev 3 i think) and a modern (tho excellent composer on the second) … but still… and it was like a fire alarm went off at intermission. everyone was like cool, we can make our 9 pm dinner reservation.

    • Pierné says:

      What a lousy thing to say! George Walker, for your information, was a first class composer and deserves an enormous amount of respect!! What do you know about any of this anyway?

      • Marfisa says:

        Thanks, Pierné. So he was, and so he does.

        But perhaps the point of the comment was that the ‘music-loving’ people of Washington DC, either because they are conservative, unadventurous and set in their ways, or because of the other unnameable thing, would not come to a concert of music just by William Grant Still and George Walker.

        That is nothing to do with the real quality of the work composed by these two men. Thankfully quite a lot has been recorded, and there is quite a lot on YouTube, so anybody who wants to can listen. (I recommend George Walker’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.)

  • Novagerio says:

    Because we all have google.

  • Todd McShane says:

    People who know how to sell tickets! Audiences in DC are conservative and the NSO plays for half-empty halls at the best of times; do you really think ‘interesting’ programs of Walker and Still are going to attract a crowd? If more music by people of color is going to be heard we are going to see a lot more marketing of this sort.

  • Appleby says:

    By “no information at all” do you mean apart from the header on each concert (which lists the American composer first), the box at the top of the page drawing attention to them, and the listing for the second concert that gives twice as much attention to Still as it does to Beethoven? C’mon, fair’s fair – you know how marketing works (when working with limited space, you lead with the more saleable repertoire), and you know that Noseda will have had precisely nothing to do with this in any case. This is copper-bottomed, ocean-going cobblers.

  • MWnyc says:

    For selling to NSO subscribers, putting Beethoven first in the listings makes sense.

    I think people who are interested primarily in Still and Walker are more likely to be single-ticket buyers, and I expect marketing to those people, closer to the concert date, will concentrate more on those two composers.

    • David Rohde says:

      I hope so.

      I mean, on the surface I’m with Appleby above. Technically the brochure doesn’t not say what Norman says it doesn’t say 🙂 But, you know, “brochures” – there’s a helluva lot more to marketing these days than that, especially beyond your base. And there is the valid question of emphasis. It’s called the National Symphony Orchestra, after all. This is supposed to comprise a series called “Beethoven & American Masters” that, significantly, will be recorded live in a new NSO project modeled after LSO Live. The first release combined Dvorak’s New World and Copland’s Billy the Kid, and then the pandemic hit.

      Somebody mentioned the Kennedy Center website. Oh my gosh, yes. It’s crazy to look at and even crazier to navigate. My perception is that all the resident companies are forced to stuff all their pages into a single unified website (which for some reason is at kennedy HYPHEN center dot org). The result is a globby mess that tries to get you to do twelve different things at once but makes it hard to find the one thing you’ve been enticed to look for and then, you know, show up. I think somebody needs to get in there and make it much cleaner and more usable.

  • MacroV says:

    That is absolutely the norm in orchestra marketing, and it’s due to Still and Walker not being well known to symphony audiences. If a conductor is doing, say, a big Zemlinksy work, the marketing will focus on Emmanuel Ax playing Beethoven 3, Gil Shaham playing Mendelssohn, or whatever perfectly fine, familiar but rather generic concerto they’re probably programming to make it all go down easily.

    I, for one, would rather have the Still and Walker works all on one program – I’m not particularly interested in hearing the NSO play Beethoven. But the NSO knows that’s not going to sell.

    And as others have said, the DC audience is pretty conservative.

  • No information at all? I read the blurbs…

    “William Grant Still – the first Black composer to have a symphony performed by a leading orchestra… and to conduct a major American symphony orchestra…”

    “George Walker, a Washington D.C. native and the first Black composer to win a Pulitzer Prize for Music.”

    Those are each only one sentence, but Beethoven only got two.

    • Marfisa says:

      There is no information at all about the actual music of Still and Walker. We are just told that they are black composers who were the first to x or y.

      On the other hand, Beethoven’s symphonies, which really don’t need it, are glorified in purple prose: e.g. Beethoven’s Fifth “Imaginative, violent, and wide-ranging — a colossal crowd-pleaser … dramatic tension that leads to a passionate climax …” etc. etc.

      Let’s rewrite: ” Pulitzer-prize winning George Walker’s first Sinfonia stuns with its innovative orchestral canvas, drawing on a wide range of styles to create a uniquely American emotional experience; its rousing ending will have you leaping to your feet with excitement. Ludwig van Beethoven was a native of Bonn, Germany, who later moved to Vienna, Austria, where he achieved considerable success.”

      (To be honest, I haven’t heard Sinfonia 1, so this description may possibly need to be rewritten … but Sinfonia 3, on YouTube, is certainly exciting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCsDPpRqWto.)