Communication fail: the conductors who aren’t themselves on Twitter

Andrew MellorFri 20th September 2013

Musicians who outsource their tweets have misunderstood the purpose of social media – and they look a bit boring, too

I’d always thought the conductor Marin Alsop was one of music’s great communicators. Whatever you think of her qualities as an interpreter of scores, her determination to put the art she loves in front of people – to show how strongly she believes in it with such personal openness and physical conviction – is a huge asset to the arts world. You can tell she was mentored by Leonard Bernstein; his wholly refreshing and guff-free attitude seems to infest so much of what Marin does.

Almost everything, that is. When I started following Marin on Twitter the other week, I was surprised to hear her constantly referring to herself in her tweets. ‘Marin is opening the orchestra’s season next weekend…Marin is looking forward to premiering this new concerto next month.’ I had the privilege to interview the conductor back in 2006, and I don’t remember her answering my questions in the third person: ‘Marin Alsop had a lovely flight, thank you, and asks in response how was your tube journey to the hotel this morning?’

At which point, you’ll be sniggering at my naivety. ‘It’s not Marin updating her Twitter feed, stupid, it’s her people.’ Ah, of course it is – that explains the regurgitated interview soundbites, the mild expressions of corporate pleasure and the jazz-handed proliferation of hashtags. In fact, Marin’s Twitter feed sounds nothing like her whatsoever – it has none of her gentle, smiling cynicism and droll, worldly charisma.

Which is sad, given that one of the most revolutionary benefits of Twitter is the ability to engage in direct two-way conversation with anyone else who chooses to use it, and on immediate terms. If Stephen Fry, Lady Gaga and the Dalai Lama can write their own tweets and react to the responses, then surely the down-to-earth Marin can. I’m sure she would, too, and that she’d realise that Twitter is a force for nourishing conversation as much as it is for PR. She probably just needs the time to explore Twitter a bit, see how it works, download the iPhone app and wrestle control back from ‘her people’. I look forward to the day that happens, as I’m interested in what Marin herself thinks about stuff and I suspect she’d deliver those thoughts rather well.  

Until that does happen, Marin and other prominent musicians who don’t operate their own Twitter accounts look a bit silly. Nor do they do the classical music world any favours – lending considerable weight to the oft-repeated argument that it’s out of touch. If you’ve ever mused on the recurring riff of whether our industry is hung up on its own sense of self-importance, take a look at conductor David Zinman’s Twitter feed. He doesn’t just refer to himself in the third person, he goes the whole hog: ‘Watch this video of Mr Zinman answering questions about Richard Strauss’, so went the dictate on September 19.

Full marks for honesty, Dave (or whatever your Twitter stooge is called). And there may well be some musicians out there who are rather less honest – who appear, from their discreetly-outsourced social media feeds, to be highly interested in the world and down-with-the-kids when the reality is quite the opposite. But at least that’s good PR which doesn’t make the endlessly creative classical music world look like a pale version of the accounting industry. A conductor using a third party to communicate so openly on his or her behalf is equivalent to Leonard Bernstein talking to his audience from the stage through a spokesperson. And that’s unimaginable, isn’t it Marin?

Andrew Mellor

Andrew Mellor is Reviews Editor at Gramophone magazine and writes widely for orchestras, opera companies, periodicals and websites in the UK and Scandinavia.

© MA Business and Leisure Ltd. 2014