Titles for Sale

And without further ado, here’s the title in question found atop a recent piece by David Patrick Stearns:

Itzhak Perlman a winner at Resorts

Figure 1. Foreshadowing the premise that the house always has the advantage

There are several things we should keep in mind as we go along which will be helpful in order to assess the efficacy of today’s title:

1) The Resorts is a casino-hotel in Atlantic City (A classical casino concert?)
2) Itzhak Perlman wins something (What did he win?)
3) He wins it at Resorts (Presumably, as opposed to somewhere else)

Fantastic! Now we can look at the review, which is pretty okay, not that there aren’t issues.

Musically, he played a medium-weight program - Leclair, Beethoven, Stravinsky - little different from what you'd hear at the Kimmel Center.

No kidding! I took it upon myself to check out the program for the next Philadelphia Orchestra concert and, well, there’s certainly some similarity: Brahms D minor Piano Concerto; Franck D minor Symphony; and Claude Vivier Orion. I don’t know what this says about the integrity of the orchestra’s programming, since casinos are essentially scams. But, hell, someone is doing it right.

Preconcert Muzak was Brahms' Symphony No. 1.

Muzaked Brahms? Wonderful beyond description. Ugh.

The big leap for Atlantic City, however, wasn't pop vs. classical, but singer vs. instrumentalist. Headliners are almost always singers (even if the voice happens to belong to Joan Jett). Nobody could recall a purely instrumental artist headlining recently in Atlantic City.

Why bring Joan Jett into question? This seems more like an unnecessary value judgment, to me. Is she less of a singer somehow?

More pressing, however, what is the Resorts up to? Why bring in someone who doesn’t fit the previous model for success?

So who was there? As I learned from chatting up those around me, many were from the immediate area: a local music teacher who has loved Perlman for years...

Also known as: someone who has never stepped inside a casino before. (Just a guess, but local music teachers probably don’t have a large amount of disposable income).

...a small-business owner who had caught [Perlman] on PBS...

PBS watchers aren’t generally attracted to bright lights and shiny things, or are they?

...and people who applauded between movements, suggesting a crossover/fringe crowd, but one that was ultimately more attentive than your typical concert audience.

Newbies, diversity, and attention: Hooray! It’s a veritable melting pot of fresh money!

The idea, according to casino officials, was to attract a different clientele, and what arrived was people who probably would have been just as happy to hear Perlman at, say, the Glassboro Center for the Performing Arts.

How’d the Resorts lure them in, then?

The difference is that this fringe audience probably wouldn't have known about the Atlantic City event without Resorts' marketing - and all its billboards.

Okay. It’s not like our symphonies don’t spend a bigillion on advertising, right? This is the norm. However, the catch was:

The net had to be cast wide to fill a theater with listeners willing to pay up to $125 for any violinist, and indeed, I talked to those who had driven in from Montgomery County.

That’s an expensive meatball.

And rather than traveling through suburban byways, you simply had to navigate the dense thickets of King Kong Cash slot machines between the parking garage and the theater.

Figure 2. “Twas Beast that bankrupted your future”

What David forgets to mention is that on byways you aren’t tempted to risk your kid’s college fund. He also doesn’t mention that the distance from the garage to the theater is roughly one-quarter of a mile—and the dense thickets of slot machines, which are designed to funnel you past places the casino wants you to pass, is akin to McDonald’s saying, “Yeah, the hamburgers are bad for you, but that’s why we have salads.”

So with the right marketing, most any fine classical artist,

Whoa there, partner: “most any fine classical artist”? Not terrible, just yuck.

So with the right marketing, most any fine classical artist, in theory, could work here. But I wonder if anyone else (perhaps cellist Yo-Yo Ma?) could truly fill the place.

I think that’s a good question, delving into issues about the relationship between marketing and the perceived quality of the product. But I thought this was a review?

Perlman's public identification level is unique among non-operatic classical figures. Though his visibility is nothing close to what it was, the name still has marketing power.

The violinist has long had a particular magnetism that makes audiences meet him more than halfway. Whether he's having a good night or a bad one - he's 64, an age when violinists are well into the winding-down phase - audiences listen to him more closely than they do other violinists, and thus take in more of the music at hand.

He’s still a moneymaker: check. He’s past his prime: check. He played a concert and I wrote a review about it: blank.

And Perlman had a very good night.


He won a good night?! Though past his prime, he had a good night?! No senior moments? No medical scares? Please clear this up, David.

His playing has been through some bad patches in recent years, but technically speaking, he was secure and fluent.

Technically speaking, sure. But interpretive?

The first half pleasantly consisted of Leclair's Violin Sonata in D major and Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 7 (Op. 30 No. 2), and though Perlman's cultivated musical responses didn't feel so fresh, the ever-engaged pianist Rohan De Silva kept your ears constantly pricked.

...but the pianist played well.

Later, Perlman recalled his own glory days in Stravinsky's Suite Italienne (from the composer's quasi-baroque ballet Pulcinella); his gleaming tone with the light sandpaper-ish tang was back in full during Stravinsky's most lyrical sections. His most inspired moments involved expressive fingerslides, usually the province of violinists from the old, old days. Good for him! Fine with me.

Meh. I don’t have any problems with the concert assessment, even though it received a disproportionate amount of space. But it’s the disproportionate amount of space that raises questions.

To me, this reads like a plain-faced plug (see Comedy of Errata), but worse. Recall the title: “Perlman a winner at Resorts.” Really? Was he a winner? Did the past-his-prime, old, old school violinist really emerge as triumphant winner from this endeavor?

Perlman left with his integrity intact.

He also left with a nice paycheck. But it’s not exactly glowing, is it? If anything, he won the right to leave with his integrity. That’s all. It’s printed right there in the review.

The audience left the near-full 1,300-seat Superstar Theater seemingly thrilled [...]

So, maybe the audience won, then?

Or did the Resorts come out the victor? They filled a large venue, probably made a nice little profit. But more than that, they got 1,300 local people into the casino, people who otherwise might not have been tempted to go, filtered them through the slots and other entertainments, and said, “Go!”.

Figure 3. Sure it pays out 35:1, but you have a 2.63% of hitting it, or 38:1 chance of making your money back


Gustav said...

Nice post, E. And as someone who has spent more than a little time in Vegas and been to many shows in casinos, I would really welcome the opportunity to see a show that's not pumped through a loudspeaker and garish for the sake of garish.

And "medium-weight program"? Medically speaking, would that make it the ideal weight?