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Starplayer: The Marketing of Barry Douglas

May 08, 1988|BARBARA ISENBERG

But even with that push, conceded Winter, it was slow going. For one thing, Douglas' win on July 3, 1986, was largely eclipsed in the United States by the Statue of Liberty Centennial weekend. Besides that, said Winter, "One of the problems you face with a Tchaikovsky winner (is that) somebody like Barry is not well-known, and a lot of people say they want to wait and see. There was interest but not major."

Not yet, anyway.

The Team

Meet the Douglas team:

Michael Mace, "37 and holding," an eternally patient press agent who began representing Douglas after his third-prize win in the 1985 Van Cliburn Competition in Ft. Worth. At that time, the Van Cliburn Foundation had engaged Mace to represent Douglas. A year later, just weeks before he won the Tchaikovsky, Douglas hired Mace himself. Besides setting up media interviews, Mace also seems quite obliging to perform such unglamorous tasks as driving Douglas from Storrs to New York City after an evening recital or arranging--and often re-arranging--rehearsal times and locations.

Patricia Winter, 46, director of instrumentalists and chamber music at New York's Thea Dispeker, Inc., management firm. She first heard Douglas at the 1981 Cliburn competitions--at which Douglas received the Jury Discretionary Scholarship Award as that year's most-promising non-prize winner--and signed him in 1985 after he had snared the Cliburn's bronze medal. "He didn't go to Moscow until that summer," Winter said. "He was somebody who really deserved a major career, (but) at that point, there was no big competition win, he hadn't played with any major conductors, he wasn't known in this country and wasn't from here. But I thought it was worth the challenge."

Michael Emmerson, 46, president of BMG Classics. The record executive was formerly a London-based manager for musicians like James Galway and a longtime Belfast resident whom Douglas had known through mutual friends. Winning over several other record companies, BMG signed Douglas to a long-term contract on its RCA Victor Red Seal label. "I had complete freedom of repertoire," said Douglas, "and I knew the president."

Terry Harrison, 50, the man Douglas calls his "manager for the world." The London-based manager for such artists as Vladimir Ashkenazy and Radu Lupu, Harrison was suggested by Emmerson when Douglas was ready to change European managers. "He won what is probably the world's major piano competition, so as a businessman, I'd be crazy not to be attracted to that," Harrison said.

Harrison was in New York on other business a few weeks ago and joined Douglas' advisers there for a chat over turkey-and-Brie sandwiches. The pianist was in Manhattan to help drum up press interest for his Carnegie Hall debut, and what better time for the management team to work out some future scheduling, repertory and marketing.

The Carnegie engagement capped a monthlong, 12-city tour, a tour that publicist Mace had been working on since November. He first marked off venues Douglas had been to within the prior nine months, such as Montreal and Atlanta, where repeat features and TV coverage seemed unlikely and instead concentrated in those cities on making sure Douglas was reviewed. He also limited himself to chasing down reviews in Gainesville, Fla., Tarrytown, N.Y., and Santa Barbara, where concerts were sold out "and the promoters didn't want me to go peddling interviews."

That left seven cities, and in those cities, Mace went all out for features. In New York, for instance, he was nearly delirious that Douglas' picture got good play in the New York Times on the Sunday before Carnegie Hall and a Douglas interview appeared in the same paper the very day of the concert.

Douglas was still in charge, however. For instance, the pianist was willing to forgo two days on the beach before a Santa Barbara performance to promote his New York concert date. But after three radio interviews in one morning, Douglas simply refused to perform 45 minutes of music now that would be broadcast this fall. "It's a question of energy," he told WQXR producer Atlas, who looked just crestfallen.

Publicist Mace kept tossing out possible solutions, trying to change Douglas' mind: It is for radio, argued Mace, not the concert hall. Douglas could play the Brahms he knows so well. He has done something similar for the BBC.

"But I knew in advance (about the BBC radio performance)," Douglas said. "I thought it would be talk, not playing, these two days. It takes an awful lot of energy. There's no audience in the studio. I can't do it."

Before leaving WQXR, however, Douglas promised to visit a London recording studio--a visit now scheduled for later this month--and tape a segment, telling Atlas, "Don't worry. I won't let you down." ("I could have done it, of course, but that wasn't the point," he said a few days later. "The point was that I had started to wind down and I needed those two or three days to rejuvenate myself.")

The Campaign

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