My name is Albert Imperato. I’m the founder and co-managing director of 21C Media Group, an independent public relations, marketing, and consulting firm specializing in classical music and the performing arts. I’ve been working in music promotion since 1987, and many of my friends and family are still very curious about what exactly I do for a living.“I promote classical music,” is my express answer, to which I get responses from the genuinely fascinated to the completely perplexed. Over time, though, these same friends and family members invariably come in contact with the music I am promoting, whether because I’ve played something for them on my stereo or iPod, given them a CD to try out, or actually take one of them to a concert or an opera. For the most part, these people find themselves intrigued by their contact with the music, and invariably I am asked, “”What’s the best way to get to know classical music?” My initial reply is, “Just listen to it,” which usually gets the response, “well, what exactly should I listen to?”
Well, there are many potential answers to this question. Back when I worked for a record company it was easy to just hand a bunch of CDs to someone – the “Mad About” series that I helped produce for Deutsche Grammophon – and tell them to listen and let me know what they liked, but I was still surprised over time when people would tell me that the problem wasn’t just “what” to listen to but also “when.”When, as in, “I was having people over for dinner, and I put on one of those CDs you gave me and while some of the tracks were perfect, some of them were really distracting.”
Over time, it dawned on me that while you don’t want to make classical music yet another lifestyle accessory, there was a real logic to helping people find the right kind of classical music to listen to at certain times.Not just, “ hey, I’m having people over for brunch, what do you recommend?”But also, “I’ve been feeling stressed lately and really want to chill out,” or “I have to get motivated and get some things done,” or perhaps even “I’ve been thinking about the state of the world and I’m really worried about how things are going.’These are just some of the people the Ecstatic Living Room has been put together for.
Though I’ve had a long career in classical music, I had no musical training and learned what I liked and didn’t like to listen to entirely on my own (musically-trained colleagues of mine tell me that I’m actually lucky not to have discovered classical music in a class). For me, classical music was never “subject matter” to be learned like a course in school.It was, since day one when I discovered it during my sophomore year abroad in Vienna, something that fired my imagination, provided me enormous joy and quickly became part of my everyday life.
Soon after returning from Vienna, my friends at Stanford University were coming to my dorm room for Beethoven and Mahler parties (I’ve listened to Mahler’s Third Symphony, usually with several friends in a party setting, on the first day of summer since I graduated from college in 1984!). Road trips across country, and travels throughout Europe, were colored in sound by music on my Walkmann – and now my iPod. And each and every day classical music – not to mention jazz and other types of great music – seems to find a way into my day, whether it’s a Haydn symphony that I play each morning over coffee, a Philip Glass work that I jog to, or a Vivaldi concertos disc that I play during a dinner party (recently, my best friend and business partner, Glenn Petry, and I discovered that martinis and Rameau harpsichord music go together quite well).
People in the classical music “business” do a lot of hand wringing about the state of the industry, especially about how hard it is to compete for the audience’s attention when they are so distracted by popular culture. They are particularly concerned that without music education in the schools, that classical music will fall ever more off the cultural radar. But rather than really go after new listeners with passionate marketing campaigns and collective audience development activity, the insider tends to get very self-referential.
So, to get back to the beginning of this posting, over the past several months I’ve trolled around the internet trying to find a good website to refer people to when they ask me what classical music they should listen to and when. There are plenty of insider blogs talking about the industry, or classical music blogs pairing up experts with connoisseurs to compare notes on interpretations and musical discoveries. But since I haven’t found a website to send to my young nephew (he recently discovered Beethoven wand wants to learn more), or brilliant friends of mine who work at big-time tech companies but don’t really know classical music at all, I’m humbly hoping that The Ecstatic Living Room will provide easy access and, hopefully, a fresh perspective on making classical music a part of everyday life – as something simply to be enjoyed.
So come back often. Ask questions. Share your stories. And remember, the best music is simply the music that speaks to you in some way.