Our task is to form veritable talents who possess the necessary gifts to become masters, without attending to the ungifted mediocrity.

Liszt to Giovanni Sgambati

Winning the Laurels – the new image of the Liszt Academy

10 October 2013

The new image of the Liszt Academy is built on the arc of tension between patina and progress.

The Liszt Academy is a Hungarian institution of world renown. Liszt, Bartók, Dohnányi, Solti, Kurtág, Ligeti – the list of illustrious names is long indeed. With the conclusion of reconstruction work on the palace of music on Liszt Ferenc Square, which reopens in all its original glory on 22 October 2013, the institution of the academy is also renewed. From now on, the university of music and musicology forms a dual entity with a concert organization. Built in Art Deco style, the Liszt Academy becomes a concert centre organizing its own programmes. There exist only a few comparable examples of such integration in international music. A global brand is being built.

Besides the Juilliard School of New York or Helsinki Sibelius Academy, now the New Carnegie Hall in New York, the Barbican Centre in London, the Amsterdam Concertgebouw and the BOZAR of Brussels are also competitors of the Liszt Academy. The rules of the game on the international concert market are different to those in arts education: brand presence is all important. The new entity demanded a new image.

The Liszt Academy has been a global brand in the teaching of music for well over a century, and it should be satisfied with nothing less than this as a 21st century university concert centre. The task of the communications team set up at the end of February 2013 was nothing less than the structuring of the image of such a global brand. This small group of professionals recruited after several integrated, multi-round public procurement tenders and arriving from different areas of the cultural and media sector conducted deep drilling: from the depths of the archives, libraries and museums they mined documents, photographs and films, they dug deep into the history of the institution and the building, in the process analysing domestic relations and the international market. "The task was all the more difficult in that very many things had to be decided in advance, from the publication structure to programme communications and the specific aesthetic foundations, without having at our disposal an earlier continuous operation as direct past, or more time. Here, the vision was born in the mind earlier than cautious deliberation would have broken it down into its components," says Imre Szabó Stein, director for communications and media content development at the Liszt Academy. 

Once the public procurement tenders launched with invitations to bids running to several hundred pages and unique in their detail and scope had been finalized, the image creation could finally get underway in July under the charge of the communications director. The visual reformulation – carried out at double quick time contrary to the typical, uniquely complex and month-long method – was conducted by tender winning Allison Advertising jointly with the communications team. Consortium member Webra International was charged with the task of creating a functionally differentiated Internet presence worthy of an individual and global brand and common to the university and the concert centre, and in compliance with the extremely detailed professional invitation to tender.

The starting point for the creation of the image is Budapest Art Nouveau (Secession) of the turn of the century – the architectural heritage of the building on Liszt Ferenc Square, its motifs, iconography and philosophy. However, the objective was to convey a far more complex message. Almost from the very beginning, the Liszt Academy has been characterized by opposites, and the latest duality of university and concert centre is a further example. On the one hand there is conservative music teaching designed to pass on traditions, while on the other pioneering art pedagogy supporting experimentation. The preservation of music traditions and trend shaping concert life. The duality of patina and progress. "We had to discover all this ourselves, and having formulated it we had to represent it. I built the strategy on the arc of tension between patina and progress," says Szabó Stein.

The logo is the wreath woven from laurel leaves from the ceiling of the Grand Hall, considered a sanctuary of music in international art circles, with a lute positioned in the centre, and the unit arranged from the name set in a modern typeface. The base logo employing shades of gold reflects the strong progressivity of tradition and integrated institutional duality. (The separate logo of the concert centre transforms the laurel wreath into a concentric circle, referencing the Apollo solar motifs of the building.) The final result became a visual logo with a defined identity, immediately identifiable to foreigners, too, and created from conceptional elements in tension with each other.

This new visual identity contained within a coherent and consistent system also appears in the publication portfolio. Here too, the elegant, purified image reflects the patina and progressivity of the integrated institution. The concert magazine forms the main pillar of the portfolio. The magazine, which also involves the fellow arts (in the case of the first few editions, photography), not only provides a detailed concert guide but also publishes interviews, portraits and feuilleton essays, which, unfortunately, are a forgotten art in the domestic cultural press today. 

Contrary to modern premium magazines, the monthly programme calendar printed on recycled paper only contains practical information, with its special typography giving it an ‘insider' feeling. The single-evening concert sheet of the Liszt Academy (also printed on environment-friendly paper) is totally unique in international concert circles. The pocket-book format, illustrations on a par with the world elite of contemporary book graphics and essays reflecting on the programme all initiate the reader into the mystery of live music. 

The new website of the Liszt Academy is the instantly, and globally accessible virtual symbol of the renewal of the institution. The creative and at the same time functional formation of the schedule and selectable menu system react to the demands of the concert centre and the university. Particular emphasis is given to registration and online ticketing, but there is also a highlight on the link lists to further pages as well as dynamic platforms promoting the latest courses and university campaigns, for instance the entrance examination. It was particularly important to ensure the implementation of a so-called responsive user interface effective for immediate tablet and mobile use: the system sensing the monitor size and adjusting to the optimal size displays exactly the same content.

The new tonal palette of the Liszt Academy integrates the publications, website and advertising portfolio. Cyan, registering classical music, the closely associated deep blue of university events, the proud gold of opera, fiery red of jazz, joyful yellow of folk music, and positive green of programmes of the coming generations, colours that dominate the image, combine to form an immediately identifiable, emotion-generating colour coded system.  

The colour codes, referencing Art Deco poster art, are asserted in posters and advertising of the Liszt Academy. Photographs tinted using the so-called duotone reproduction process, the instantly recognizable typography and the prominently displayed logo form a unified image unparalleled not only in Hungarian cultural life but indeed in the entire creative industry of Hungary.

The clear intention of the communications strategy hallmarked by the name of Szabó Stein is to free the Liszt Academy and the diverse and rich world of music represented by it, which can be described as the duality of patina and progress, from the ivory tower of elite culture. The communications director puts it like this: "The point is to get the treasures of the Liszt Academy to the people using the most efficient means possible. So that they find this is a vibrant, exciting place with a strong, inescapable aura." In the second half of 2014, a studio equipped with ten professional HD cameras and state-of-the-art audio and visual technology begins operating in the Liszt Academy. Szabó Stein has openly stated that he wants to see the Liszt Academy appearing as a global brand, by perfecting the programme making model he launched in the Budapest Palace of Arts, also as regards film content.