Yesterday evening saw us at a rather posh corporate hospitality bash at the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. It's my first time at the Summer Exhibition, and I was well impressed. Like most modern art, there's only about 20% of it that I like - but out of that 20%, there was some really fantastic stuff that appealed to me enormously, not least the life-size King Kong made entirely out of wire coat hangers. I suspect it's the same with everyone, but most probably with a different 20%. So congrats to the RA, and many thanks to our hosts FTI Consulting: I'm sure the event will have done good things for their brand.

Which brings me on to music and another brand. The first hall of the exhibition contained a string quartet playing music which varied from the innocuous (Henry Mancini's Moon River) to the really rather good (two rondeaus by Purcell). But the piece they were playing as we entered really set my teeth on edge. I didn't know the name, but a swift glance at their sheet music revealed it to be the Flower Duet from Delibes' opera Lakmé.

I've never seen Lakmé, which is why I didn't immediately identify the piece, but I'm horribly, horribly familiar with the tune. For many years, the first twelve bars have been the music that you get when on-hold with British Airways (and, indeed, in BA buses, airport trains, advertisements and wherever else their brand police can place it). In my corporate days, I've spent more hours waiting on-hold for BA than I care to count, and there are many times when I would have cheerfully dropped a nuclear device on whatever call centre was putting this stuff out. The fires of hell would have been worth it.

Presumably, in its essence, the Flower Duet is a pleasant enough (if somewhat vapid) number. But there's not much music that will survive a few thousand repetitions, particularly when you're being played a lift-music version of it by a celebratedly customer-hostile company like BA. (There may be an honourable exception to this in the snatch of Tárrega known as the Nokia ring tone). But here is a case where the music and the brand do dreadful things to each other: the Flower Duet reminds me of how much I loathe BA, and I now realise that BA has made certain that I will never, ever go to see Lakmé.

25th June 2010