The historic Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has unveiled its fresh brand identity, a harmonious fusion of tradition and modernity courtesy of the creative minds at Colossus. The renowned Boston advertising agency redefined the visual language of BSO and its affiliated brands: The Boston Pops, Tanglewood, and Symphony Hall.

Founded in 1881 and revered as one of the world’s preeminent orchestras, the BSO has long graced the stages of Symphony Hall and Tanglewood, captivating audiences with masterful compositions by legendary conductors. The Boston Pops has become synonymous with musical excellence, with an illustrious history boasting luminaries like Arthur Fiedler and John Williams, enchanting listeners with iconic performances and annual spectacles. Tanglewood has long been hallowed ground for music aficionados, hosting an array of celebrated artists against an idyllic backdrop in Lenox, Massachusetts.

However, as the BSO sought to bridge the gap between its storied past and a vibrant future, it recognized the need for a contemporary reimagining of its brand identity. Colossus rose to the occasion, infusing the institution’s legacy with modernity while preserving its rich heritage.

The new brand, characterized by warmth and approachability, departs from previous iterations, unifying the BSO’s diverse offerings under a cohesive visual identity. The brand features a color-coded system and two complementary typefaces, blending old-world sophistication with contemporary flair. This rebrand is significant because it focuses on fostering broader audience engagement and accessibility, reflecting the BSO’s commitment to innovation while preserving its legacy and ensuring that classical music remains accessible to all.

Eager to learn more about the strategy and process behind this colossal undertaking, Travis Robertson, Co-Founder and Executive Creative Director of Colossus, and Jesse Needleman, Vice President, Marketing, Sales, & Communications of BSO, happily obliged with an exclusive.

(Conversation edited for length and clarity).

Given the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s history and cultural significance, what were the key challenges and considerations in modernizing its brand identity?

Travis Robertson: This project was equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. Walking in the shadows of giants, our team felt a tremendous sense of pride and the weight of responsibility to get it right. For an institution so steeped in tradition and heritage, changing the course required tremendous strategic alignment, research, and due diligence. We involved key stakeholders, customers, and musicians before putting pen to paper. We ensured that the classical purists and institutional guardians felt heard and represented while also moving forward with something that resonated with the next generation.

We kept harkening back to a quote from Henry Lee Higginson, the American businessman and Civil War veteran who founded the BSO in 1881. He wrote that the institution aimed “to make fair prices for the tickets and then open wide the doors.” With that in mind, we did our best to create an inviting, unpretentious brand identity that also underscored the magnitude and credibility of the music.

On the use of architectural elements as design influences for the new brand identity: Could you elaborate on the significance of this approach and how it reflects the essence of the Boston Symphony Orchestra?

Travis Robertson:

Four disparate pieces of the puzzle had to be solved and, ultimately, unified through the development of the new identity system. Tanglewood: an outdoor music venue nestled in the hills of The Berkshires. Symphony Hall: the iconic building known as an acoustic jewel and home to the BSO. The Boston Pops: the celebratory, popular expression of the symphony known as “America’s Orchestra.” And, of course, the flagship Boston Symphony Orchestra. While musicians come and go, the stage itself has served as the bedrock of consistency throughout the history of the BSO.  You can feel it in the walls of Symphony Hall and the grass of Tanglewood’s infamous Music Shed.

To define the look and feel of the new brand identity, we looked to architecture and the unique sense of space created by each setting to help guide us. After touring each structure, we gravitated toward certain characteristics, shapes, and geometric patterns. We further solidified this idea after viewing the original Symphony Hall blueprints from the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White (1900). We saw that the windows, soffits, and side entry were all built in the same arch shape. We assigned this shape to the BSO and then worked to uncover further geometric signifiers for Pops, Tanglewood, and Symphony Hall. In the end, we arrived at a consistent system rooted in a place of history and authenticity.

To broaden the appeal of classical music to a younger and more diverse audience, how did Colossus approach the task of making the orchestra’s brand more accessible while still maintaining its sense of sophistication and tradition?

Travis Robertson: Great question. Our design team on this project was both young and diverse, ensuring that we weren’t telegraphing uninformed perspectives or misrepresenting things. We also took the time to speak with each audience segmentation- from Classical Purists to Experiential Engagers to Mainstreamers- making sure our approach resonated along the way.

Ultimately, it won’t be the color palette, clever iconography, or playful shape choices that make the orchestra more accessible. We can only pique the interest and pave the path for new audiences. Our work is the outward signal of this institutional evolution. However, the BSO’s programming, innovations, collaborations, and meaningful community partnerships will create a truly impactful and well-rounded step forward. And they’ve made some incredible strides to do just that. It’s been heartening to see the next chapter of this storied institution begin to take shape.

Could you delve deeper into how the selection of specific colors for each sub-brand reflects the unique identity and essence of the disparate entities?

We derived the color palette from the historical lineage of the brand, alongside modern influences and the need to differentiate the four factions of the BSO. Blue for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a foundational colorway for decades. Red for the Boston Pops, with nods to Americana and holiday festivities. Green for Tanglewood is an homage to the lush foliage and natural setting in Lenox, MA. And gold for Symphony Hall, based on the iconic building’s gilded brass and brick textures.

Given the aim of making classical music more approachable and inclusive through the new brand identity, what specific strategies or initiatives does the Boston Symphony Orchestra plan to implement to ensure that this message resonates with diverse audiences? How do you envision these efforts contributing to breaking down barriers and expanding the orchestra’s reach?

Jesse Needleman: What’s critical in getting the brand identity to resonate is backing it up with programming that resonates, too; the product we offer and its packaging absolutely need to match.

We always look at our programming through a lens of engagement. So to that end, we’ve been working hard to bring exciting young talent to our stages (like South Korean pianist Yunchan Lim, who studies at NEC, won the Van Cliburn piano competition, and recently sold out four concerts at Symphony Hall), to commission and premiere new works (from the likes of Tania Leon and our newly announced Composer Chair Carlos Simon), to offer more culturally relevant programming (like a Pride Night concert featuring Thorgy Thor, and Dia de Muertos concerts, both with the Boston Pops), and to bring added context to the music we perform by including companion humanities programming in thematic festivals that anchor our seasons (like “Shostakovich Decoded” and “Beethoven & Romanticism” that will be part of the recently announced 2024-2025 BSO season).

The brand identities signal that it’s a new day at the BSO, both in the sense that we are continuing our deep and rich history of innovation in orchestral music and that we are taking a hard look at how we want to innovate the future so that we can contribute as much as we can to the amazing communities that we are part of in Boston and in the Berkshires; we are excited there will be much more to come on exactly what that means.

With the evolving landscape of music consumption and entertainment preferences, how does the BSO envision itself in the digital realm, and how will the new brand identity support its efforts to connect with audiences through online channels and multimedia experiences?

Jesse Needleman: The pandemic taught us a lot about creating digital experiences (particularly concerts via streaming video) and led us to approach this project with a strong “digital first” mentality. While interest in streaming concerts has waned since the public began returning to concert halls for in-person performances, we also know that we live in an increasingly digital world, and media that were once thought of as “traditional” (like outdoor) are themselves becoming digital, and require a different approach to brand identity. So, as part of developing the new identities, we not only created static versions of our logos but also developed animated versions, and we are also developing an audio component for them. Sight, sound, and motion are critical to capturing attention in the digital world that we live in, and so our brand identities need to take advantage of that.

In a world where cultural institutions must evolve to meet the demands of a rapidly changing landscape, the Boston Symphony Orchestra is a shining example of tradition reimagined. With its bold new identity, the BSO will captivate hearts and minds for generations to come, inviting audiences to experience the transformative power of music in all its splendor.

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