The world’s biggest waste of money comes from IMG Artists…

The world’s biggest waste of money comes from IMG Artists…


norman lebrecht

January 01, 2014

… and they’re proud of it. They used to be a classical artists agency. Now they’re blowing millions of dollars into the sky for oil sheikhs when, across two borders, Syrian refugees starve and die.

IMG Artists’ Co-chairmen Alex Shustorovich And Barrett Wissman Announce Dubai’s Achievement of Guinness World Record® For The Largest Firework Display

PR Newswire


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates and NEW YORK, Dec. 31, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — IMG Artists, the global leader in the performing arts and lifestyle events management owned by principals Alex Shustorovich and Barrett Wissman, announced today that it has successfully produced and overseen the official Guinness World Record for the world’s largest firework display on behalf of the Government of Dubai.

Alistair Richards, Global President of the Guinness World Records, presented Dubai, IMG Artists and their producing partners with their Guinness World Record certificate at an official handover ceremony in Dubai on January 1.

The six-minute, record-breaking show featured over 400,000 individual fireworks from 400 locations, controlled by 170 skilled pyro technicians and over 60 computer control systems ensuring split-second accuracy across the whole of The Palm Jumeirah and the Islands of The World. The record-breaking display covered over 99.4km of seafront.

Jerry Inzerillo, President and CEO of IMG Artists, said, “We are delighted to announce the successful achievement of this stunning record, which affirmed Dubai as the world’s premier location in which to mark the end of 2013. The record required a tightly-coordinated effort between IMG, the Government of Dubai and our production partner,Fireworks by Grucci, and we are proud of this latest affirmation of IMG Artists’ ability to deliver leading, world-class events on behalf of our clients around the globe.”



  • Well, well – how extraordinary!

    Whatever their prowess in the field of pyrotechnical management, however, their ability to respond consructively to correspondence might not quite manage to match up to it…

  • Petros LInardos says:


    1. Who pays the bill?

    2. If this money well spent?

  • Martin says:

    Waste of money? Millions, probably even billions love fireworks. And the Dubai one took the headlines, which usually belonged to other cities on New Years Day. I don’t see money wasted.

  • Jonathan says:

    The issue here isn’t that fireworks brings pleasure to billions of people. Its the fact the IMG Artists were involved in the project and chose to trumpet loud and long about it. Not so long ago, they were a respected classical music agency but that respect and that love of being part of the process of bringing music to new audiences went out the door the minute Mark McCormack left this earth, Tom Graham left the company and the company itself fell into the hands of Wissman.

    Why does the management of IMG expect applaud from the music industry when their actions here in Dubai has absolutely nothing to do with the promotion of music? When their decision smacks of a desperate urge and need to make a tidy profit out of something that is so far from classical music that their very existence as a music agency has to be questioned?

    It is to be wondered how the remaining artists on the IMG roster feel now to be managed by an organisation that is no longer able to promote their activities in concert halls and opera stages but chooses instead to highlight their association with a fireworks display in a country whose human rights records is pretty appalling.

    Their oppression goes way beyond the Dubai government’s treatment of foreign workers and extends into a less than tolerant attitude towards non-muslim religions and LGBT people. Freedom of expression isn’t universal either – somewhat damning for IMG Artists is that artists and artistic expression is under hawk-eyed censorship. Is it right for an agency which claims to supports artists and musicians to get into bed with a regime that stifles their free expression? I would argue not, but then IMG have long been criticised for making a profit by exploiting artists anyway.

    Perhaps the IMG coffers are depleting at a rate we can only imagine? In the past handful of years, they have lost high earning artists – among them Di Donato and Benedetti – along with senior agents and I don’t see that this calibre of performing or agent talent has been replaced. With dozens of employees in their offices in London and New York – and beyond – the cash has to come from somewhere so we can’t express any surprise that this is coming in thanks to the burning of fireworks and the brown nosing of a dictatorial and oppressive regime. If survival comes in the form of selling out, then so be it but IMG needs to end the farce that it is a serious classical music agency. And the remaining artists on their roster, along with their more conflicted members of staff, need to think long and hard about their own reputations if they remain loyal.

    • Martin says:

      Where in the statement to they claim to expect applause from the music industry?

      They put on a firework display involving much more than just a few rockets. Dancing, visual art, an orchestra and even a new composition of music were all part of this show. Quiet a bit of music actually.

      So basically you want all people stop having any associasions with companies doing business with regimes you dislike for right or not. Well they start with all people buying groceries from the international multis. So me and probably yourself.

      IMGA put on a great show and they can be proud of their achievements, just like a sports team ranked last could be proud to win a game.

      • Jonathan says:

        Let’s start with the statement itself.

        No, the statement does not ask for respect from the classical music community but you would expect that IMGA, who are at least nominally in the business of classical music, would operate in such a manner that attracted respect from the community. In Inzerillo’s statement, there is no mention of the dancing, music and orchestra which you yourself have – quite appropriately – highlighted. Merely the boast the IMGA have aided Dubai’s achievement in entering the Guinness Book of Records for an ostentatious Firework Display. No mention of the artistic side of things but then IMGA are trying to rebrand itself as a “global leader in the performing arts and lifestyle events management”.

        What is the lifestyle event managed here in Dubai? Are we all expected to tune in and aspire to the luxe environment of Dubai at a time when the the world becomes increasingly more unequal as the tiny minority of super wealthy who enjoy Dubai as their private playground get richer while everyone else gets poorer? IMGA may have put on a “great show” but for whom? For the oligarchs and to put an oppressive regime into the Guinness Books of Records for the “largest firework display”?

        Let’s move on to the ethics of companies doing business with oppressive regimes.

        Firstly, this is really not on the same playing field as you and I shopping in supermarkets. As far as I know Sainsburys et al are not actually governing a country and they don’t deny human rights to citizens.

        Secondly, the “performing arts” (not just classical music, but IMGA’s statement no longer focuses on that) have historically been a refuge for political dissidents, liberal thinking, marginalised people and creative individuals. The arts have always challenged and they have always been inclusive and tolerant. That IMGA should ally itself with a regime that stifles freedom of speech and expression (which is really what the performing arts does) pretty much suggests that it is happy to treat the arts and artists with contempt and would rather stand shoulder to shoulder with a government that is all about financial and social inequality.

        IMGA can do what is wants as a company but the sooner they end the charade that they have anything much to do with serious music making, the sooner they can bring a halt to years of ineptitude chaos and PR disaster. Getting into the Guiness Book of Records for Pyrotechnics and propping up a dubious regime isn’t going to get them back in the game.

        • Anon says:

          Jonathan, you are starting from the wrong place. You and others here see IMGA as an artist management firm, but that is only one of the things they do. A glance at their website would tell you that they see themselves working in a variety of fields: artist management, touring, events, festivals, and cultural consulting. It strikes me that this press release and involvement is justified as a part of IMG’s events, and possibly also cultural consulting work.

          If you view IMG as the broad company they actually are, rather than just an artist management firm, this sort of activity would hardly seem unusual.

          • Jonathan says:

            Anon – I think we have pretty much acknowledged that IMGA are not just an artist management company, so I think the real place to start is to continue to question why they chose to loudly broadcast a fireworks project in a country which is a cultural desert and a symbol of inequality and oppression. That does not sit well with the universality of the arts. Barrett Wissman’s conviction for fraud is well documented for public scrutiny, so unfortunately when the company he owns chooses to put his name at the head of an announcement of their record breaking fireworks display, they are inviting criticism and scrutiny of their own ethical motives. IMGA would be wise to distance itself from its owner, at least in its public pronouncements.

            I think it’s very sad indeed that IMGA has lost its way over the years. At one point, it was a leader in artists management and a key player in the music business. However, years of artist walkouts and staff defections has left it extremely vulnerable. To the extent that it has been unable to replace the dozens upon dozens of high earning and prestigious artists with the same. It appears to me that It has been forced to diversify in order to remain in profit and retain some global influence, but that diversification is taking the company further and further away from its core business. It is losing its identity along with its credibility and whilst flattering Dubai will help balance the books short term, I wonder what the long term strategy for the company is going to be?

            This sends out a very wrong signal to the artists represented by IMGA, but then so many nowadays want to be represented not by a “powerhouse” warehouse like this but with smaller boutique firms or even individuals where their careers are put first before profits and side shows. There is a way for companies to diversify and ease the financial burden of shrinking fees and fewer engagements but, just as musicians keep quiet about corporate events which pay well in excess of public concert fees, IMGA would have been wiser to bank the Dubai cash discreetly and not given into the temptation of using this event as a way to proclaim its usefulness to either the performing arts/event management or to the oppressors in Dubai.

          • Anon says:


            The question of the morality of IMGA and their clients is not one we can easily address here. If we looked hard enough we’d find plenty of similar reasons to “call out” any other artist management company, whether you tangentially align them with taking high fees from Putin-supporting, Greenpeace-activist-locking-up Russians, sponsorship from brands who operate in the Middle East in countries whose politics you dislike, and so on. This is not a line of enquiry which sees IMGA in any more a worse light than others, even if IMGA are more easily cast in this light if they are more public about their actions or their artists.

            As for IMGA losing its way, it’s interesting to spot the staff leaving, the artists defecting, and this blog is generally right up to date on these movements. I’m not convinced that this points to a sinking ship, however. Some of the departures have felt fishy, but others which people have leapt to call a tragedy, a sign of the demise of IMGA and so on have been nothing of the sort. I’ve known several of the leavers personally, and those I have known have left with good and sound reasoning, nothing to do with IMGA’s ethical role in the world or their demise as an agency.

            I suggest that IMG’s artist roster is as sound and strong as any. Any artist management agency will expect to shed both managers and artists from time to time, and the larger the roster the more likely this is to happen. Arguably the larger the firm, the more likely it is to have trained the very managers who would prefer to work on their own; you are more likely to see a walkout-and-artist-poach from a manager who joined IMG to train up across several divisions and develop wide relationships than you are from a small boutique agency where someone may have joined without such high-flying ideas.

            I fear you exaggerate when you say “dozens and dozens” of artists have left, I can’t think of that many at all. (In any case, you answer your own query about balancing the books – with fewer staff to pay you don’t need as many artists anyway).

            As to your last, yes IMGA could have kept quiet, banked the cash, and we’d never be slating them here now. Isn’t it better that they are open, though? Otherwise eventually we’d be calling them names for not telling us about their deals with Dubai! I imagine the positive effects of the news of their involvement across a wider events community is worth much more than the risk of a few of us here taking issue with it, though.

  • Print more oil! We need more Lifestyle Events! A paltry 6 million Federal Reserve Notes (or roughly 30 mins worth of QE)! Bread! Circuses! Or just circuses! Either way: just print more oil!

  • Gerg Haberecht says:

    talking about making a mountain out of a mole hill!

    this is all ridiculous. What about the fireworks in London or the Sydney Opera House or

    anywhere else?

    In my mind, sometimes one needs events that uplift the mood despite the dire news

    going on in the world these days.

    and how is this any different than the subsidies that lose millions in the name of culture?

    We will have to change Norman’s first name to Scrooge Lebrecht!

  • Angellos says:

    IMG should think twice about going to Dubai. This is not a place to celebrate if you are honest, sincere and peace loving. This is the place where slave labor and persecution of 3rd world citizens is rampant. Where the rights of gays are non-existent. Where women whether Arabic, Westerns, or 3rd world is also non-existent. You could have all the records you want, but the rights of individual freedoms are non-existent. Money talks, but only to a point. Dubai is a 3rd world country when it comes to freedom of religion and the rights and respect of all citizens.

  • Well said, Jonathan.

    Gerg, I suspect that if you send a video of the firework display to Syrian refugees you’ll find that watching six minutes of mindless wastage won’t uplift their mood any more than it uplifts mine, or Norman’s – indeed, quite the opposite.

  • Sally Funnell says:

    Given Mr Inzerillo’s friendship with Nelson Mandela (which appears to have been genuine and not just a PR stunt – as the tribute on IMG’s news page states, Mandela was godfather to his daughter ) it would be interesting to know how he might have squared with Mr Mandela the justification behind IMG’s links with the Dubai leadership….

    I can’t believe the likes of Joshua Bell, Renee Fleming, Itzhak Perlman etc are bringing in any less income than in the past, but if there is a gap caused by artists leaving the IMG list, shouldn’t IMG be filling the gap by signing more musical talent instead of producing these ‘lifestyle events’ just to bring cash into the company? Or should there maybe be two IMGs now, clearly showing the split between their areas of business? There seems no logical reason to retain a link between artist management and event management otherwise… it hardly benefits the artists at all…

  • Gerg Haberecht says:

    All of this sounds like a bunch of self righteous nonsense.

    How is this any different than Russia or China or Kazakhstan or anywhere else doing fireworks

    or hiring Placido or Cecilia Bartoli or Renee Fleming or Anna Netrebko to do massive overpaid

    engagements. Are these also not oppressive governments? Whether its IMG Artists or Unviersal promotions or CAMI in China, they all do it. Are we going to question the human

    rights records of all of these places which are arguably worse than Dubai’s? Should these artists not be taking oversized massive fees from these places?

    What a waste of time and energy writing all of this about some company getting paid to run

    an event. Sounds like most of these people are underpaid and sitting at home on the sofa

    with nothing to do.

    • Jonathan says:


      Here are some differences:-

      1. When a company promotes artists like Fleming or tour an orchestra in China, they are working with local promoters, orchestras and festivals. So there is a clear artistic collaboration between East and West that benefits audiences and strengthens cultural ties that will also ease political dialogue.

      2. Russia has long had a massive input in culture – orchestras, conductors, dancers, choreographers, composers, singers, instrumentalists, filmmakers….the list is so exhaustive that to pick out Tchaikovsky, Nureyev and Netrebko would hardly do the Russians justice. China has in the past 20 years invested huge amounts into culture so, despite their questionable human rights record, it is, from an artistic point of view, right and appropriate that the West reciprocates with supporting China’s openness by bringing its artists to them. You mention Kazakhstan but perhaps you would like to give us some examples of how they have contributed to culture in the way that Russian and China most evidently have?

      3. You single out some singers who have appeared in China but most international level artists have done so as China is very much part of the international circuit now and for the very good reason – they have great concert halls and they have orchestras as well as a curious and attentive audience hungry for what these artists have to offer. I fail to see how this can compare to IMGA issuing press releases about helping Dubai get into the Guinness Book of Records for facilitating a bling fireworks display.

      In your earlier comment, you responded that:-

      “In my mind, sometimes one needs events that uplift the mood despite the dire news

      going on in the world these days” and

      “how is this any different than the subsidies that lose millions in the name of culture?”

      There are other events that can lift the mood and don’t cost millions nor contribute to the glorification of Dubai. And subsidies don’t “lose” millions. They exist in order support organisations who would otherwise not be able to put on performances at more affordable prices so that more people have access to the arts. Most such organisations work very hard at broadening the appeal of what they do for very little return and without the need for getting in to record books

  • Jonathan says:


    mmm….a lot of companies who have dealings indirectly or directly with difficult states have also had the good sense to develop corporate social responsibility. This kind of philanthropic carbon footprint is both great brand PR (especially if your product is luxury brands or financial services) and helps communities. Similarly, many high earning artists support charities, either financially, via their own foundations or just by giving their services for free for a fund raising event.

    I have no idea if IMGA give money to charity or have any sense of corporate social responsibility but their actions here come across as self interested, greedy and politically maladroit. One way of remedying this would be for them to donate what enough people would see as blood money to philanthropy. They might even channel some of this into causes that get young people participating in music and the arts. They may be doing so already, but if they do they have been as coy about coming forward with that as they have been fearless in announcing their activities in Dubai.