Honours for agents? Hmmmm…

Honours for agents? Hmmmm…


norman lebrecht

June 16, 2014

The British honours system has been degraded by many scandals in its time and his is not one of them.

However, many sets of eyebrows went vertical to read on Saturday that a pair of classical music artists’ agents had been awarded the MBE ‘for srvices fo the music industry’. The pair are the retiring chiefs of Askonas Holt, Martin Campbell-White and Robert Rattray.

Hmmm. and Hmmm, again.

Honours are supposed to reflect a measure of good that is done for the nation, for people who give freely of their gifts to the world. Agents do good for themselves and sometimes for their artists. There the benefice stops.

So why add honour to profit?

You tell me.

In other honours, Andras Schiff was made a knight, ENO boss John Berry a CBE and soprano Susan Bullock the same. Warm congrats to all three and to others on the full music list here.




  • Aart van der Wal at OpusKlassiek says:

    Why honouring agents indeed? One of the important side effects of their supremacy in the music industry is their killing of creatieve music programming, with most of the conductors, soloists and orchestras fishing in the same pond of composers. What we need is innovation, and that is something beyond the scope of those who believe in the musical scene as a money maker in the first place.

    • Sheila Antworthy says:

      If the award was for the agent deemed most inappropriately pompous & arrogant to the point of caricature, then certainly Martin Campbell-White deserves this honor.

  • Nick says:

    Victor Hochhauser was awarded a CBE a couple of decades ago and so I suppose this is not a wholly new trend – although I’d argue that the Hochhausers with their early Soviet connections did more for the arts than mere agents. But one really has to wonder what on earth this pair has achieved that separates them from the heads of other agencies. Robert Rattray has of course crossed the Atlantic and will now be esconced in his new presumably lucrative job at the Met.

  • Wundertier says:

    Wrong. If there were ever any agents who helped music and musicians, it is these gentlemen: two old-style impressarii serving the music – much more, by the way, than some of today’s highly praised concert hall directors and administrators who still get scared at programmes containing Berg, Schoenberg et alii.

  • Simon S. says:

    Well, AFAICS, there’s lots of cases (in the UK and elsewhere) where people recieve a gong simply for having done the job they have been paid for. However this seems not to apply for every job in the same manner: diplomats yes, cleaning women no (even though the former are better paid than the latter). So congratulations to the agents’ guild – they seem to have been promoted from the cleaning women to the diplomats class.

  • alto102 says:

    Whoa! Where does this hatred of agents come from? And since when do professional musicians “give freely of their gifts”? They “give their gifts” for a performance fee that pays for their living.

    I would bet that if you ask any established artist if he or she show would have gotten to where they are now without their agent, they would say absolutely not. People like Robert Rattray and Martin Campbell-White spent their whole careers working hard to open doors for artists so they could get a chance to do what they do best and so the world could also see that special something they saw in these artists. They helped them navigate the tricky business side of this art form so they could concentrate on their art, and supported them when things didn’t always go as planned. But because these agents take a percentage of the artists fees for the work they did, you vilify them and say they only work for themselves and therefore don’t contribute enough to the music industry to deserve any special honours.

    It incredibly unfair and makes me wonder what an agent did to you that makes you categorize all agents as people who only “do good for themselves”.

  • Anon says:

    Because a good agent makes it possible for the artist to do what they do best. They make it possible for the artist to perform, they assemble tours and help artists engage in relationships with venues, directors, promoters, other artists, and more. An agent can make or break an artist’s career.
    Just because the artist is the ‘face’ of the performing arts industry doesn’t mean that other people don’t work extremely hard to make it all happen, whose contribution might perhaps occasionally be acknowledged.

    “Why add honour to profit?”
    If this question is the starting point, then very few of the top artists receiving awards should receive them either. Artists generally receive awards for doing the thing they are paid – often extremely well – for; if that’s not a problem then nor is it a problem for an agent.

  • Peter says:

    I’m not sure an agent is any different from the musicians you name. They all are active in the music ‘business’, and they all get paid. Many industrialists paid zillions of pounds receive honours, so why not the leaders of a comparatively small business, albeit a big one in the arts? Unless the suggestion is that people should only be honoured for things they have done voluntarily and without payment…

    If you think there needs to be something of benefit to the nation, you could probably make a long list of ‘exports’ of British artists and orchestras all arranged by Mr Campbell White and Mr Rattray, yes for money, but also benefiting financially everyone else involved, and flying the British flag in far flung parts of the globe. But that is to deny the huge influence around the world with and for artists and institutions of many countries who will have benefited from their work.

    Agents get a bad write-up, particularly from Slipped Disc, but over the years a long list of ground-breaking projects, both in content and geographically, have been initiated and brought to fruition by agents of sizes both big and small, often with barely a mention in any of the accompanying press materials. And, surprisingly frequently, often in circumstances which make little economic sense for the agent, because they want something to happen and wish to support an artist or ensemble.

    So a little puff of recognition, both specifically for these two gentlemen, and perhaps for the wider business, is a good thing.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Agree with both Peter and Anon !

    • erich says:

      It can take an extremely long time for an agent to make any money from an artist – but the legwork and persuasion needed to open those doors can be both very time consuming and frustrating. Then when the artist has been ‘broken’ ,the agent is not infrequently dumped or held to ransom by the artist, who wishes to pay less commission on engagements and threatens to go to another agency. Artists also often fail to acknowledge the role of the agent. If things go well, it’s entirely due to the artist. If things go wrong, the agent gets the blame. “Immer ist Undank Loge’s Lohn”, as it says in Rheingold.

  • Someone who looked at agency - and thought better of it... says:

    I very rarely post here – but even I drew breath.

    As to Mr. Campbell-White: a more pompous, self regarding, bluffy confident, rude, arrogant, dismissive [redacted], I have never met (and having worked in investment banking for 20 years – i’ve met a few….”

    When the reporter becomes the story… as they say.

    • Paul says:

      I very rarely read such vitriol from trolls on here.

      If you present yourself in person in the same manner as here, I’m sure many agents have looked at you and thought better of it.

      • erich says:

        …..and coming from an investment banker, the phrase “people in glass houses….” comes to mind. Shame on whoever this person is……