So are artist agents worthy of honour?

So are artist agents worthy of honour?


norman lebrecht

June 23, 2014

A brief comment we passed some days ago on the appearance of two classical artists’ agents in the Queen’s honour list has provoked an eruption on Classical Music magazine from Andrew Green, a former agent and historian of agents, who feels they are, as a class, upstanding and altogether well-deserving members of society.

The nub of his argument?The concert scene around the world would grind to a halt overnight without the artist manager.’

To which we say, oh, yeah? We’re prepared to bet a Solti souvenir pen to an Abbado signed tie that life would go on just as well without them.

Meanwhile, we happen to live among wonderful people who work day and night saving lives, feeding the hungry, comforting the bereaved, caring for orphans, all without thought of reward or thanks. And a pair of agents waltz away with state honours.




  • Greg Hlatky says:

    Adults neither seek nor accept awards and “honors”.

  • Dennis Marks says:

    Not all of them, Norman, for sure but some are/were invaluable. Consider what our festivals would have been without Ian Hunter of Harold Holt.

  • Hasbeen says:

    Well said Andrew Green. The ‘nub’ as you put it Norman is that the vast majority of people working in the agency business are passionately committed to music and the artists they serve. The financial rewards are modest and to many irrelevant as they are doing what they love and believe to be part of the greater good.

  • Jimmy Murphy says:

    Campbell White has given decades of voluntary service, especially to MBF, and Rattray to YCAT, another charity. They have not been honoured for their day jobs, but for the extras they do and have done beyond the call of duty. Nobody is honoured for their paid jobs any more. Both are respected professionals who give valuable voluntary service, and one of them is off to New York’s Met. We should be proud of these people. They have done some good. Do you really think that charities like the MBF, now Help Musicians, could survive without volunteer trustees? And MBF has often helped destitute musicians, come on Norman, give the honoured agents a break!

    • Nick says:

      Err, something seems to be missing here! Like many in the music industry, I am sure Messrs Rattray and Campbell-White both gave to charity and worked on behalf of charities. But with all respect, if I recall correctly the citations were for their services to the music industry – not for their charitable work. So charitable giving should not form more than a peripheral part of this discussion.

      I have read Andrew Green’s well-argued article and the comments made in this thread, including that by The King’s Consort. I wholeheartedly agree that artists’ management companies and many of the individuals working in them are passionately interested in music and in their work, they do play a key role in promoting the careers of their artists, increasingly worldwide, and thus in the development of the arts in general. But – and it’s a big ‘but’ in my view – such facilitators are rather similar to the old compradors of 19th century China. They help make things happen and then take their ‘squeeze’ – the quaint old Chinese term for commission. As such, their work can be invaluable to both parties.

      As Andrew Green points out, some have helped develop special arts projects. Others, as has been pointed out here, have started Festivals. But the motive behind these has always been primarily profit. Without that they and their companies would have gone out of business. And let’s not forget: is it any surprise that artists managed by the Harold Holt agency regularly found their way on to the programmes of the Festivals run by Sir Ian Hunter?

  • The King's Consort says:

    I can certainly vouch for the fact that, in the world of orchestral touring (which is somewhat different to that of individual artist management), there’s no way orchestras such as TKC would get the amazing tours we get across Europe without the huge knowledge and contacts that our local managers have in their own countries, let alone the formidably hard work they do. Each country is so different, with constant musico-political and personnel shifts, not to mention different (and quite terrifying) tax regimes and linguistic niceties. No single person based in one country could ever manage to keep tabs on all that information from so many countries and still produce the engagements we receive. I don’t for one moment suggest that doing a demanding job well is any reason to receive any honour, but my feeling after 34 years in the business is that much orchestral touring would come to halt without the hard-working and highly skilled local managers in all those different countries.

  • Peter Freenan says:

    Secular philosophy of ethics has a term for it: supererogation. Many of us have been doing it for decades but neither gained nor sought any recognition. Good on them!

  • Jimmy Murphy says:

    The Cabinet Office guidelines are quite clear. You must be outstanding in your field, but you are not honoured for your paid jobs alone. Services to the music industry include outstanding service to musical charity. The MBE is one of the lower classes of honour and entirely right for two outstanding professionals who have given thousands of voluntary hours to charity within their sector. The same sort of people are honoured in sport, business and every aspect of society. Honours commmitees and the civil service really work hard to seek out individuals who go the extra mile. It can take up to two years to get through their system. There is no go reason to exclude outstanding artist managers. And the word in the artist management profession is that these gentlemen were nominated by a collective of all artist managers, orchestras, conductors and some of the leading singers and instrumentalists in the world. Anybody can be nominated for an honour and it’s good to shine a light on a profession central to classical music industry. But, as the Honours guidelines suggest, quite rightly, nobody is honoured for just doing what they are paid to do. They must be pre-eminent in their field but have given back to society or their sector. This is true in both cases and to sneer at an entire profession, just because two of its elder statesmen have been given lowly MBEs is unhelpful and unjustified. Tennis coaches, boxing managers, football club managers, classical agents, they are all the same. And what of those honoured for “services to business”? One could argue that they have served profit alone, but ,very often, they give back to society in a variety of ways. The honours system mostly gets it right. These men have been given MBEs, not peerages! Get over it and let them celebrate hard won lowly honours.