I’m a concert pianist with great reviews. I work behind a bar.

I’m a concert pianist with great reviews. I work behind a bar.


norman lebrecht

February 23, 2015

We received today a round-robin from a young British pianist whose talent is unquestioned. A Gramophone reviewer called his current series of recordings ‘a triumphant achievement’. Others, in Europe, have written of his ‘creative mastery’. We have heard his performances; they are of a very high order.

But this pianist is not getting a foot in the right doors. He has no agent and is not being offered the right dates. If the situation does not change soon, he will have to work full time as a barman. We publish a portion of his letter. If you are an agent who might be interested in hearing him, or can help this gifted young man in other ways, please contact Slipped Disc and we will make the connection.

Please share this post on social media in order to help prevent the loss of a real talent.

Extract from the letter:




The last two years have seen the release of five albums. The reviewers’ responses have been quite overwhelming and have given me much pleasure and encouragement to continue on my musical journey.

However, at this stage, most of my concert work does not pay well, if at all, and I am struggling to find teaching work. So, for the last two years I have had to work part time in a pub to help pay my bills. I have also had to rely on family handouts.

Unfortunately, in the summer things will change and if I cannot find more paid concert work and teaching, then the pub work will have to become full time. That means minimum 55 hour weeks. I am not afraid of the work at all, but I am afraid that my piano playing will inevitably have to be put on hold. I am also very aware of the risks to my hands.

So, if any of you have any ideas or are able to help, I would very much appreciate your thoughts.


  • CrossEyedPianist says:

    I would be pleased to feature this young man in my Meet the Artist series which will give him an opportunity to talk about his musical life, influences, significant teachers etc. Please ask him to contact me via my blog and I will send him the interview questionnaire. This is just a small gesture but it might just bring him some useful contacts via my followers on the blog & Twitter etc.

  • Hilary says:

    Besides teaching which he has investigated: cruise ships (demand for piano recitals but nothing too avant garde!) and accompanying work (instrumental as well as dance+opera) are maybe worth checking out as they are more lucrative/relevant than bar work. In tandem with the more important recitals and recordings of course. Variety is the key.

  • Sam McElroy says:

    One of the best tenors I ever worked with drives long distance trucks for a living.

    This young pianist’s case is not an anomaly, but representative of a global story for musicians. There is an abundance of highly trained, wonderful artists in today’s world. They just happen to live in an era which either does not value art, or does not wish to consume art delivered in this form. They also happen to coexist with a technological age in which “creative destruction” has eviscerated passive income streams. The net effect is that we are faced with the basic economic equation of supply and demand, and artists are in over-supply. It’s that simple. We are all facing it. Add to the equation the worrying fact that many promoters and agents don’t even recognize what real art is, and you end up with a fairly brutal climate for artists. The solution lies in entrepreneurial invention, leadership and creativity, and not in the insistence of flogging moribund equines.

    Don’t complain. Invent.

    • Sam McElroy says:


      An example of the entrepreneurial, creative, inventive leadership I referred to above: Sonning Prize-winner, Martin Fröst.


      I just came back from Martin’s Vinterfest in Sweden, where I feel like I witnessed the model for the future of music making. It was another world…

    • dijon says:

      Totally agree with this response – there are 100’s of pianists in a similar position and there always has been. Those who deserve a career don’t always get one, and that’s just life, particularly in an industry run by people who don’t really know what they are listening to and rely on looks/personality/marketing potential and not the quality. If you are determined enough you keep going, paying your way however you can and not whingeing about it in order get a quick fix….

    • John Borstlap says:

      Apart from the current ‘technological age’ it’s also something more worrying: a cultural war against cultural value perse. The level of music education has gone-up considerably over the last half century, during which the opportunities for musicians decreased. Cultural relativism which undermines the value of high art, populism as fed by the media, and politicians without any cultural awareness do the rest. A civilization without high art is doomed and becomes vulnerable to its enemies (we see them already all around). Pushing highly-gifted musicians towards things contrary to their talents and personality, is destroying them, not helping them. ‘Innovative’ in this context means: creating space for the untalented people who don’t have the talents that prevent them from adapting to an indifferent environment.

  • Nicolas (Classical Diary) says:

    We would be delighted to feature him in our Confessions and also if he’s interested a full interview on our soon to be released blog.
    I look forward to hearing from him!

  • Gian Luigi Zampieri .'. says:

    Dear Norman,
    I’m not young but some months ago I’ve sent you something similar:

    “Dear mr. Lebrecht,
    I’m a 49yo Italian Rome-based conductor, follower of slippedisc.com.
    I was the last pupil of the legendary Maestro Franco Ferrara.
    If You have some minute to waste, please tell me: what’s missing in my conducting?
    What’s not enough to have a normal career in Italy, my country?
    My maximum per year is 2-3 concerts, all abroad.
    Here a short excerpt from my last concert (Enescu Philharmonic, Bucharest): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-RzGYPHHA8
    More videos available in my Youtube playlist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x-RzGYPHHA8&list=PL39B7DD72E3C90046
    I trust in Your expert eye, so that I can choose either going on with this job or devoting myself to different aims.
    Best regards and Shana Tova,
    Gian Luigi Zampieri”

    Your answer was:
    “Dear Mr Zampieri
    I wish I could help, but I am not in a position to offer useful personal advice.
    best wishes
    Norman Lebrecht”

    Now I wonder: “what one has to do to deserve some attention?”

    • David says:

      Maestro Zampieri:

      First of all, you may have answered yourself when you wrote “I’m not young”.

      Secondly, why ask Mr. Lebrecht about that when it’s clear he has no idea about it? And how could he? At least here he didn’t pretend he had any, and that’s to his credit.

      Now, being a successful conductor, or any successful musician, is about a lot of different things, among them luck, but it’s only a part of the equation. I could tell you my opinion about those different aspects but I doubt you’d like to hear them so won’t bother making a list here. You’re however welcome to message me, should you be curious.

      I’ve been reading a few other articles, so if I sound irritated, please excuse me, as that may be why.


  • MacroV says:

    I wish him well, and with five recordings released it’s not as if he’s not “out there,” but it’s a good indication of the abundance of talented musicians relative to demand. A decade ago I lived two years in Moscow, and heard more brilliant pianists than I could count. And always wondered how the world would accommodate them and the many fine players coming up behind them in the pipeline.

    The key is finding a way to stand out, which isn’t easy.

  • Gail Fischler says:

    I would be glad to feature him in an Artist Portrait on The Piano Addict Blog. You may contact me via this email or through the Contact link on Piano Addict.

  • Bang Bang says:

    Easy. Change your gender to female and show a lot of flesh (there is a song about it in the musical “A Chorus Line'”).

    • M. Liu says:

      Better yet, be a Mainland Chinese national.

    • Alexandra Ivanoff says:

      Similarly, Sondheim’s “Gypsy” offers splendid advice in the backstage stripper scene with “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.” But seriously, perhaps choosing a particular niche (contemporary music, lesser known works, complete works of a certain composer, et al.) might be the answer to get another foot in another door. What about performing chamber music? The virtuoso piano parts therein are not chopped liver…

  • Darren says:

    Oh come on!!! There are so many talents out there that don’t have agents and are still making a career for themselves. This guy is just wining – and you are assisting him in doing so.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    There are no Cinderella stories in this business. I know exactly what this young man is going through–I did for many years, and, it is still not easy for even established musicians to maintain steady flow of engagements. He must start to think as I did in the late 1990s. Become entrepreneurial, design new projects, find composers who could write new concerti for you, raise the money by doing exactly what I did–apply for grants, private donors, orchestras. And, at the same time, cultivate new repertoire. There are no magic bullets, unfortunately. One must learn, by necessity, to become very creative in a very competitive environment. Record YouTube videos and create your own channel–get them out there. Just some ideas. Hope they are helpful to this young man. I feel for him and know exactly what he feels.

  • Rich Patina says:

    Welcome to the real world. I’ve been playing the double bass (classical and jazz) for 42 years and since losing my last gig after the 2008 economic crash I’ve had to pick up and deliver laundry – part-time – to put food on the table. When I was a student my teachers told me that the music business would likely break my heart and strongly advised me to have a backup profession. “No” I thought, “I’ll be different.”

    Well, I should have listened to them.

  • Una says:

    Welcome to ther real world of being a singer or musician. So many outstanding working in the corporate world as well as behind bars who can’t get enough work. Too little work and so many chasing it.

  • Una says:

    Behind bars I don’t inadvertently mean in prison – sorry! I mean working behind a bar selling drinks and food.

  • Urs Liska says:

    Having a number of cds published and getting great reviews for them doesn’t mean a thing when it comes down to getting paid for making music – not to speak of getting paid decently …

  • Urs Liska says:

    Unfortunately having a bunch of CDs out with great reviews doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to getting paid decently and sustainably for art.

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    What’s the pianist’s name? Can we listen to some samples of his playing on YouTube or elsewhere on the internet?

  • Chris Foster says:

    This is not news. As Una says, there are scores of singers/musicians/conductors out there who do excellent work but can’t get auditions. Just being heard is what people crave but when organisations openly say that they will favour agents’ artists at auditions (preventing non-represented artists from being heard) it is like a kick in the guts to those who aren’t ready in their late 20s/early 30s who the agents covet.

    • John Borstlap says:

      And the agents have their own problems: running an office, dealing with difficult performers, sudden cases of singers’ flu for which replacements have to be found, keeping the good employees on board so that they don’t set-up their own agency and take some money maker artists with them, etc. etc.

  • Corinne Morris says:

    As a cellist working to re-establish myself after a prolonged absence due to injury, I know this situation all too well. Gaining the trust of a few ‘well connected’ people is key, as is, in my opinion, establishing one’s ‘unique’ mark as a performing artist. We have to stop being clones of one another! That can only come when a certain amount of introspective work has been done on oneself to really understand ‘who’ we are. It is with this ‘inner clarity’ that we as artists, should approach our careers and develop them.
    And a certain amount of business sense and acumen are also very necessary.

  • Jennifer West says:

    Dear Mr.Lebrecht and “pianist”, please write to muzewest@gmail.com. We can get your a concert in Vancouver BC – for a wonderful Canadian audience.


  • Mark Stratford says:

    So who is the guy ? All these posts in the thread and he’s still unknown !

  • Nick van Bloss says:

    Reality check : it’s a tough life for a musician. Only a lucky few get the ‘breaks’ and are propelled forward. The rest have to keep slogging away trying everything. We do what we must. I took a 15 year ‘retirement’ during which I never touched a piano. Then I made a ‘comeback’, entering the profession as though I’d never been in it in the first place. Whoever this guy is, he must toughen up….Another reality check: few people will help, you have to make sacrifices, only do it if you HAVE to, and cultivate unbreakable self belief. If you have to work in a bar, then you have to work in a bar. Some people teach, others do other stuff. Belief, belief, belief.

    • John Borstlap says:

      I know of brilliant, AND successful artists (musicians, painters) who just survive at the edge of poverty, or have only a more or less ‘secure’ income perspective of half a year, after which there is a big gap. I am sure that did not happen so easily half a century ago. There is definitely something gpoing-on in contemporary culture. I know of a famous filmmaker who made a video production that got international prizes, was shown all over the world, was produced by a big record label, and all parties wanted to rip him off by trying to circumvent legal royalties rights. I knew a pianist who was a prize winner, well-known, and gradually lost his concert dates because his presentation was ‘too professorial’ and thus lost the competition from young, flesh-showing females. Again, this would not have happened half a century ago. So, young players should be insistent indeed and invoke religious help from above.

      For a serious musician, the first 30 years are the most difficult.

  • Ricard Massoth says:

    I sympathize with this pianist, however I feel neither him nor Slipped Disc is going down the right road by keeping his name anonymous.

    The snippets of the (Excellent) reviews notwithstanding, I feel his plea for attention and support need to be backed up by real-live evidence – audio and video. People will support more when they can connect an idea with a name with a performance.

  • Paul Lanfear says:

    I’m rather late coming to this post, but finding it very interesting.. I think the artist in question is wise in remaining anonymous. Who wants to be remembered as the person who complained about not being recognised? There are so many reasons why somebody may not be successful and they may have absolutely nothing to do with talent or hard work. Sam McElroy is absolutely right, the world has changed and there is a surplus of artistic talent. At least pianists have a degree of self-sufficiency. Some have successfully built their own audiences, such as Valentina Lisitsa and James Rhodes. Others, as Sam suggests, have a flair for creating opportunities. Not everyone has that skill unfortunately.

    I would say the most important thing is keep your self-worth as a musician (and a human being!) detached from the process of earning a living and developing a ‘career’ and not to allow yourself to become jaded. I’m saying that as somebody who has had to take low-paid, mind-numbingly tedious jobs to get by. Nobody ‘deserves’ success or failure, recognition or obscurity. it just happens or it doesn’t….

  • J Joe Townley says:

    Short of winning a major competition it’s next to impossible these days for a pianist, even a great one, to get some sort of foothold in the classical music world. The public is a very finicky animal; they love the pianists who have built a solid reputation not so much on how many recordings they have released, but how many Grammys it has been nominated for, good or bad; or how many appearances has the artist garnered on the Morning Show, that sort of thing. You very BEST friend right now is “publicity”. Do something to make your name land on the front page of the Washington Post–walk a high-wire between the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building (No, don’t! But you get the idea). Short of those two options I have no good advice to give. Good luck.

  • Sanjose Mike says:

    By the time I was 18 I could play all of the Beethoven Piano Concertos. I did the Grieg with a local amateur orchestra when I was “working.” But I never seriously considered becoming a classical concert pianist, even though I had the same teacher as Ruth Laredo. I live in the Bay Area. I assume there are at least 100 fine concert artists who are within just 50 miles of where I live!

    I became a podiatrist instead. Best decision I could ever have made. I accredited my own Medicare Certified Surgical Center and retired at 53.

    Now I listen to fabulous concert artists play Rach 3 with perfect clarity and evenness. I could never do that, even in my “prime.” I celebrate their genius and love their work. I am willing to publicly admit I did not have the talent to become a successful concert artist.

    The arts are a cruel profession. In the US, most young people have never heard of Beethoven. Most piano concerts are filled (when they are filled) by people who are over 60. No young people attend them unless they are Asians.

    In contrast, as a podiatry surgeon I was welcomed by my peers. They tried to help me get established and offered much encouragement. I had a fine surgical residency at a VA and Army hospital. I purchased rental Real Estate and remodeled many of my own buildings.

    I know I was not a medical doctor, but being a DPM was wonderful work and was deeply appreciated by my patients. I still love music and perform concerts locally, but I always donate any proceeds to charity.

    Podiatry surgery gave me what music could never do, a deeply satisfying, interesting technical profession with real financial possibilities. If you have other options, consider them deeply before you attempt to become a classical musician.


  • Mike, Mountain View, CA says:

    Perhaps the person would consider checking out the website Patreon.com? They are a company dedicated to bringing the age-old model of “patron of the arts” into the modern age. Great idea at any rate, if perhaps not as ideal in practice, but possibly it would be a step in the right direction and trigger some creative energy and money flow for the artist (or other struggling artists reading this thread).

    I personally have no experience dealing with the company, and would love to hear from those who do. I’m an amateur pianist who’s played since age 5, had a career in computers that was downsized, and am now at 62 exploring other options. Will I go there? Not sure, the age bias in this society is strong, but for the young gentleman, I’d like to think that this advice might prove useful to him.