Catch a falling star? It may be too late…

I shall be in Budapest next Wednesday, lecturing at the Franz Liszt Academy on the present state of the music business. In advance of the presentation, the Liszt Academy has published an essay I have written on the music world’s over-dependence on a shrinking pool of international stars. Read the article here.

anna netrebko carnegie demos

 

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  • Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much in his article. There have always been stars and celebrities in the world of classical music that crowd out the marginally less gifted. Remember Franz Liszt? Remember Nicolo Paganini? Remember Maria Callas? If the fawning adoration of the few in our media age brings in the interest that classical music needs in order to survive, so be it. The day when there are no stars in the firmament, you can assume that musical Armageddon is nigh.

  • A single but typical example: since Muti took over in Chicago in 2010 he has made less recordings than Solti used to make in a year.

  • If most of the stars truly have fallen, are not two of the reasons (1) the decline of the old time impresario/promoter combined with (2) the less general appeal of stars in today’s world where there are far more leisure opportunities than even 30 years ago and in an age where social media has all but taken over our lives? Classical stars rarely make headlines now as Callas and Pavarotti used to in their day – or even The 3 Tenors jamboree.

    I remember a story told by Itzhak Perlman at the funeral of Sheldon Gold, the President of ICM Artists (now Opus 3), one of the companies spawned in the wake of the breakup of the Hurok Empire. The year was 1985. Gold himself was a graduate of the Hurok agency and ICM boasted a number of young artists like Perlman, Zukerman, Ashkenazy and later Yo-Yo Ma.

    At the funeral, Isaac Stern the real mover and shaker behind ICM Artists played and Perlman told his story (many in the Synagogue rather wished it had been the other way around)! Perlman told of storming into the ICM office after Gold had sent him the performance schedule for his first full year of engagements. “You promised me that I would be playing Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall and with all the major orchestras. Yet there’s not one major engagement anywhere in this schedule. Why am I stuck playing in places like Kalamazoo Michigan?”

    To which Gold virtually shouted at him, “Sit down! I told you you will play in all the major venues, yes! And with all the major orchestras, yes! But I never told you these would be in your first year. You are playing dates like Kalamazoo because this is almost certainly the only year these audiences will be able to afford to hear you play in front of them. They will remember, and they will provide you with a nice income in the future by buying the many recordings you are going to be making. So those are the dates you will play. Understood?”

    Would a Lang Lang and his desire for world stardom have stood for Shelly Gold’s dressing down? Unlikely, in my view! Would any manager nowadays have the guts to say that to any young and ambitious artist? The age of the near-all powerful impresario is dying along with the stars. The interesting question, though, is: which event came first?

  • Regarding the demise international star system, who [expletive deleted] cares? What’s the point of having players who are, at best, 10% better than local principals jetting around playing warhorses of the violin/piano (and occasionally vocal or cello) repertoire? If I want to listen to the emperor concerto or the Sibelius violin concerto, I’ll just pull the CDs that I already own–and I’m not buying new ones by every new wannabe star. The best concert solo performance I’ve seen in recent months was the principal percussionist of my local orchestra playing MacMillan’s Veni Veni Emmanuel, a piece that is nearly impossible to replicate on recording. Why pay someone else a five- or six-figure fee when every major orchestra has dozens of players, many of whom are not violinists or pianists but do play instruments with vast solo repertoires, under contract and taking the stage nightly?

    • But how does your principal percussionist look in a low cut form fitting lycra dress? Don’t you realize this is the most burning question classical music today???? /sarc

  • On a serious note, I blame the Internet. The money-bags argue: “who will click on ‘buy now’ unless her photo screams ‘buy now and I’ll take my clothes off for you’?” The result of instant gratification down to the nano-second made possible by…the Internet.

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