This agency will get you two jobs

This agency will get you two jobs


norman lebrecht

March 28, 2018

Last November, the young American conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong, 30, signed on with IMG Artists.

He had just become music director of the Eugene Symphony, in Oregon.

Today, he was named music director of the Santa Rosa Symphony in California.

Not a famous orchestra, but it’s a job. And a commission. Which is all the agency is after.



  • V.Lind says:

    He’s 30. It’s no disgrace to work at “not a famous orchestra.” In fact Eugene is not that “famous.” It’s also not that taxing — it has a concert a month, except in December, and there is a guest conductor for the second one. So perhaps both Mr. Lecce-Chong AND his agents were looking out for other opportunities that he could calendar. Santa Rosa does not seem to have much more, except a more active Pops and kids’ series, each of which appears to have its own conductor (as do most symphonies). The two cities are not a lot more than 500 miles apart.

    I doubt the commissions from a young conductor working at two regional small symphonies will make or break IMG Artists. A little more work will help a young conductor gain valuable experience and give him enough work to justify his existence.

    Look at all the top-flight conductors with multiple orchestral commitments — I do not mean Gergiev, who seems to overdo it, but people like YN-S, who had the considerably more “famous” Rotterdam in his early 30s, as well as his Montreal band and a guest gig in London, and then Philadelphia; Dudamel; Nelsons; many others. And let’s not forget Barenboim.

    Mr. Lecce-Chong and his agents appear to have given him a chance to build his experience of musicians and different orchestra managements and dynamics, of the travel required of many artists, and doubtless his repertoire, early in his career. Not all conductors will end up with the Berlin Phil or a Big Five orchestra. But this one has been associate conductor at Milwaukee and Pittsburgh already, has opera credentials and has guested with some major orchestras. He may well be handling bigger gigs than this in a few years’ time. IMG is probably wise to accept its small commissions for the time being. This young man is someone to watch.

  • David R Osborne says:

    I’ve met some really good people at agencies, but (and this does not so much apply to the US), are we ever going to have the clearly too hard discussion about the ethics of having commercial enterprises such as agencies and publishers feeding off an art-form that is sustained predominantly by tax-payer largesse?

    Without any proper public accountability built into the funding system, cartels, conflict of interest and nepotism are bound to flourish unchecked.

    I’d love in particular to hear the thoughts of the agents themselves on this.

    • John Borstlap says:

      “……. are we ever going to have the clearly too hard discussion about the ethics of having commercial enterprises such as agencies and publishers feeding off an art-form that is sustained predominantly by tax-payer largesse?”

      That is a wider problem. In the current panorama of government subsidies for the arts in Europe, there are small (private, commercial) agencies helping individual artists and cultural organisations with applying, since the application systems are often very complex and bureaucratic, a labyrinth of tresholds, caveats, accountability systems, documentary proof obstacles, etc. etc. The reason applying for a cultural subsidy has become so difficult, is because of the fear that people will misuse the system. Ironically, this offers the opportunity of those small agencies to feed of the system, because they will work for the applicant on a commission basis, or for advance payment independent from outcome. So, they can florish, and add to the needed figures, so it burdens the system further. Add to that the nonsensical nature of most modern art forms, where there are no longer any standards whatsoever, and the reality impresses on one’s consciousness that the entire system of government subsidies for the arts is, however well-intended, gravely flawed.

      But, for music, do we want state agencies involved, as in the soviet union, with their party lines of ideological interests? There has been, for a couple of decennia, a state music agency in the Netherlands, and its influence on programming has been very damaging: the agency could (because of working with state subsidies) offer musicians for a very low fee to concert halls, with built-in conditions for the repertoire, in an attempt to ‘help’ contemporary music getting more performance chances. The result was that many of those halls got into trouble because of decreasing audience attendance, so in fact it was a kind of blackmailing.

      Music life can only florish in a climate of freedom and it seems to me that this means: government funding for the institutions to protect their existence but for the rest, free enterprise, in spite of the obvious downside of such freedom.

      • David R Osborne says:

        So a couple of things, it should never be considered that the only choice is between the current system and the ‘Soviet’ or of course ‘National Socialist’ style of control. In a democracy there has to be accountability for the way that public money is spent. And that accountability must rest with Governments because they are ultimately accountable to the public, they can be voted out.

        Of course, the European model of arms length Government support was designed at a time when the cautionary tale of government interference was very fresh in people’s minds. But the abuses people were referring to then were perpetrated by totalitarian governments, not democratically elected ones.

        In all other fields where public/private partnerships occur, there are a great many checks and balances. Not so in the arts, which is why the potential will always be there for the kind of abuses I referred to earlier. And having free market operators skimming off a publicly funded system, is if nothing else, just bumping up the cost for everyone.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Sorry, last line 2nd paragraph make that ‘democratically accountable’ not ‘democratically elected’.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      To question the importance of agencies is to question what artists do with their money. Agencies exist because artists need them. If artists could handle the logistics of their planning, they wouldn’t pay them all that money.

      As with every profession, there are good and bad professionals, and most of the ineffective or crooked ones don’t last. The market weeds them out.

      Agencies just happen to be easy targets of armchair criticism.

      • David R Osborne says:

        Ah no Petros, none of that. Starting from the end and working back:

        Agencies are powerful, hardly easy targets to criticise or even question, especially for people working in music. Which is why just about everyone avoids having this discussion.

        Your second point: that wouldn’t be true even if classical music did operate along free market lines, which clearly it does not.

        And to answer your first point: Agents exist because it is near impossible for individual artists to have a successful career without one. There is a marked difference between saying that, and saying agents exist because ‘artists need them’.

        I’m not in any way calling for the end of agents, I’m just trying to point out that the powerful in this art-form are subject to absolutely no level of public accountability, and there is a very likely correlation between that situation and classical music’s glaring problems.

        • Saxon Broken says:


          Most artists just don’t have the time and inclination to try to book all their own performances, settle the contracts, sort out all the tax and visa arrangements, arrange the transport and hotels, etc…they pay someone to do all this (the agent) so they can concentrate on performing.

          This is true in the commercial arts as well as the subsidised arts. Pop stars, for example, have agents to do the bookings.

          Agents simply do not have the power that is claimed of them. Of course, some venues are lazy…

    • Sharon says:

      I am no agent but I can tell you that this happens in many, (perhaps most) economic sectors in the US as well, especially in the military, health care, social services, education, construction, and all sorts of other contracting and supplies providers (called vendors) where profit making companies feed directly off agencies and programs funded or primarily funded by “government largesse” and yeah, it causes all sorts of problems and corruption. There are all sorts of ways to get around “checks and balances” and “accountability” audits. In fact, in spite of what some of the bloggers here may believe, as someone with experience with this sort of excessive profit making and corruption in the health and social services sectors, I suspect that probably arts related profit making companies, like talent agencies, are a little cleaner on the average than profit making companies in other economic sectors that also that obtain their revenue directly or indirectly from government funded organizations and projects.

      • David R Osborne says:

        That was indeed the point of my response to the commenter suggesting that the market will sort out the bad eggs, but I think that privatisation and public-private enterprises are a seperate issue.

        The European funding model for the Arts is just so different in the way it is structured compared to the market economy, and unfortunately just leaving it to run itself because of an historical fear of government interference is a recipe for disaster. You end up with a system that serves itself and where self interest will always override the need for change.

  • Hanna Nahan says:

    It was probably his conducting that got him the jobs, you know. Ever consider that?

    • David R Osborne says:

      I’m sure that’s right. Probably.

      • Hanna Nahan says:

        Please do enlighten us as to the concrete source of your statement.

        • David R Osborne says:

          Concrete source? You made a comment and I agreed with it, but I did want to point out that you had left a slight qualification in there, in this case the word ‘probably’. Your word, not mine.

          I don’t know you so, I have no idea whether you are a reliable source or not, but your comment seemed reasonable enough to me. For the record I have no reason whatsoever to think that anything untoward contributed to Mr Lecce-Chong’s appointments so I said absolutely nothing about it, I was trying to start a discussion on the role of agents in general. That is one of a number of taboo subjects in this business that we need to be thinking, and talking about.

          I think when it comes to comments threads like this one, we have a choice. Read the comments or ignore them altogether, but if you are going to make a contribution, please make sure you have read what you are replying to, not just skimmed.

  • erich says:

    Agree completely. Do you really think agencies are charities? They need to finance themselves. This seems just part of NL’s eternal vendetta against IMG. BORING!!!

  • Rob says:

    He’s a coffee fanatic. Let’s hope he plays lot’s of Mahler. Mahler and Oregon are perfect together.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Seems like a lovely guy, but that clip was just vacuous spin, it tells you absolutely nothing about his art or his vision. And what is with the overbearing and inappropriate music ?

  • Bruce says:

    It’s funny how the “if you love what you do, then you should do it for free” mantra is applied only to the arts. No one gets snide about modelling agencies or sports agencies for wanting to make money.

  • Larry says:

    Eugene has been a “launching pad” for Marin Alsop, Miguel Harth Bedoya and Giancarlo Guerrero.

  • Tod Brody says:

    I don’t understand the snark in this post. Mr. Lecce-Chong was chosen in Santa Rosa after a year-long process, and by all accounts, they’re very happy with the choice. It’s an actual orchestra of long stature, highly regarded in its echelon, and exists in a community where there are actual people who come to the concerts to enjoy music. It might be interesting to people who turn up their noses at the Santa Rosa Symphony as being “just a job” that Mr. Lecce-Chong will be only the 5th music director in the orchestra’s 90-year history. Why does hating on agencies/agents play into this story in any significant way?

    • Larry says:

      Well said!!

    • David R Osborne says:

      Certainly no snark on my part directed at Mr Lecce-Chong. All I know of him is that short promo clip. Seems like a really nice person.

      Just as a more general point, this is not a perfect forum for serious discussion of serious issues, but it is certainly better than no forum at all, which really was the state of play pre-Slipped Disc. Many in this business are very new to the idea of questioning established truths so I can well understand people trying to shut the conversation down.

      My advice to them would be join the conversation, because it won’t be stopping anytime soon, and nor should it.

      • Tod Brody says:

        Great to have a conversation about agencies/agents, their place in artistic landscapes, their commission structure, and their evil (or not) deeds. The fact is that in the process used by SRS, and any other American orchestra (I don’t know about other countries), the agent/agency in question had exactly zero to do with Mr. Lecce-Chong’s appointment. They didn’t “get” him the job, in any sense of the word. They might well have been involved in negotiating a contract for him, once he’d been offered the position. And they probably get a piece of his salary. But get that number — zero — that’s how much they had to do with him getting the job.

  • John Marks says:

    My sincere heartfelt totally non-ironical congratulations to young Maestro Lecce-Chong!

    If he reads this (this also applies to anyone else reading this) I beg beg beg of him that he read about a reader-write-in competition I ran while I was a columnist and Senior Contributing Editor for Stereophile magazine.

    Nota bene, Stereophile is not just a “wires and pliers” enthusiast magazine–most of the contributing writers know an awful lot about classical music, and many have had formal training and/or worked in related fields such as education, production, or recording.

    I challenged my readers to create a “Fantasy Symphony Season” of seven classical concerts (no Pops) with the proviso or restriction that the concerts cannot include any works by the 12 most frequently-performed composers.

    So, a season with no: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Handel, Haydn, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky, or Wagner.

    Here’s the setup, my own Fantasy Symphony Season, and the results:

    Here’s a statistical analysis of the winning and non-winning entries, as well as 12 recordings culled from the winning lists:

    Those recordings are (full details at the link):

    Puccini: Messa di Gloria, Preludio Sinfonico, Crisantemi “Elegy”
    Rota: Cello Concerto 2, Concerto for Strings, Clarinet Trio
    Berwald: Symphonies 1–4, Overtures
    Rott: Symphony in E
    Zemlinsky: Symphony 2
    Suk: Symphony 2, Asrael
    Bliss: A Colour Symphony, Cello Concerto, The Enchantress
    Rautavaara: Symphony 8, The Journey; Violin Concerto
    Schreker: Orchestral Works
    Adams: The Dharma at Big Sur, My Father Knew Charles Ives
    Tredici: Final Alice
    Shostakovich: Piano Concerto 2, Symphony 5, Festive Overture, Tahiti Trot

    So, thanks for reading, and if I may be so bold as to say, let’s all try to keep our eyes on the ball.

    Again, best of luck to Santa Rosa’s new conductor.

    John Marks

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    In a world filled with hucksters and Charlatans, this fellow is a gifted musician with a strong career ahead. You have to work in the provinces before you get to London Town.

    Leave him alone and focus on the real phonies in the business.

    • David R Osborne says:

      Once again, nobody, not Norman’s post, not one single comment in the thread, has in any way attacked this conductor as an artist or for that matter a person.

      I said that the promo-video itself was vacuous, because it really tells us nothing about him or his vision other than that he likes coffee, but that’s a criticism of whoever made the video, not of Mr Lecce-Chong.