Artists suffer in giant agency collapse

Artists suffer in giant agency collapse


norman lebrecht

August 30, 2020

Mirga and Gergiev top the roster of CAMI conductors who will be left without an agent when the agency is shut down tomorrow.

Neither will struggle to find suitable new representation.


It’s the less starry ones who will suffere. Here‘s the conductors’ roster, on the last day of Columbia. It had 111 names in Wilford’s heyday.

Star soloists and personalities include Alma Deutscher, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Khatia Buniatishvili, Gidon Kremer, Maurizio Pollini and Denis Matsuev. Full list here.

Singers number Jamie Barton, Kathleen Battle, Mariusz Kwiecien, J’Nai Bridges and more.

Cami played a pivotal role in the organisation of classical music in America over the past 90 years. We’ll reflect on that later.



  • Emil says:

    I look forward to your thoughts on what this change means. Given the long-standing arguments that big agencies corner the market to promote their own, a more decentralised agent system might not be a bad thing and might lead to more diversity. Or could record companies take over in a sort of vertically-integrated career management role? I seem to recall a story from a few years back that DG was demanding a percentage of all earnings from artists it recorded, suggesting it sees itself de facto as a career managing industry. And the proliferation of live recordings, streamings, etc. suggests that recording companies (especially DG, that has its streaming platform) may want to pair its exclusive recording artists with each other to exploit that market to the full.

    • Grittenhouse says:

      It would make great sense for agencies to be converted to the nonprofit world, where they can also be hopefully more transparent and accountable.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I thought the decentralization started at least two decades ago. Am I wrong?

      • JoshW says:

        You are correct. It really started with the fall of ICM (which was becoming as big as CAMI) and then the very fast growth of Opus3 which combined leadership from ship jumpers from ICM and CAMI. Then IMG started to fall apart and a lot of boutique agencies sprung up from people leaving that company.

  • Emil says:

    Also, add-on to my previous comment; does this mean anything for orchestras that are looking for new MDs, such as the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal? I notice Juanjo Mena – rumoured to be a contender – is/was on the CAMI roster – is he at a disadvantage if his agent goes bust? Or no change?

    • JoshW says:

      No change. Once the Wilford stranglehold was broken, the managements started to lose their power. That, combined with some maverick choices of younger generation conductors, started to change the complexion of MD searches.

  • Fiddlist says:


  • Stay Calm. says:

    Most of the singers will be calling Alan Green by Monday morning.

  • Fiddlist says:

    And Lynn Harrell… Twice… When’s the last time that website was updated?

  • Jeremy Higgins says:

    Whatever you think about agents, this is sad news. It’s people’s jobs and livelihoods. I wish everyone luck for the future.

  • Concertgoer says:

    CAMI dominated for 50 years. Glad its stench is gone!

    As Norman notes, the Gergievs and Mutters and Pollinis will be fine. The lesser known artists shouldn’t have been at CAMI in the first place.

    It was always a good rule and still is — if you’re a little name, go with a little agent; if you’re medium, go with a medium rep; when you’re big, take big representation.

  • And the Beat Goes On says:

    Gergiev is left without an agent? Tell that to Doug Sheldon…

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    So very sorry to learn of the closure of Columbia Artists. There have been historic pivotal shifts in managerial concerns since the 20th century. When the great (Sol) Hurok Concerts closed its era of artist management, the dedicated staff branched off and formed their own concerns, which carried through for several decades. There will certainly be wonderful new creations in agencies once again, and as a post-pandemic world slowly evolves over time, these agencies and artists will create a new world of sharing music with a thirsty world anticipating a Neo-Renaissance. This promises to be an historic moment, a positive turn, and one which we all patiently await, all the while preparing now creatively for these events to unfold when science and time allow. Stay safe, stay strong.

  • Nick2 says:

    If the much loathed (by many) CAMI has gone down the drain, does that mean the other large agencies like IMG Artists and Opus 3 will be far behind?

    • Golaud says:

      Please remind me why we need these people at all. Doesn’t talent sell itself? So the very talented, and the very busy, may need people to arrange their travel and accommodation but beyond that? Cut out the middlemen and let the artists keep the 20% commissions they pay to their business parasites

      • JoshW says:

        There’s a lot more to representing an artist than just answering the phone and penciling a date. Managers work very hard and if you think they get rich from their profession, you don’t understand the business. (And no, I’m not an agent.)

      • William Safford says:

        “Doesn’t talent sell itself?”

        If you mean in the metaphorical sense, doesn’t the mere fact that a musician is talented lead to a successful career?

        The answer: rarely.

        If you mean in the literal sense, that talented people put out the effort to do all the work that agents do?

        Many do.

        Then again, most musicians without agents spend large amounts of their time and effort just to get those paying jobs.

        I know of one mid-level small chamber group that is self-managed. Each member literally spends at least two hours per day, every weekday, doing only outreach to possible employers, performance spaces, and so forth.

        That is before getting to things like grant writing, transportation and housing scheduling, and other logistics.

        All of those hours spent doing logistics, are hours when they are not practicing, rehearsing, or performing–that is to say, that they are not doing what their ultimate job is.

        For many such individuals and ensembles, it is worth it to have an agent. For other ones, it may be better to self-represent.

  • Grittenhouse says:

    I believe they had already shed their harpists, who would be the most vulnerable, as only a handful can afford to pay agents.

  • Mark E Shulgasser says:

    … or have they just packed up their bags because concerts have shriveled under Covid?

  • Andy says:

    And what of CAMI Music, LLC?

  • Sharon says:

    Economists say that perhaps that one third of the over 20000 restaurants and eateries in New York City may eventually close because of Covid in spite of some government aid and that they can be partially opened now (for outdoor dining, delivery and takeout). How much more so for the arts?

    I hope Biegel is right but I am not as optimistic. The arts and entertainment are always the first to suffer during economic recessions and depressions.

    Yes, things will evolve but on a lesser scale and with less full time employment. The “wonderful new creations” of which Biegel speakes will be mainly technical advances which will allow more people to perform together remotely more easily.

    But man, for me, and for many many others a integral part of the performing arts experience is being able to go out, eat in a restaurant and then enjoy the experience with others in a theater or concert hall. It just won’t be the same

  • Looks like they took down the lists under “Conductors” and others (instrumentalists, etc.) already.

  • Tom Phillips says:

    Don’t feel bad for Gergiev at all – he’ll always have Putin to back him up and his best days are far behind him in any case.

  • Darien says:

    Why are there two websites, CAMI music and Columbia Artists, but they use their names interchangeably? Can someone help explain…which one went down? both?