Shock move: Major US conservatory buys out ailing artists agency

Shock move: Major US conservatory buys out ailing artists agency


norman lebrecht

October 20, 2020

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music has agreed to acquire Opus 3 Artists, an international agency that was hovering on the brink during the Covid pandemic.

The move is without precedent. Conservatories have generally kept a sanitised distance between their work and the music business. This is blue-sky thinking at its bluest hue. No-one fully knows how it will work.

Opus 3 Artists will continue to operate as an autonomous company with 250 artists on its books.

SFCM has a student roll of 500. David H. Stull, President of SFCM, will serve as Chairman of the joint venture. David V. Foster will continue as President and CEO of Opus 3 Artists. He said: ‘The alliance is a triumph of new thinking and possibility for the future at a critical time in the performing arts. Thoughtful and imaginative collaboration is the currency of success for our common future. Opus 3’s artist managers and staff enthusiastically embrace this opportunity for ourselves and our clients, and we all share the aspiration to keep music vibrant and to support participation for all in every community.’

Although the deal was done by the two Davids, the conductor Marin Alsop, who is an Opus3 artist, is a joint connection.

She tells Slipped Disc: ‘Whenever two dynamic organisations come together in order to achieve more it’s a cause for celebration. When it’s the agency that I’ve been with for most of my career, Opus 3 Artists, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music it makes for an especially auspicious union. I’m excited by the plans already agreed and the many more that are being developed and look forward to exploring how I can contribute to this alliance. At a time when all performers have been affected by the pandemic it’s wonderful to be able to welcome such a significant investment in the performing arts that shows us all that ‘this too will pass’ and that the future is full of opportunities to grow and expand our work in bringing the wonder of the performing arts to as many people as possible.’


The cellist Yo Yo Ma said: ‘Culture is about connection and creativity, and this new alliance is fuelled by both.  I cannot wait to see how Opus 3 and the San Francisco Conservatory find new ways to build on their impressive legacies and create the kind of multi-generational, cross-disciplinary cultural work that our future demands.’


  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Brilliant and new way to fuse education and the music business to ensure a route to the future. Could well set a new precedent for the 21st century survival of education and the resulting arts performances. Brava to Marin, a pioneer, forward thinking leader in our musical world.

    • Nick says:

      A sure way to new corruption concepts in music business!! Would be much better if SFC, having so much money, would contribute to fight homelessness and opioid addiction in SF!!!

  • drummerman says:

    The press release refers to an “anonymous angel investor who made this possible.” I can not, for the life of me, understand how the Conservatory benefits from this. Are they thinking that Opus 3 makes such a huge profit that they will reap financial benefits? Me thinks not.

    • Bill says:

      The benefits they see(k) may be other than a revenue stream from Opus 3. Just because you can’t understand that there might be a benefit to such a vertical integration doesn’t mean that no one else can.

    • Musicman says:

      It can help them recruit students who see a path on to Opus 3’s roster, which is owned by the conservatory.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Drummerman: do you think the scheme might be a way to get a big tax write-off?
      I know nothing about that stuff, other than it happens all the time.
      And the corruption angle, as brought up by other commentators: possible and probable.
      Man, that school has changed since I went there.

  • John Gingrich says:

    There have long been congenial and unofficial connections between conservatories and managements, often cemented by one or two important artists, so this will be fun to watch.

  • caranome says:

    Two turkeys don’t make an eagle.

  • Skippy says:

    I think it’s brilliant. The agency just has to break even and the conservatory comes out ahead…possibly way ahead. It’s essentially purchased a career placement office for its star students, one that will, in turn, attract other talented prospects.

    One way to distinguish yourself from the competition. If I were New England Conservatory, or Eastman, or Peabody, or Curtis, or [fill in the bracket], I’d be slapping my forehead wondering why I hadn’t thought of this.


  • Firing Back says:

    Lovely story and all that, but what the heck has it got to do with Marin Alsop? Did she study at the SFCM? No. Does she teach there? No.
    How, then, is she a ‘joint connection’?

    As for her chocolate-box words: ‘…that shows us all that ‘this too will pass’… what is she talking about?
    No critical thinking there at all.

  • B.W. says:

    I sadly don’t see what kind of synergy a conservatory of music could bring to a bloated artist management agency like Opus3. There is certainly no experience nor expertise in managing an organization of this kind and saying that it is a pathway from conservatory to professional career, while it sounds nice, really doesn’t require this arrangement to make that happen. Furthermore, with all respect to the San Francisco Conservatory, they have not produced the legends of the past or present in large numbers. Curtis and Julliard would first come to mind, so I don’t get this arrangement and don’t see how it will be beneficial to the San Franciso Conservatory.
    Another point that needs to be looked at is the entire business model of Opus3. With offices on Park Avenue and senior managers being paid three figure salaries, there is no way, in any arrangement, and with the current, mid-term and long-term evolution of the business that it can maintain that outdated and excessive model without collapsing. The first thing should be for all of the management at Opus3 to take a 60%-75% pay cut, then get out of their offices on Park Avenue and downsize to something more in harmony with the times and the future of the business. Otherwise, I fear that the San Francisco Conservatory just joined forces with an obese albatross and they will seriously regret their decision in a very short time.

    • at says:

      They’ve already given up the office on Park Avenue South, And the salaries of most of the staff are already embarrassingly low; a 60-75% cut would put most well below poverty level. In normal times, the top artists earn in a single performance the equivalent of a year’s salary for a mid-level manager.

      • I Walk The Walk says:

        “Top artists”? The would be about 10 people. “Embarrassingly low”? Who’s embarrassed? What do they do, anyway? Besides steal?

    • drummerman says:

      Well said!

    • Scout says:

      There is no ‘bloat.’ For a major agency with a roster of that size (250), their staffing is already incredibly efficient and lean compared to others in the industry. And like every other artist agency in these times, they’ve already had to reduce staff and salaries early on during the pandemic to maximize operational longevity.

      And this partnership seems like a brilliant and timely idea – innovative and unprecedented. In business you have to be enterprising and take advantage of timing, and even terrible times yield opportunities. In this case both institutions saw a creative solution that could be mutually beneficial and made the pivot.

  • Matthias Goerne says:

    Very good news for culture and artists in this difficult time.

  • EMore says:

    Obviously schools like Juilliard and others DO have secret, or not too secret, connections with other artist management companies which is why they have artists like Perlman, who got his management through them or a close connection (Delay aka Juilliard). San Francisco is hoping to reap the same benefits for their ‘stars’ because frankly, the (classical) music business is not in a great position right now, they weren’t really before, and kids cannot get gigs anymore–They are hoping that by literally buying the company that represents people like Alsop, who has gigs with orchestras (pre and post covid of course)that they will get their stars some jobs and thereby attract paying students to their conservatory to keep that going. It is a smart business deal for them. I am sure this also secures guest artists (Opus 3 artists) to come visit their school, teach, etc…Which will attract attention.

  • NotToneDeaf says:

    The Conservatory now owns a profit-making venture – so it’s no longer non-profit and therefore can’t raise money?? I’m also trying to figure out why Opus3 would want to tie itself to a third-rate conservatory. And what kind of agency allows itself to be compromised by this kind of relationship? I’m trying to be open-minded about this – and maybe it will change the industry in positive ways I don’t yet understand – but it certainly seems fraught.

    • Nicholas Bellafranco says:

      An agency that would be going under in short order would definitely welcome funding coming via the deep pocketed board of a major Conservatory. And it helps nobody in the classical world for Opus 3 to vanish, since they have discovered and nurtured so many of today’s greatest musicians. So this is a win win and I congratulate them both for being creative and helping keep this precious slice of the music industry afloat in this awful time.

    • Bill says:

      You’ll forgive us if we don’t come to you for tax advice 🙂

      A 501c(3) non-profit such as the SFCM CAN own a for-profit business. There are some rules that have to be followed, but nothing too difficult. Do you think the Juilliard Store is a non-profit? It’s not.

      Disregarding the “third-rate” snark, why wouldn’t an agency in dire financial straits be willing to be acquired by an institution that could keep them from going out of business like many others?

    • I Walk The Walk says:

      “I’m also trying to figure out why Opus3 would want to tie itself to a third-rate conservatory.” When we can’t figure it out, it’s about money and corruption. Somebody will be making tons o’ money and it won’t be the actual musicians doing the work.

  • Per Erik Veng says:

    Great idea! We have to work much more together in this challenging world.

  • Paganono says:

    I don’t see how either organization benefits from this merger. Even if there was a guarantee that the conservatory students would end up on the Opus 3 roster, that’s no guarantee that Opus 3 can get these unknowns any work (which they probably can’t). If this arrangement somehow keeps Opus 3’s door open, that’s great – but how?

  • Simon says:

    Interesting move and I wish them the best of luck. The people at Opus3 are all quality people (except maybe one) and their leader is intelligent and kind and has the added benefit of not having defrauded the New York State pension fund and placed his uninteresting wife on the company’s roster.

  • Sir David Geffen-Hall says:

    Being a businessman and a musician, it comes down to some very simple questions:
    > what were the terms of the deal (what price was paid for Opus 3 by the Conservatory)?
    > what are the synergies between the two organizations?
    > why now? There are no concerts in the foreseeable future so the timing doesn’t quite make sense unless SFCM is going to pay salaries during a dormant period
    > I assume that the managers of OP 3 will teach music business at the SFCM but how many managers will the industry need after the Pandemic is over?
    > What does OP 3 get from the SFCM after the Pandemic is over and things return to normal.

  • Peter says:

    If this is such a good idea, why didn’t Marin arrange this merger with the Peabody Institute where she is on the faculty?

  • Nijinsky says:

    I fail to see how this negotiates any dramatic difference.

    It’s exactly the academics and then present classical music impresario institutions that exploit past composers, which would be fine, but they do it in a way that would have made it impossible for that music to exist the way it came about. The academics dissecting the classics to such a degree that it would seem that someone has to have some method as excuse for what they do; and the impresarios acting like the music is there ( or theres, oops I mean theirs) regardless of how it came about, and whether or not they are cutting off such a flow of human creativity.

    That in contrast to the more popular genres of music that – apart from the more and more stimulant effect, as if there’s something wrong with peace and quiet, as if one would die from it – do have a decent percentage of actually creative people that do their own thing, and present that; rather than a beauty show of who does the classics better. And I’m not saying that the classics aren’t worth hearing over and over again, and it’s a wonder to be amazed how flexible they are by essence, and encompass the space for a whole variety of personalities and cultures to express themselves within their discipline; but it’s become so much about someone’s ability that it’s a new sort of colonialism: Who’s best at extracting out of the classics their brand of making people addicted: creating a market, and turning themselves and their fans into commodities?

    I find such a presumption that what they exploit will just always be there, along with the dismissal of what such neglect brings about.

    It’s like the depletion of the rain forest, the plastic islands in the oceans, the loss of respect for indigenous cultures whose whole history contains a relationship with nature and a knowledge of her healing essence that can’t be copyrighted and thus is dismissed unless extracted again into pharmaceuticals, or the resources for more consumer oriented addictions that are manufactured…

    And there you have cultures where the arts weren’t a luxury, they were part of the spiritual life, the songs that expressed their history, and a belief that they had a soul….

    That wasn’t about making people addicted in order to make profits, and act the like $$$$$$$$ acquired brought safety, happiness or “power” or “prestige” or….

    Sorry, I don’t see how this is some dramatic new turn; and I wouldn’t have wanted all of clients of opus 3 to be out on a limb, either.

    And heh, no insult to Turkeys either….

  • I Walk The Walk says:

    YAY!!! Yet a new path to corruption and cronyism. And students will work for cheap. A win/win or lose/lose depending.