The Other Side of 57th Street
by Chester Lane
Fostering young artists in the nation's music business capital: Two non-traditional managements celebrate anniversary milestones.
A half century ago, when impresario Sol Hurok was dazzling American audiences
with superstars like Artur Rubinstein, and Arthur Judson held sway as the czar
of both Columbia Artists Management Inc. and the New York Philharmonic, a more
altruistic approach to presenting musicians found its first flowering across the
street from Carnegie Hall. On October 20, 1951, the first in a series of eight
musicales organized by the newly incorporated Concert Artists Guild took place
at Steinway Hall, the purpose being to give emerging musicians a chance to be
heard. Among those featured that season was fourteen-year-old pianist Samuel
Sanders, who would soon go on to debut with the New York Philharmonic and
eventually develop a distinguished career as accompanist to such artists as
Itzhak Perlman, Beverly Sills, and Mstislav Rostropovich. Three years after
launching that musicale series, Concert Artists Guild adopted the system for
identifying career potential that remains its hallmark today: a competition
whose winners would be rewarded with a New York solo debut.
as CAG entered a year of celebrations surrounding its 50th anniversary -- the
kickoff was a round of competition finals at New York's Merkin Concert Hall on
April 2 -- another organization with a stellar record for identifying and
nurturing talent, Young Concert Artists, was preparing to wind up its 40th
anniversary season with a special benefit concert. Scheduled for May 16 at
Equitable Center Auditorium, close to Carnegie Hall, it will feature members of
the current YCA roster along with such illustrious alumni as Ani and Ida
Kavafian, Dawn Upshaw, Emanuel Ax, Fazil Say, Ruth Laredo, Paula Robison, Carter
Brey, and Fred Sherry. Leading up to this event was a series of five lunchtime
recitals at New York's Morgan Library, each pairing a YCA alumnus or alumna with
a young musician from the current roster.
YCA uses auditions to identify
outstanding instrumentalists and singers. Each of the winners -- the number has
ranged from five to seven in recent years -- gets $5,000 and a spot on the YCA
roster for a minimum of three years, and each non-winning finalist receives an
award of $1,000. The winners are presented in recital debuts at New York's 92nd
Street Y and Washington's Kennedy Center, and also featured in concerto debuts
with the New York Chamber Symphony and in mixed solo and chamber music concerts
at Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall. For management services YCA musicians are
charged what Founder Susan Wadsworth calls "a token fee" -- from five to twenty
percent of their net earnings, on a sliding scale.
A Caring Family
A testimonial that appeared in Concert Artist Guild's program for its
35th anniversary Gala Awards Dinner sums up the experience of many artists with
nonprofit management. "It's a feeling of patronage," wrote soprano Evelyn Lear.
"To be associated with The Guild is to feel you're part of a big, caring
family." Winner of CAG's first competition in the 1954-55 season, Lear was
presented that spring in a debut at Town Hall. She went on to a major career in
Europe and at the Metropolitan Opera, then launched a second career as a concert
narrator in the 1990s. Like other CAG awardees -- including flutist Carol
Wincenc, a 1972 winner -- Lear has continued her involvement with the
organization as a jurist.
Violinist Ani Kavafian is one of the rare
individuals to have been presented by both CAG and YCA. Kavafian remembers
playing some outreach concerts (a hospital and a prison) during her one year
with CAG in 1971-72, and with CAG's blessing she entered and won the YCA
"I give YCA full credit for starting my career," says
Kavafian, who now maintains a schedule of about 95 concerts a year. "It's
probably the only management left that really coddles their artists -- looking
at where the concerts are, trying to upgrade every year to better places,
looking into getting you interviews everywhere you go, helping you pick out
pieces, choose the look you want." Wadsworth, she says, "always made sure of
everything. I gave my New York recital and Susan was backstage an hour before
the performance helping me with my hair. We laugh about it now, because at the
time we didn't want to think about our hair! But she was right -- she wanted us
to look our best."
No one knows at eighteen or twenty whether they will
have a major long-term career, and Wadsworth notes that many ultimately
successful artists lack confidence at the beginning. But YCA takes special pride
in having picked a long string of artists who've gone on to big careers. "I
remember Pinchas Zukerman standing in my kitchen and saying, 'Susan, do you
think I'm going to make it?' He was about eighteen then.
"And I said,
'of course! You're going to be one of the biggest stars in the whole world.
Don't worry about it.'"
Chester Lane is senior editor of