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.

his spring, 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 audition.

"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 SYMPHONY.