Exposure more important than money for early career

Many classical musicians struggle to be heard, clamour for any chance they can to get out in front of an audience. While there are numerous competitions that award money, it turns out the exposure from performances ends up being the most beneficial to budding musicians. Tim Madigan reporting for the Ft Worth Star-Telegram wrote a nice article about the Van Cliburn Piano Competition and the 1997 winner of the award, Jon Nakamatsu, and how winning the award changed his career from math teacher to classical performer.

The difference for Jon was the number of performances he received as part of the award. The Van Cliburn winner and finalists will enjoy three years of professional management and share more than 300 engagements in venues all across the US. This amount of exposure is infinitely more important than money as it gives audiences and reviewers a chance to get to know the performer. The article also talks about some of the pitfalls of that kind of sudden mass exposure, but off all the examples, the end result is still extremely positive, if not also very demanding.

It would be a boon to the classical music world and to new musicians if other competitions would take the same tack with their awards, particularly for composers. Currently most "Call for Scores" offer a single performance and perhaps a recording. While the recording is nice in allowing the composers something tangible to send to other organization to try and get them to perform the piece, it doesn't actually give the composer very broad exposure.

In both Scotland and England, a grant for commissioning a new work requires the work is performed in more than one location. So, numerous competitions only providing one location (one concert) can't apply for funding assistance, at least not specifically for commissioning new works. However, if they add just one more location to their performances, not only is the additional funding a possibility, but the composer gets a chance to get broader exposure. If symphonies could create cooperative agreements in performing new works, a single orchestral competition could see numerous performances without necessarily creating a great deal more cost. This would also help the composers in terms of their costs, as producing scores and parts can be expensive, but multiple performances of a single work help defray the cost.

Imagine the kind of exposure a composer would get if the New York Philharmonic performed a piece, that was 2 weeks later performed by the LA Philharmonic, followed by a performance by the National Symphony Orchestra. In the space of a single month the composer would not only have 3 performances by three different conductors leading to three potentially different interpretations, but there would be reviews of the piece from numerous different newspapers. This sort of exposure could launch not only a new work, but a new composer into classical world, greatly adding to the chance of success.

The flip side of this sort of success is the exposure the orchestras can get by having been among the first to play these new works. If a composer gains notoriety, those that were the first to recognize his talent can share in the fame. Ft Worth gets a great deal of press from the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, but in the article, the first few orchestras to host the winners in performances were also mentioned in the article. Free publicity just for having hosted the winner performer.

Marin Alsop is a conductor that appreciates and champions new works both with the Cabrillo New Music Festival in California and as conductor for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. However, we (composers) need a lot more of this sort of exposure. There is a lot of really good music being written, but too seldom is it getting heard.


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