Episode: After Ronald Wilford, Classical Music's Super-Agent, Who Calls the Shots?


Conducting Business Logo
Subscribe
After Ronald Wilford, Classical Music's Super-Agent, Who Calls the Shots?

Ronald A. Wilford, once classical music's biggest power broker, died on June 13 at age 87.

Wilford was an artist manager of the old school, wielding major control over the business but keeping a very low profile. In 50 years at Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI), he was the power behind the thrones occupied by James Levine, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa and Herbert von Karajan, among other conductors. With his legendary client roster, Wilford was able to call the shots and secure bookings for lesser-known artists in exchange for one of his A-listers.

But the classical music business has changed dramatically since Ronald Wilford's glory days – and so has the role of the artist manager.

This week's episode looks at Wilford's legacy and the future of artist management with Bill Palant, the founder and managing director of Étude Arts, a new artist management agency; until last month he was a vice president at IMG Artists. Also joining us is David Middleton, a managing partner at Alliance Artist Management, and a onetime employee of Ronald Wilford's CAMI.

"Mr. Wilford had the benefit of being in a position to shape and drive programming globally," said Palant, by essentially forcing orchestras to take the soloists his conductors wanted. But that style of deal-making has become far less routine. "It's no longer a quid pro quo where you say to the orchestra 'my conductor is coming and he or she wants this quartet for a Beethoven Ninth Symphony.'"

Middleton agrees, noting, "In my days at CAMI, there was a sense of heavy-handedness, and that control wasn't felt so well in the industry, particularly on the presenting side."

The management business may still exercise some hard-nosed tactics, but Palant and Middleton say that stealing other firms’ clients is a no-no. "In my experience, there is a respect for each other where we try not to poach artists if at all possible, particularly if it's from a manager that we respect," said Palant. But if a major artist approaches another manager, wanting to jump ship, "then it's fair play.”

Listen to our guests' comments on the future of artist management at the top of this page and share your reactions below.



Conducting Business
Users who viewed this episode also viewed...

Conducting Business > American Orchestras Grapple With Lack of Diversity

Ethnic diversity remains a troublesome question for American orchestras. Just over four percent of their musicians are African-American and Latino, according to the League of American Orchestras, and when it comes to orchestra boards and CEOs, the numbers are even starker: only one percent. Ethnic diversity is also a rare sight among guest soloists and conductors...

Conducting Business > Arias in the Arena: Are Sporting Events Good for Opera?

We're halfway into 2014 and opera has already worked its way into three of the year's biggest athletic events. For those keeping score, there was Renée Fleming's pop-tinged version of the national anthem at the Super Bowl; Anna Netrebko's take on the Olympic Anthem during the opening the Sochi Olympics; and on July 11th, two days before the finale of the World Cup, longtime soccer fan Placido Domingo will perform a concert in Rio de Janeiro with soprano Ana Maria Martinez (and pianist Lang Lang).

Conducting Business > Why Russia Wants to Take Rachmaninoff From Westchester

An international dispute arose last month when Russia announced its intentions to reclaim Rachmaninoff's remains from a cemetery in Valhalla, NY. Russian cultural minister Vladimir Medinsky claimed that Americans have neglected the composer's grave (pictured above) while attempting to "shamelessly privatize" his name...
Comments (0)

Login or Sign up to leave a comment.

Log in
Sign up

Be the first to comment.