Soloist, Collaborator or Both?

By: Edna Landau

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Dear Edna:

I am a pianist finishing my first of two years in a graduate program at an American conservatory. I received my undergraduate degree at the same conservatory. Over the years, I was fortunate to have been frequently sought out as a collaborative artist for recitals with singers and instrumentalists. While I have always greatly enjoyed filling this role, I still dream of the possibility of having a solo career. It is very helpful for me to have the income from this work but if I continue along this path, will I rule out that possibility altogether? –Brian W.

Dear Brian:

Since you have told me that you are often approached by your peers to collaborate with them, I assume that you excel in this area. Happily, these are times when most artists feel comfortable wearing a variety of musical hats and moving back and forth between solo appearances and collaborations, especially when opportunities present themselves to work with inspiring colleagues. Two days ago, I had the pleasure of listening to a wonderful young pianist, Michael Brown, perform a recital program with the captivating violinist, Elena Urioste. Within the previous three weeks, he had played two solo recitals in New York (with largely different programs). From what I heard and read, all three were beautifully prepared and imbued with equal enthusiasm. The truth is that you don’t need to categorize yourself and make an either/or choice, at least for now. Every career has elements of the unexpected. You may decide to play a recital with a singer and it could turn out that a manager attending the recital is so drawn to your playing that they make a point of finding out more about you. A variation of this happened early in my IMG Artists days when Charles Hamlen and I attended a recital given by one of our clients, soprano Lucy Shelton. The program featured this wonderfully versatile artist in a variety of repertoire, including Schubert’s “The Shepherd on the Rock”, with guest artist David Shifrin on clarinet. After just a few measures of his playing, we glanced at one another with total rapture and knew that we would soon be adding a clarinetist to our management roster, challenging as it was to take on a solo wind player. The important message here is that any time you set foot on stage in any capacity, it is an opportunity to be noticed.

I think it would be advisable for you to take advantage of your upcoming year at school to seek candid advice from your teacher, as well as others who know your playing, with regard to their assessment of your potential for a solo career. Keep in mind that it is difficult and time-consuming to secure solo engagements on your own or to attract the attention of a manager. As long as the collaborations are bringing in a steady income, I see no reason to give them up. If you like, you can keep your feet in both camps by entering a few competitions, if you feel prepared and motivated to do so (but I would advise against appearing as both collaborator and soloist in the same competition, even if you think it’s cool!). To get a balanced view, you might also want to consider enrolling in a collaborative piano program, such as the one offered by The Music Academy of the West. It might afford you a broader framework in which to establish your priorities, as well as opportunities to interact with a new group of performers and teachers who could lend additional perspective. Once you leave school, you might truly need to decide what your primary focus should be. Opportunities to collaborate with other musicians may be less frequent, unless you cultivate your connections and get the word out that this is a priority for you. If you are fortunate to perform with partners whose careers are on the rise, you may find great fulfillment in concerts in major cities where you might even attract positive critical attention. We are fortunate to have many superb collaborations captured on recordings, among them pianist Samuel Sanders with Itzhak Perlman and Martin Katz with Marilyn Horne. Both of these pianists gained great recognition through these partnerships and, undoubtedly, so much more.  In a wonderful YouTube video, Martin Katz relates how he grew as an artist through his association with Ms. Horne and how her standards became his standards. If he ever harbored aspirations of becoming a soloist, I doubt that he felt let down by his ultimate decision.

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© Edna Landau 2012

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