Promoting Multitalented Artists

By: Edna Landau

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of leading a Lunch and Learn seminar at the Juilliard School. This weekly series, curated by Courtney Blackwell Burton, the director of the school’s Office of Career Services, covers a variety of topics of importance to the students as they progress in their career preparation. During the Q & A session, composer Nathan Prillaman asked the following: “Many of us are involved in multiple genres of music, whether as performers, composers, producers or administrators. How should we go about branding, marketing and developing these different facets of our careers? Should we keep them under separate names with separate support systems, or should we integrate them? If the latter, how should we go about it?”

I visited Mr. Prillaman’s website to see how he was currently dealing with this quandary. His home page shared some basic biographical information which revealed the range of his activities (including the fact that he was writing a musical), but I particularly liked two sentences that I found on an inside page: “Nathan Prillaman is a composer and producer based in New York City. Trained at Juilliard and Yale, his music lives in the club, the concert hall, and everywhere in between.” I felt that they would have been very welcome on his home page as an intro to his bio. He has a tab called “Works” with all of his compositions and a Media tab which offers both audio and video samples of his works. The setup feels totally right to me at this stage of Mr. Prillaman’s career and it is evident that his production expertise has evolved naturally from presentations of his work.

The situation becomes more complicated when a young performer who aspires to achieve recognition in one genre wants to simultaneously embark on another area of performance. I encountered this in my work with pianist Jeffrey Kahane, who began receiving unsolicited conducting offers in 1988, five years after winning First Prize in the Arthur Rubinstein Piano Competition and seven years after capturing a top prize in the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. My instincts were to continue to capitalize on the momentum that was building and leading to more and more prestigious invitations as a pianist and to gradually pursue opportunities that would strengthen his confidence and expertise as a conductor. I felt that the time would come when his primary reputation would simply be as a superb musician, and that opportunities to both play and conduct would abound. Happily, this proved to be true as Mr. Kahane is a regular soloist and guest conductor with leading orchestras and is in his 17th season as Music Director of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Every once in a while, an artist displays multiple talents at an early age and has the good fortune to develop them fairly equally without sacrificing his or her psychological well-being or causing any conflict in the development of their career. I was reminded of this about ten days ago when I read a New York Times review of a concert by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra which marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It included a specially commissioned work by the 19-year-old composer Conrad Tao, “The World Is Very Different Now”, which received a warm reception. (Conrad had appeared twice as pianist with the Dallas Symphony and they asked to hear some of his compositions, which greatly impressed them.) My first introduction to Conrad was when Yocheved Kaplinsky, his teacher at The Juilliard School, urged me to attend his performance of the Prokofiev Third Piano Concerto with The Juilliard Orchestra, the result of his having won the school’s Concerto Competition. I was totally blown away by his remarkable artistry and technical accomplishment at the tender age of twelve. She told me in passing that he was also an accomplished violinist and composer. I signed him to IMG Artists shortly thereafter but his career management has been handled very ably to this day by Charles Letourneau. I spoke to Charles and Conrad during the past week and both spoke of the evolution of his career as an organic process. Conrad had been playing violin and piano, as well as composing, since the age of four or five so it seemed logical to continue in that vein. He studied composition with Christopher Theofanidis and received the first of eight consecutive ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Awards at the age of nine. It was agreed that the primary focus of his promotion and career development should be on piano, but when a demo tape of a recital from the Verbier Festival that included a piano sonata by Conrad was disseminated among presenters, word spread quickly that this exceptional pianist was also a gifted composer.

After performing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in the first half of a concert with the Orchestra of the Americas in Florida in 2009 and the Mendelssohn g minor concerto in the second half, Conrad realized how much work would be involved in maintaining both disciplines to a satisfactory level and he decided to forego violin professionally. In 2011, he enrolled in the joint program offered by Juilliard and Columbia University, where he is currently pursuing a major in Ethnic Studies. The launch of his first full-length album for EMI (“Voyages”), which includes two of his own compositions, coincided with a highly imaginative and favorably received three-day festival of new music (UNPLAY) that Conrad curated and introduced on his 19th birthday. Conrad told me that this curatorial role was a natural extension of his ongoing exploration of ways to create a unique, live experience in his concert programs. While he agrees, from a branding perspective, that it may be advisable to compartmentalize the multiple skills of an artist in their younger years and even to continue to highlight their different strands of mature activity with separate website pages, he has always felt that in his case, they all fed one another. They were also part of his own exploration of his role as a musician. He feels a keen responsibility to use his gifts to make a contribution to the world and cited an interview with David Lang in The Wall Street Journal in which he spoke of the need for classical musicians to be good citizens. At this level of dedication and seriousness of purpose, it seems to matter little how an artist should focus their branding. We live in a time when the world is happy to embrace multi-talented individuals for who they are and for the inspiration they can add to their lives. The artist (together with any representative they may have) should do the best possible job of presenting themself to the public in all the ways that matter to them and leave it to the rest of us to enjoy the full range of their multifaceted artistry.

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©Edna Landau 2013

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