Saturday, October 16, 2010

Alfred Brendel Master Class

This morning I attended a master class given by Alfred Brendel, at the New England Conservatory. As an alum of NEC, it has been exciting to see the growth in the school, which has (from my perspective) evolved from a first-rate school to a truly exceptional school (judging from the caliber of faculty and students there). Kudos should go to Bruce Brubaker, the Chair of NEC's Piano Dept, for arranging to have Brendel there (he gave a class yesterday as well).

The highlight for me was the fact that afterward I was able (briefly) to meet Brendel, shake his hand, and meekly ask that he sign a copy of one of his books, "Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts." I have always admired Brendel, not only for his actual playing but also for his uncompromising, principled approach to music-making, putting the composer first and continually exploring and growing. As an example of Brendel's artistry, here is a video clip of him playing the 2nd movement from the A major Sonata of Schubert (D. 899):

In fact, one of the most memorable concert going experiences of my youth was hearing Brendel in an all-Schubert recital, one of four all-Schubert concerts he was giving in one week at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles. I was struck by the depth and commitment of his playing - not a note was played without purpose, without a wealth of exploration and consideration behind it.

Brendel made his career playing, primarily, a segment of the repertoire that is considered more "serious," which is to say Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. He also has devoted considerable time to elevating the music of Liszt, who is sometimes seen as a less important composer than he is. But I am not aware of any performances of his of great Russian or French composers, and while somewhere at my mother's house is an old recording of him playing Chopin Polonaises, it is not his finest hour. His interest in playing the very pinnacle of great music (perhaps even a refusal to play "trifles") is something I have always identified with. I have more recently been able, happily, to develop an interest in music outside the great German/Austrian tradition, but for better or for worse I have spent most of my life focused on the same music as Brendel, and probably for some of the same reasons.

With all that in mind, I should restate how excited I was to meet this great artist. The masterclass itself was, however, not the "ideal" masterclass. I have learned that teaching a masterclass is not (or should not be) the same as teaching a lesson. Somehow the teacher needs to generalize certain ideas so that the whole audience can find a way to apply them in other situations - that is, not only, "this passage is too soft" but more generally "in Beethoven we need to notice the distinction he makes between 'piano' and 'pianissimo'" To his credit, Brendel was focused totally on the music at hand (two Beethoven pieces: the Piano Trio op. 1#1, and the String Quartet op. 132 - covering two extreme ends of Beethoven's career). He didn't make any effort to engage the audience - he was speaking to the performers about what they were doing, and if we the audience wanted to listen in, that was our business.

In both cases (I arrived late and didn't hear the first 30 minutes of the trio), the performers were all very fine students, who had mastered all of the technical requirements of the music, and had commendable ideas about the character and color of the music they were playing. Brendel in general did not talk in abstract terms about what the music was "saying," but instead expressed himself almost entirely in strictly musical terms - "play off the string" or "fix the balance so I can hear the melody more clearly." I know that his concept of these pieces is profound and insightful, and much more than just a collection of notes/dynamics/tempos, but he seemed to feel most comfortable discussing the music in musical terms - but, in the end, this is not so scintillating for an audience. NEC's most celebrated piano teacher for the past few decades has been Russell Sherman, who *can* of course be very specific, but has the gift of getting students to hear music as more than just music. (He was not my teacher, but I had the privilege of playing for him many times while he was teaching Music 180, the chamber music course at Harvard, which he taught for one year. I remember scratching my head when he asked a violinist colleague and me to play the 2nd movement of the Brahms A major Sonata "like the rotation of the spheres." But now, I have to say, that image has stuck with me, and it has encouraged me to "aim for the stars," so to speak, rather than only to think in technical terms).

In other words, the good news with Brendel is that HE knows the music inside and out and there is truly no B.S. in what he says. The bad news is that the only obvious benefit derived from his teaching is to somebody playing that specific piece under discussion (the performers playing on stage, and possibly those in the audience who may perform the same piece). This is fine for a lesson, but a public class - especially what may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to hear from this great artist - needs to have more, shall I say, platitudes and life lessons.

Brendel, perhaps as a show of modesty, sat in the audience in Jordan Hall, equipped with a clip microphone so we could hear him; the alternative would be to sit on stage, near the performers where we all could see him. By not doing so, he did focus our attention on the music, rather than on him - which seems fitting from an artist who always put the music ahead of his own ego.

One comment he made, however, WAS of a general nature, and is worth sharing. Referring to a passage where the performers were playing very literally, he asked them to make a little crescendo as the pitches were going up - then he said, "Not everything is written down - sometimes we have to follow the logic of the music." This struck me as a wonderful piece of wisdom coming from someone who has always been held up as an exemplar of adherence to the composer's score. In Harold Schonberg's classic book, "The Great Pianists," he lumps together Brendel and Pollini as part of a (then) new breed of "objective" pianists, who put their own "feelings" aside, according to Schonberg, in favor of following the printed score to the utmost. I have never felt that Brendel was holding back his emotions, or that he did not have a total investment in the music (I have, on the other hand, seen that at times from Pollini), and I think Brendel made an important point to those students (and all of us in the audience), that we do, sometimes, have to read between the lines.

By the way - this master class was presented free of charge. NEC seems to organize a large number of masterclasses, not only by pianists, and I believe that many if not all are open to the public. It was great to be there today - to some people I am a teacher, but I also know that I am and should always be a student as well. The blessing of being a musician - and the curse of being a musician - is that we are never done learning.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bruce Sutherland

I found out today that my teacher, Bruce Sutherland, with whom I studied from age 7 until 16 or so, passed away a few days ago. He was a wonderful teacher, a loving and patient man, who inspired so many students with his love of music and his tireless pursuit of the highest artistic heights. There was nothing false or insincere about him, and any student of his learned to be, as he was, always at the service of the music.

I know he had success teaching students at various different levels of ability and a different ages. I studied with him at a crucial point in my development. Previously, I had studied with a great teacher who specialized (and continues to specialize) in teaching young children. Ann Pittel (to whom I also owe a great deal!) made music fun, and lessons often included running around the room, singing, dancing, etc. - all appropriate and necessary for a five year old, no matter how interested in or talented at the piano.

When it came time to move on, she had suggested a few possible teachers, and I knew right away that Bruce was the right teacher for me. But I was in for a bit of a shock: he was a real disciplinarian, and would not accept, even from a 7-year-old boy, a messy performance of, say, a Bach Invention or Sinfonia. To this post I am going to attach a youtube video of an interview I did about a year ago where I told a story about my lesson where we spent the whole hour on 3-4 measures. I won't repeat the whole story here in writing, but I can say that such a demanding teacher was not something I had expected!

More than any other single teacher, Bruce gave me my piano technique. (Although for some reason he spelled it "technic.") He taught me how to practice in a systematic way (introducing me to such instruments of torture as the metronome - which really has turned out to be a friend in my years of practicing) and while he was always generous with encouragement, he was never satisfied with any performance, in a lesson, in a studio recital, a competition, or anywhere, that included wrong notes.

He also helped us to listen to ourselves. I never liked doing it, but he included solfege as part of many lessons, as a way of training our ear and our reading ability. He introduced me to the playing of the great pianists both by playing their recordings for me (he had an enormous library of LP's and later of CD's) and by taking me to concerts with him. In that way he helped me not to compare myself to other piano students, but to try to live up to the playing of the great pianists of the world. When learning a Chopin piece, he had me study very carefully the recordings of Rubinstein, even having try once to "play along" with a recording. He said, "now you just had a lesson with Rubinstein!".

That illustrates to me an important part of Bruce as a teacher: he was humble, and was always continuing to learn. He would pass along his new discoveries or ideas to us, or share a new recording he had just heard. Not only did this make him a more and more interesting teacher, but it taught his students that we too must always be growing and learning.

As a teacher myself, I find that I borrow (OK, steal) from the things he would say to me. And it works! I was indeed fortunate to have him as a teacher, but also as a friend. He went above and beyond what my mother paid him for, which was weekly lessons, usually Friday night at 7:30pm. I spent many an afternoon after school at his house practicing (he had many pianos, and they were better than mine) and he would not infrequently drop in to correct a wrong note or suggest a fingering or musical idea. He came to every performance or audition of mine he possibly could, both while I was student and for the many years since, to show his support and to be able to offer useful advice. My mother didn't have any family in LA when I was growing up, and so he and his sister Mitzi would have us over on Christmas every year. They were like parts of my family. (Now mind you, Bruce and Mitzi are vegetarians, so that Christmas dinner wasn't quite traditional - but I loved to share the time with them!).

Anyone can tell you that Bruce would have given you the shirt off his back, and I am so grateful not only for what he gave me, but for the example he set.

A few years ago, he decided that he wanted, after dying, to leave his money and assets to a non-profit foundation he started, AMRON. This foundation will be administered through the Colburn School for the Performing Arts, and will allow Bruce to continue to help young, deserving musicians with important performance and study opportunities.

Here is that interview I did, on the subject of Bruce Sutherland:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Confidence is Sexy

I actually Googled the title "confidence is sexy" and discovered that various people have written about this very same topic, though not (as far as I know) with reference specifically to classical music.  I have to admit that the word "sexy" is a bit beyond the scope of what I want to write about, but it was hard to resist making the statement so directly.

Which almost goes straight to my point: when we express ourselves (musically, for example) with confidence, it always sounds better than when we express ourselves with doubt.  This is true even when people say something ludicrous (musically, for example) but do it with assurance; and it is sadly true when people who have all the right reasons to play a piece a certain way do it without sounding quite sure of themselves.  I knew a guy in college who always gave the impression he knew the answer to every question.  He was, in fact, an intelligent and knowledgeable person.  But whether or not he knew the right answer, he always *sounded* like he knew the right answer, and in many contexts that was good enough.  One day, however, I happened to hear him in the middle of a conversation " Mozart, who was born in 1741..." and I realized something.  He made that erroneous statement with the same unblinking confidence with which he said everything (including the times he was probably right - mind you, he was not a musician, but a Physics major), and for everyone else (not musically knowledgeable) he sounded like an expert.  (Mozart was born in 1756).

Now when it comes to a statement like that, there is a right answer (1756) and a wrong answer (1741).  But when it comes to a musical performance there are many things which are frankly not right or wrong but simply more convincing or less convincing.  And nothing bores me more than a "correct" or "dutiful" performance of a piece of music that lacks conviction.

I don't think this releases me or any performer from the necessity of exploring, in as much depth as possible, the intentions of a composer, the conventions of his musical era, etc.  The most convincing and best performances will, in the end, be those which best bring Beethoven's or Chopin's music to life, and I know that Beethoven and Chopin were much greater musicians than me.  I know I will be more successful when I try my best to play their music "their way".  (This is easier said than done - figuring out "their way" is in many senses my whole life's work).  

But I have seen some musicians, some very fine musicians, play in too "reverential" a way, as if the music were a museum piece to be treated only with laboratory gloves in an airtight room.  You cannot play Schumann or Tchaikovsky without getting your hands dirty, so to speak.  The music is not to be admired only, but to be loved, sculpted, caressed. 

I am not an expert on pop music, and I don't listen to it very much.  But recently I was listening to the radio and had some observations. I have noticed that I find famous women who sing pop music much more attractive (sexy?) than they would be if they weren't singers.  Of course this is in part because (despite what you may think of men's interest only in women's looks) it is more sexy to be successful than to be nobody.  But specifically in pop music, I think the the singers express thoughts and ideas that most people, in their everyday lives, are a little afraid (*lacking in confidence*) to say: sentiments as gentle as the Beatles' "I want to hold your hand," or as over-the-top as R. Kelly's "I don't see nothing wrong / With a little bump and grind."  (Haha, C.S.K., I know you are reading this and laughing).  But aside from the lyrics, it is the assured stage presence and vocal projection of Christina Aguilera or Aerosmith that make them successful with the millions who buy their CD's, the people who perhaps wish *they* had the guts to say, publicly, what these singers sing about, out loud.

Where I am unsure (uh-oh, that wasn't a very sexy thing to say!) is how to draw the line between confidence (attractive) and arrogance (not attractive).  Personally, I am annoyed by the hip-hop performers who seem to focus 90% of their lyrics on saying how incredibly awesome they are.  But some of these are quite successful (just not with me).  I can say more definitely that I cannot think of even one successful musician who sounds reticent on stage - he or she may experience fear or self-doubt or shyness in "real life," but on stage it is like Siegfried slaying the dragon - no worries, no doubt, no problem. 


Steve Tyler of Aerosmith - if he weren't a singer, would this guy be attractive to women?

But here he his on stage - with that confident swagger, no wonder the girls go nuts!

Christina Aguilera - okay, she'd probably be considered gorgeous anyway, without being a pop star.  But also note how totally confident she is in concert:

Friday, July 23, 2010

the multi-purpose musician

I am nearing the end of 5 weeks at the Killington Music Festival, where I spend a good portion of each summer - in no small part because my wife, Allison Eldredge, is Artistic Director.  It is more clear to me here than anywhere else that having a successful musical career, at least in my case, depends on having a wide range of skills.  I have had to play a number of solo piano works (presumably the area in which I am most qualified, and certainly the most experienced); several chamber works; give a lecture on Schumann; teach private piano lessons; coach chamber music groups; help organize things "behind the scenes" (like setting rehearsal schedules for the various faculty concerts, putting together student chamber music groups - I do a little of this in support of my wife, who is the one actually in charge of these things); and conduct the orchestra. 

That last one - conduct an orchestra made up of students at the festival (last week I conducted a group mostly made up of faculty) - is the area where I am in some sense least experienced (I have been conducting here for the last couple of years - I've been playing and teaching for much longer), but I've noticed that many of the other things I have been doing have helped prepare me for the task of conducting.  Of course the most important ingredient in being a great conductor is being a great musician, and I have been working to become a great pianist for several decades, with the aid and inspiration of wonderful teachers and colleagues.  But I've noticed that teaching also has helped me to be a better conductor - in both cases, you are doing what you can to take what you hear and improve or refine it.  There are some differences, of course - as a conductor you start by showing what you want, before they have even played a note, and only afterwards, if that doesn't work, do you have a discussion of what you are trying to achieve.

I am glad that I have had the experience also of *playing* in orchestra, though it was a long time ago.  Growing up, I was both a pianist and cellist, and as a cellist had great teachers (Eleonore Schoenfeld and Gabor Rejto among them), and played principal cello in a few orchestras (mostly orchestra at my school, Crossroads School in Santa Monica, CA).  When I finished high school I didn't feel I could be successful playing two instruments, so I ended up focusing on the piano, which had always been more my instrument in any case.  But the experience of playing cello in orchestras and in many chamber music groups has really helped me now that I am involved with orchestras (and chamber groups) but in a different capacity.

But while this decision to "specialize" when I went to college seemed right at the time, I am seeing how clearly my life has actually required me, after all, to do a multitude of things.  (And this is only in my professional life - I also take my responsibilities as a husband and father very seriously, and these things require time and effort as well).  I don't know if I would be happy if, for example, I had the chance to earn a living solely on the basis of playing solo piano recitals, or solely as a faculty member at a conservatory.  I haven't had the chance to do this - my career has always been a patchwork of many activities, though the different activities do help and in some ways complement each other. 

The relative novelty of conducting (for me) makes it seem like I could be happy doing *only* that.  But I think it also can be a happily "diverse" career because it does require so many different kinds of activities - combining the skills of a performer, coach, lecturer (but not too much - I don't think orchestras like it!), organizer, and perhaps more.  We'll see how it goes. 

One more note about the parallels between conducting and teaching: all we can do, in either case, is improve what we are starting with.  I'm sure I'd seem like a great conductor no matter what, if I were standing in front of the Boston Symphony, just as when my most gifted students win competitions I look like a great teacher.  But in fact my hardest tasks are often unrecognized: getting an average student to sound very good is harder than making a great student sound a little greater. 

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

quick thoughts on conducting

It has been a while since my last blog post, and rather than look for a good long stretch of time when I can write, I will be brief (more brief than usual).  Perhaps Twitter has helped me realize that the value of a blog post is not automatically related to its length. 

I have been preparing for some conducting performances that I have coming up in July.  I studied conducting as a kid, but didn't really stick with it and found I needed to focus on my piano playing.  But slowly over the last few years I've been having a few opportunities and I've enjoyed it.

I want to make a quick observation or two about the process of preparing to conduct.  I have noticed that I spend a relatively larger portion of my time figuring out *how* the piece is supposed to sound (in as vivid detail as I can - I play at the piano through every section's part, sometimes alone, sometimes with other parts, and when I can manage it I play everyone's part at once; and I also try to imagine my mind exactly the sound I would hope for in the piece, from each instrument).  I do spend some time also figuring out how I expect to convey my ideas (baton technique, rehearsal strategy - I definitely need more experience to learn more about both of these!), but compared to my work as a pianist I spend much less on the "actualization" and much more on the "idea."  That is, I probably spend 40% of my time as a pianist focusing on ideas and 60% on conveying those ideas (for example making sure I play the right notes).  As a conductor, I spend 90% of my pre-rehearsal hours on making sure my ideas are clear (this is more pain-staking than it may sound).  Of course, when I get to the actual rehearsal, I have to spend about 100% of my energy on getting the ideas to actually come out from the orchestra. 

But I think many pianists (and other instrumentalists) focus too much on the "conveying" of ideas and not enough on what the actual ideas are.  They sit down and start practicing, but it's not clear even to themselves what they are trying to achieve.  I am much more efficient and effective with my practice time when I practice with a purpose, when I know what sound I have in mind. 

Just one more quick note: Youtube is a fantastic resource for a conductor who wants learn from (or steal from) the great conductors.  

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I mistakenly attributed the quote in my previous blog post to the painter Wassily Kandinsky.  Thank you to my friend Alan Fletcher for pointing out that this was in fact said by the 19th century art critic and essayist, Walter Pater ("all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music."  (From a book entitled, "The Renaissance."  You can see it in context here - it is about 4 or 5 paragraphs down).

I think I remembered it as Kandinsky because it seems to fit him: his paintings aim for a level of abstraction that is typical of music (except for program music, like the "Pastoral" Symphony or "Peter and the Wolf," or music with a text, i.e. vocal music).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

love by association

The painter Kandinsky said "All the arts aspire to the condition of music."  My understanding of this is that he saw music (particularly "absolute" music, i.e. music without a story attached to it, or words) as the most pure of the arts, one which is focused only on beauty and proportion and aesthetics, that does not rely on or refer to the outside world for its worth or comprehension.  That is, a Bach Brandenburg Concerto is beautiful and worthy without having to know a single thing about its context in history or J.S. Bach's biography or the role of 18th century composers in society.  Many of Kandinsky's paintings were completely abstract, as music often is (or can be).  In other words, a painting such as the one pictured above (this one is entitled, "Transverse Line" from 1923) is not "about" something (unlike, say "Washington Crossing the Delaware," below:)
Ideally, I suppose that music is supposed to be beautiful, regardless of our background, our experience, our knowledge.  If Aliens encounter the Voyager spacecraft that NASA launched in 1977, they can hear a recording of various musical creations from Earth, including Glenn Gould playing some Bach, some Indonesian Gamelan music, and the "Cavatina" from Beethoven's op. 130 Quartet.  (The complete list of what is on the record carried on the spacecraft is here).  Will they appreciate it?  (Will they even have ears?)

I don't think people should need (or want) a lecture before hearing a Beethoven Symphony.  But it is naive to think that we only understand or appreciate music for its intrinsic musical qualities.  Much of what we love about certain pieces of music (or dislike about other pieces of music) has to do with what we associate with them.  For example, when we hear songs that were popular in our childhood, it can put us in a good mood simply by bringing us back to that time.  Recently my children were in an ice-skating show where they skated to music by various current pop musicians.  When I hear these songs, it brings a smile to my face not because the music is particularly good, but because I immediately recall the fun they had.

In college, a friend of mine from India recounted a story where an experiment was done in a class he was taking.  Students were played various types of music, and asked to write down their associations with the music.  Heavy metal might evoke responses like "bikers" or "leather and spikes."  When they played some Indian classical music,

his associated emotions were things like "summer in Bengal", but his non-Indian friends were writing things like, "hippies," "drugs," and "the 60's."  Similarly, when I hear Mexican Ranchera music, I cannot help but start to taste freshly fried tortilla chips and pico de gallo, since many of the restaurants I loved going to as a kid would have a jukebox playing this kind of music.

I wonder what people "associate" with classical music. I of course have my own associations, created over a years of living with this great music, playing concerts, going to concerts, etc. But just as Mexican music makes me think of food and Indian music made my friend's schoolmates think of drugs, perhaps many people have strange associations with classical music which are not really based in the actual "meaning" of the music. Do they associate it with stuffiness, or boredom? Do they associate it with the wealthy, or the elderly? I have the feeling that many people do, and this is unfortunate because it really has little to do with the music.

If in fact people have these unconscious reactions the classical music, what can we do to help them "see the light"? Some presenters have tried ad campaigns along the lines of "Classical is Cool" or have presented concerts where the performers are dressed somewhat casually, rather than in tuxedos and evening gowns. Does this work? Does it have an unintended negative effect? (One of my college roommates, not a musician, said that formal dress from the performers helped him to understand that this was something important and special, and deserved close attention, whereas a piano recital given in jeans and a t-shirt would make him listen less carefully.).

Any ideas?  (Facebook readers: please visit the blog, to post a comment). 

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Some success is random

(Facebook friends: please visit if you want to post a comment - thanks!)

I used to teach at Brown University, where students at various levels of piano playing could take lessons for credit.  Although a small number were interested in music as a career, most were bound for medical school, law school, or financial services.  I remember one girl in particular who really was quite gifted, but who had no intention of pursuing a career in music.  I asked her if she had ever thought about it, and she said she didn't feel comfortable pursuing a career with no clear "path," no defined avenue towards success, whether defined in monetary or artistic terms.  By contrast, a student interested in medicine could follow certain steps and feel confident of a career - the difficult part would be getting in to a good school and persevering through an extremely difficult educational process, but getting over those obstacles meant almost a guaranteed job.

I myself was recently complaining to a pianist friend about being passed over for an opportunity I thought would be good for me, and for which I thought I was qualified.  This colleague is a wonderful pianist, a real artist, and for better or for worse an idealist: she thought I should simply concentrate on doing my best, and that, in the end, opportunities would find me.  This has in fact generally been my modus operandi: focus on the art, and the career will follow.  But I am starting to realize that this is not always quite true.  Success in the arts seems to come from a mixture of producing great work *and* finding ways to make sure people notice.  The question is how much of a percentage each of these two aspects play in making a successful career.  I think I may have been overestimating the importance of the former.

Has it always been like this?  Was Franz Liszt the greatest pianist of his era, or did he just have a good manager?  I think that in fact management *did* play some role in his success, but from what we hear, he really was unbelievable.  Vladimir Horowitz was of course blessed to have the benefit of great managers and the backing of record labels - but he really genuinely was a superlative pianist, arguably the greatest of the 20th century.

 Perhaps there are a very few artists who are so extraordinary that they can have success without thinking about their careers (or without hiring someone to think about it for them).  For example, could Martha Argerich or David Oistrakh or Renee Fleming possibly have been overlooked?  Anyone walking through the practice room hallways of a conservatory would hear musicians like them and would take notice. 

But beyond those top one thousandth of 1% are many worthy artists battling for a finite number of opportunities.  Perhaps the top 1% talent-wise are all "good enough" to satisfy the public who buy tickets or download music, and within that 1% the difference between having 100 concerts a year and having 10 is public relations, marketing, and luck.  In other fields, such as in pop music or in Hollywood, the number of "qualified" musicians or actors, those good enough for most of the public, is even larger, and hence having a successful career seems even more due to luck or chutzpah.  (Of course there are some - the young Michael Jackson, say, or Meryl Streep - who really are special in their fields, but there are thousands of others who are more or less equal to each other in ability, but are separated by different amounts of good looks, or street smarts, or being the right place at the right time). 

I don't think that audiences are dummies - if you had them listen to three pianists, one a good conservatory student, one a winner of a major international competition, and Martha Argerich, they could almost certainly pick out which was best.  But I think that concert presenters nowadays are more and more nervous about taking a chance that audiences won't show up at all.  (They are probably right to be nervous).  Another colleague was telling me of his struggle with a series he runs (he is both an important pianist himself, as well as an organizer of a concert series).  While he would like to invite only people he thinks are valuable artists that the public should hear, he also has to think about what will sell the largest number of tickets, so that his series can stay in business - and these people, who have the biggest "name" value, are not necessarily as good as the less-known people he may want to bring.  But the cycle perpetuates itself - if a lesser known artist isn't booked for any concerts, he/she will continue to be a lesser-known artist.  (In case you are wondering, I AM playing on the series he runs - but it is in a place where I am well-known, and a significant enough draw.)  Several years ago, many concert series were struggling due to a financial crash (not this most previous recession, but an earlier one) and I thought that as a younger artist this could benefit me because while a concert series might not be able to afford Pollini's fee, they would be able to afford me.  (Sort of how places like Wal-Mart do well in a recession).  But my manager (at that time) said, no, actually, concert series who worried about money were even less likely to hire someone who might not sell-out their concert hall.  (Is this like a car dealer who, in a recession, would elect to stop selling Hondas, and only sell Rolls-Royces?  I guess the situations are not analogous). 

It makes me yearn for the "purity" of sports, where the winner of a race is the one who runs fastest, and that's that.  But even in sports it is not always as clear-cut as that: on a baseball team, for example, there may be a minor league pitcher who waits each season for the chance to prove himself in the big leagues, but the manager keeps calling up his teammates instead, because he likes their stuff better. 

Well, if I can possibly form some constructive advice out of all of this: make the most of every opportunity.  You never know who will hear you, who will be in the audience who has a brother whose wife runs a concert series or whose uncle has a record label... I can say from direct experience that I've gotten lots of opportunities in my career at moments when I least expected it.