IN: Reviews

Celebs Ink Hub Gigs


Perlman to sell out
(Lisa Maria Mazucco photo)

The Celebrity Series of Boston’s next season, going on sale [here] this week, will include 49 music, dance, and entertainment engagements, including: a 5-performance debut series, 2 orchestras, 13 ensembles, 4 piano recitals, 5 instrumental recitals, 3 vocal recitals, 12 jazz and popular song performances, 7 dance companies, and three spoken word performances.

Classical highlights of the 2017-2018 Season include: Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel, Orchestra dell Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, with conductor Sir Antonio Pappano & piano soloist Martha Argerich, Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma, Pianist Evgeny Kissin with the Emerson String Quartet, tenor Lawrence Brownlee and bass-baritone Eric Owens, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, and Daniil Trifonov, joining his esteemed teacher Sergei Babayan in a two-piano performance.

A rundown of the shows most likely of interest to BMInt readers is HERE.

Gary Dunning, the fourth leader of the Celebrity Series over its 73 history, shared some thoughts:

FLE: From the press release it’s not easy to figure out how many of the Series’s presentations are classical. Please tell us what the mix is and how it has changed over the years.

Gary Dunning: The broad-stroke portfolio remains consistent with the past, and we have added more early-career artists to the mix through the Debut Series and Stave Sessions. There has also been deliberate growth of our concert jazz presentations and in dance, and a particular focus on bringing more ensembles that are new to Boston audiences.

Have any of the “celebrities to be” from your usually sold-out (4 or 5 years old?) Emerging Artist Series at Longy come back to one of your main venues?

As we had hoped, the Debut Series and Stave Sessions have introduced Boston to younger artists and some of them have returned in future seasons in larger venues. This coming season sees the return (for the second time) of Daniil Trifonov, who made his Boston debut as the first performance of our new Debut Series at the Longy School of Music’s Pickman Hall. Stave Sessions, in recent seasons, saw the Boston debut of Brooklyn Rider, who returns next season, and Roomful of Teeth who performed on this year’s roster.

Among the returnees to the series, some, such as Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma, Evgeny Kissin, the Emerson String Quartet Takács Quartet, Itzhak Perlman and violinist/violist Pinchas Zukerman seem to come back nearly every year. Am I imagining that?

There are perennial favorites who audiences clamor for regularly, but we also take great care to introduce new artists to Boston audiences, especially through the Debut Series and Stave Sessions.

Certain names, like Yo-Yo Ma and Renee Fleming guarantee sellouts. How many other celebrity assolutas do you regularly present? How many of your concerts constitute box office sure things and in how many you are taking chances (we’re just talking about classical)

There are very, very few ‘sure things’ in the performing arts. While some artists or ensembles have a large following that can translate into robust ticket sales, the economics of classical music are such that even a sellout doesn’t guarantee financial profitability. All live performance entails financial risk and many performances entail a certain artistic risk (for example, unknown or little known artist or artistic content). We aim to balance the mix so we provide a stimulating array of musical offerings and maintain a financially viable business.

Clearly the economics of touring orchestras has changed—only two this season versus perhaps four or five many years back?

The last time we presented 4 or 5 orchestras in one year was in the 2002-03 and 1998-99 seasons, respectively. In years past, the promotional needs of an orchestra often drove their desire to tour. The economics are very challenging for touring orchestras; there are a myriad of costs which are not always recuperated. Hence the orchestras themselves are not touring as often or as regularly as they did in the past.

Just how do you decide what constitutes celebrity status, and do the artists like that term?

I think “celebrity” is a term that has changed a great deal since our founding in 1938. In making our artistic choices we focus less on celebrity reputation and more on their artistry, their individual musical voice, and their willingness to perform and connect with our audiences.

How much involvement do you have personally in choosing repertoire?

Repertoire is certainly a part of the discussion in every booking. The idea that a presenter chooses the repertoire is a bit of a stretch. Most touring artists decide on a program (or two), which itself is subject to change. We sometimes book artists knowing what their programming will be and other times, we book the artists without that knowledge. We are an artist-driven organization and want to hear what they offer. At times, we do have to discuss the repertoire because of repeated choices within the season, but most often we choose to follow the artists’ lead in how they choose to present their work.

In the founding days of the then Aaron Richmond Celebrity Series, and through the beginning of Walter Pierce’s run, it was possible to be an impresario and make money in this business. With apologies to you, can there be no more Sol Huroks?

Looking at the classical music industry and landscape in this country, the answer is probably no. That was a different time. The public trust that comes from contributed support inspires our mission of presenting world-class artists that inspire and enrich our community. It’s not about what a celebrity impresario wants.

Are you worried about cuts to government funding for the arts?

Yes. I worry that cuts or elimination send a signal to corporations, foundations, and individuals that the arts do not matter to those charged with governing us; that the arts are not a beneficial investment. There are reams of educational, economic, community development data that show otherwise, yet elected officials seem to feel free to gut funding. We, meaning the arts as an industry, have simply not been able to muster the level of political or lobbying influence to change that basic calculus.

You came from the for-profit world to this gig. Is it any different than running a circus?

Actually, the Big Apple Circus was a non-profit organization. My whole career has proudly been as a non-profit arts manager. While some of the issues in the circus were unique (where do you put up the tent), the challenge of agreeing on an organizational purpose, setting a strategic direction, managing resources, and motivating volunteers and professionals to a common cause are the same.

Is there any market for the big top variety show model as distinct from your approach of variety across an entire season?

My sense is that the general society trend is to more granularity and personal curation and not to an imposed broad variety in a single performance.



2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Surely, that last line should have read “Hix Nix Mix Shtix,” no?

    Comment by Vance Koven — April 21, 2017 at 11:09 am

  2. I agree with Vance on that reading. (Also remembering the Varietyheadline when a huge snowstorm in Buffalo, NY, caused huge damage to theater receipts: BLIZ BOFFS BUFF BIZ.)

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — April 25, 2017 at 9:15 am

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