The fine art of putting on a concert

What do you do if you're a young gifted musician - but your name's not Evgeny Kissin? How do you get a date in a London concert hall?
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The Independent Culture
A Couple of weeks ago I was barred entry to a pub. I wasn't under- dressed (it's hard to be under-dressed in Cardiff), and I wasn't drunk (not after three conspicuously sober hours at WNO's new Fidelio). But I also wasn't, as the bouncer charmingly explained through broken teeth, a "regular"; and only "regulars" were welcome. What's the definition of a regular? I asked politely (he was built like a gorilla)."When I know yer face," replied the bouncer. And how would I get you to know my face? I asked again. "By comin' regular," he answered. End of conversation.

Parallels between Cardiff pubs and concert life are mercifully few, but in the policy of Regulars Only they have all too much in common. Audiences like what they already know - with the result that promoters book familiar artists and newcomers are left at the door trying to talk their way past men with broken teeth and circular logic. Of course, there are door-opening techniques, the most obvious one being to win a competition and claim the guaranteed concert dates that invariably feature as part of the prize. But the blood-sports culture of competitions doesn't always suit the sensitive: it's a rough, tough way to get your face around. And even for the winners, there's no necessary follow-through. Many find themselves in work for three years and then fade away as the next generation of laureates takes over.

So what does the talented but as yet unknown artist do? He could hire a hall and promote his own recital, but that's an expensive proposition which, with management and advertising costs, could top pounds 4,000. And even if he has the money, it's not easy now to book an evening at the sort of hall that carries prestige. The Wigmore Hall in London used to be a recognised venue for debut recitals that stood a fair chance of being well-attended and reviewed. But since it upgraded itself from being merely a hall-for-hire into an arts centre with a coherent programming policy, the opportunity for performers to sweep in from nowhere and buy themselves a night there is severely limited.

A better alternative is to make friends with one of the small number of charitably-minded organisations that run concert series for emergent artists. The latest of them is the Springboard Concerts Trust, set up this year to provide a London platform for performers who have never yet had their own recital date in the city.

The idea is for two short seasons of six concerts to take place annually, from November, at the Wallace Collection, just around the corner from the Wigmore Hall. And in the manner of the Wigmore's famous Coffee Concerts, these new debut recitals will happen on Sunday mornings when the only competition for audience interest is church and The Archers. As an added incentive, the price of admission will include full access to the Wallace Collection's treasury of furniture and pictures, Frans Hals's Laughing Cavalier et al, together with pre-Sunday lunch drinks.

The objectives of the Springboard Trust aren't new: the Park Lane Group, the Young Concert Artists Trust, and the Royal Overseas League run similar showcase schemes, as do various festivals and music clubs. But their focus tends to be on young performers straight from college, still looking for agents and managers. Springboard is aiming for more developed performers

All they lack is fame - at least in Britain. And so it is that the Wallace Collection concerts, supported by the Independent on Sunday, begin with pianist Konstantin Scherbakov (2 Nov) who won the first-ever Rachmaninov Competition in Moscow and has an impressive discography to his credit, with releases on Marco Polo and Naxos, plus a well-received contribution to EMI's recent debut series. Another major prize-winner is violinist Evgueni Bushkov (30 Nov), who has the added distinction of being the last pupil of the celebrated Russian virtuoso Leonid Kogan. And although Helen Huang (23 Nov) is only 14, her career as a pianist has developed out of all proportion to her age. The list of her concerto dates with Ivy League American orchestras is astonishing for someone so young. But then she did record Beethoven's 1st Concerto for Teldec, very successfully under Kurt Masur, at 11.

As for the other artists in this opening season, the fact that the eminent pianist and talent-spotter Graham Johnson accompanies German mezzo Uta Buchheister (16 Nov) says something for her quality. And while the London International Piano Quintet means nothing as a name, its members include the violinist Daniel Hope and viola player Philip Dukes whose overseas careers are comfortably established.

In short, the Wallace series offers not just promise but affirmed credentials. Unknown faces, but demanding to come in. !

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