It takes real enthusiasm and a vision to bring about the change politicians speak about. In real life, it is only the most invigorated doers, like YCA’s Susan Wadsworth, who are able to implement new strategies and changes that have an enduring significance for the future.
It all started on the ground floor loft space of a restaurant on Waverly Place in New York’s Greenwich Village. The owner, a young Armenian architect, liked the idea of Susan curating concerts at his venue. So, on his off-days he cleared away the tables and added aYoung Concert Artists sign to his own sign board, and simply raised it up in front of Harout‘s, to promote the budding concert series.
“Steinway charged me 100 dollars for cartage each way and gave me a great gift… a beautiful concert grand piano that could stay at the venue during the whole season,” says Susan Wadsworth, an energetic powerhouse of small stature and hefty goals.
A trained classical pianist herself, she had studied with pianists-pedagogues Mieczyslaw Munz, Jean Casadeus and Nadia Boulanger, and was always surrounded by musician friends, some of whom she had met during her years at the Mannes College of Music, studying with Frank Sheridan.
But while she admired some of her friends’ amazing talent and felt deeply connected to music and its world, she rejected the pursuit of a career as concert pianist for herself. The decisive moment came, she explained, “When I was asked to perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, A-major with the Mannes orchestra. I quickly realized that I really did not want to perform,” she confesses, with relief in her voice.
At first, the Vassar English Major had no real sense of direction, trying on different hats at the UN and in the children’s book department of Rand McNally. During her search for her destiny, she kept in close contact with her musician friends, which eventually lead to the discovery of her unequivocal calling: “A friend observed my enthusiasm when I heard my friends perform and told me that I truly believed in these musicians. So I decided to do something about it.”
Wadsworth started the Young Concert Artists Series in 1961, “supported by a few adventurous individuals.” Existing arts funding was principally distributed among major institutions, largely provided by the private sector. Support for Young Concert Artists by the State and the National Endowments for the Arts came later.. Eventually Wadsworth served as a consultant to the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, and became a member of the National Advisory Committees of the Avery Fisher Prize Program, the Van Cliburn Competition and Young Audiences, Inc.
From the start she understood that even the most talented, yet young and still unknown, musicians faced an enormous lack of opportunities to perform and to further their careers. Struggling to compete with established artists, who had the powerful machinery of managers, promoters and public relations behind them, was an enormous challenge for a young, starting out artist. This was especially true while having to focus on the most serious challenge: continually crafting their skill and being devoted to the art of making music.
Realizing that she wanted to make a difference in the life of the artists she loved and admired, initially many of these her close friends, Wadsworthbecame as resourceful as she was ambitious and YCA grew from an initial season with a 13-concert series to an internationally renowned organization. Its growing dimensions and logistical operation afforded constant moves, as did its financial boundaries. And so, from Harout’s, the Young Concert Artists Series moved to the former Mannes School of Music’s brownstone on 74th Street, to Carnegie Recital Hall (now Weill Hall) to Hunter College, to the 92nd Street Y, to Zankel Hall and since 2011 is at Merkin Hall. Wadsworth kept on opening doors to a steadily increasing flow of artists and audiences.
Holding its Auditions in Leipzig and New York, YCA selects an array of performers (and recently also composers) for whom they provide concerts at different venues around New York, at Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, and throughout the United States and abroad. There are Young Concert Artists Festivals in Tokyo and Beijing. But what perhaps stands out just as much is YCA’s expert guidance, which includes personal management and promotional materials for each musician.
This all becomes part of the package of being an YCA artist. And the press pays attention. ”With Young Concert Artists, music lovers can know without a doubt that they are hearing la crème de la crème from around the world,” wrote the Huffington Post. The Washington Post stated, “YCA’s track record in singling out the stars of tomorrow is mind-boggling.”
Photo by Steve Sherman: courtesy of YCA –Artists of the 35th anniversary concert. Front row:Nokuthula Ngwenyama, Yesun Kim, Richard Goode, Susan Wadsworth, Alban Gerhardt, Beverly Hoch, Toby Appel, Benny Kim. Second row: Carter Brey, Chee-Yun, Anne-Marie McDermott, Scott St. John, Marya Martin, Jospeh Kalichstein, Ruggero Allifranchini, Hsin-Yun Huang, Geoff Nuttall, Ilana Vered, Nicolas Kitchen, Ida Kavafian, Makoto Nakura, Chris Pedro Trakas, Fred Sherry.
There is something unique about YCA that separates its core from other organizations. “Unlike competitions where performers compete against each other to win, YCA artists are chosen based on their individual artistic merit,” says Wadsworth. “Any number can win; it differs from year to year. We decide on individuals, rather than on instrumental categories. This year our five winners were soprano Julia Bullock, the Hermes Quartet, pianist Ji-Yong, cellist Cicely Parnas, and violinist Aleksey Semenenko. Young Concert Artists presents artists in recital debuts and as concerto soloists. We do not, ourselves, give them financial support, but as their management, we book concerts for them, so that they earn professional concert fees, from which we take a token commission of 8% which covers 2 % of our annual costs. But all the services and opportunities and materials that we provide to the artists are made possible by our music-loving donors and interested foundations through our fundraising efforts. Without that support, we could not survive!” she exclaims.
Photo: courtesy YCA. At the White House, 1993: Geoff Nuttall, Lesley Robertson, Chee-Yun, Barry Shiffman, Marina Hoover of the St.Lawrence String Quartet, Hillary and President Clinton, Camellia Johnson, Neal Goren, Akira Eguchi, Isaac Stern, Susan Wadsworth.
In 1993, at the request of the late, great violinist Isaac Stern, members of Young Concert Artists gave a concert at the White House for President and Mrs. Clinton after a dinner in honor of the recipients of the National Medal of Arts. Wadsworthhas been acknowledged for her tireless efforts and for her success. In 2005, Mrs. Wadsworth accepted the Angel Award presented to Young Concert Artists by the International Society of Performing Arts Administrators. She has also been awarded Honorary Doctorates by the Mannes College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music.
Sitting inWadsworth’s office, filled with old photos of her artists’ great successes, her youthful energy does not belie the fact that she does not pause for a moment, doing what she loves doing best: being involved on behalf of her artists.
While she started out alone, she realized that as YCA grew she had to have help. “Around the 5th year, I hired an assistant who turned out to be a dynamo. When it came to booking concerts, Ann Dunbar was unbeatable,” Wadsworth recalls. Her team grew to include some exceptional people like Edna Landau, Judith Kurz and Nancy Wellman, all great ladies who went on to hold important roles within the music industry. Associate Director Mark Hayman, Monica Felkel, Director of Management and Rong-Hong Ma, in charge of financials, are some of YCA’s staff whom she gratefully mentions have been working with her for over 25 years. She admires YCA’s artist managers, Monica Felkel and Vicki Margulies, for their keen personal interest and the knowledgeable guidance they provide to each artist on the roster.
There are a lot of minute details involved when advising young artists – such as how to forge a captivating program out of the repertoire an artist brings along. When I started out I was basically the same age as the musicians and naturally there was great friendship involved. I now already have a new generation of artists who have been the protégés of great YCA Alumni like Pinchas Zukerman, Emanuel Ax and Ida Kavafian. YCA alumni are also extremely generous in performing Benefit Concerts, which are so vital for us.”
Photo:Stanley Jesudovich: Courtesy of YCA – The first three Presidents of the YCA Alumni Association: Ruth Laredo, Emanuel Ax, Eugenia Zukerman.
Susan’s l966 marriage to Charles Wadsworth, the charismatic founder and director of the Chamber Music Series of the Spoleto Festival in Italy and Charleston, SC, who founded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1969, certainly gave YCA a promising chance of exposure. “He listened to all my concerts, and of course if he liked someone very much, – such as Richard Goode or Paula Robison – would he consider presenting them. After all, he could choose artists from every management in the world.”
The great success rate of YCA artists certainly centers on being handpicked by an insightful jury of musicians in New York and, since 1994, every other year in Leipzig, under Professor Joel Shapiro’s supervision. Shapiro, a pianist, was one of Wadsworth’s first artists, performing in the first series of YCA.
Photo: Courtesy YCA. The first European YCA Auditions in Leipzig: L to R: Stefan Schönknecht, (Mendelssohn Hochschule coordinator), Mark Hayman; winners Diana Doherty (oboist) and Fazil Say (pianist); Jurors: Joel Shapiro, Susan Wadsworth, Kurt Masur, Lorraine Nubar, Marya Martin, and Christiane Edinger.
Artist’s who win the auditions join the roster for a minimum of three years but often it becomes five or six years. The time frame is flexible. When we take someone to the YCA roster we are fully committed to them as long as we feel we can help them. Some are signed on by commercial managements quickly; others’ careers develop more slowly. It’s a meaningful and a fulfilling responsibility to provide them with support and performance opportunities, when they come to us at a very vulnerable and exciting turning point in their lives.”
Wadsworth has been in demand for her expertise and has been on the jury of several competitions throughout the years, including the Vendôme Prize Piano Competition and concerto competitions at the Peabody Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music, the Bard College Conservatory of Music and the Yale School of Music.
And it must be a very gratifying experience, especially given the list of testimonials filled with the highest acknowledgements, like the one of violinist Pinchas Zukerman: “How amazing that 50 years have gone by! It feels like yesterday that I was traveling to play the concerts arranged through YCA. It was such a fantastic time, starting off on the most incredible journey.”
The young pianistLouis Schwizgebel, YCA Winner in 2007, recently gave me a personal account of how personably he was taken care of by YCA when coming to New York from Geneva, in order to pursue continuing studies at Juilliard.
He commented on YCA’s continual efforts, to provide performance opportunities and move along his career. He was excited that at the YCA Gala Benefit Evening on May 16th 2013 at Alice Tully Hall, he will have his New York concerto debut with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, in C-major. Two other YCA soloists will also be on the program.
Wadsworthspells it out in a nutshell: “Having great talent is essential but that doesn’t always make things happen. We do everything we can think of to enable our YCA artists to achieve the recognition and the lifelong careers that they deserve, and to give audiences everywhere the joy of hearing their performances!”
by Ilona Oltuski