Who appears in our International Artist Series and why?

By Barry Kempton

Every so often, I learn from subscribers of an artist they would love to hear on our International Artist Series.  I welcome all suggestions – indeed I urged people in a letter to subscribers last year to send me their thoughts about the series and the names of artists they would love to see.

For those who sent me names but find they aren’t featured in next season’s line-up (which by the way we will announce in late February), it might be interesting to share some of the philosophy and the processes we follow in programming the series.

First of all, it is a series of only five recitals.  Last time I looked at my list of interesting recitalists, there must have been at least seventy-five!  We are blessed with plenty of worthy options.

A key element of our philosophy each season is to include a mix of established major-name artists with emerging talent.  Talking to series subscribers in the last couple of years, I’ve learned that this combination is important for many. 

We aspire to present every major artist at least once in their performing career.  Though it sounds simple, it isn’t always because some artists (non US-based artists) will commit a very limited number of dates for US recitals, and those could well only include the east and west coasts.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we face each season is getting artists’ availability to line up with dates when the Ordway is available to us.  There is a handful of major artists enthusiastic to perform on our series, whose managers I contact every year to see whether our hall availability and their limited availability match up.  Our success rate isn’t too great, but that is a simple consequence of presenting the series in a popular venue.  (It will be interesting to see how this particular issue changes when the new Ordway Concert Hall opens in 2015 – more about that in a future blog.) 

It maybe goes without saying that a series of five recitals needs a balance of programs featuring voice, piano, strings and other solo instruments.  In practice, putting together the International Artist Series tends to start with securing the bigger name artists – those whose availability is very limited.  If these artists turn out to be a violinist and a pianist for example, it will steer our selection of the remaining series artists away from too many other violinists and pianists.  By the way, there is no magic formula of two singers, two string recitalists and one pianist, as someone once asked me.

As Artistic Director, I get to select and engage the artists – both an honor and a responsibility.  I have the support and interest of an Artistic Committee, a wonderful group of Schubert Club board members who also know their music world and recitalists well and share their knowledge generously and enthusiastically.

One thing we talk about at committee meetings is the question of what distinguishes a great recitalist from a great musician/soloist.   This is particularly important given we present our recitals in a big venue with 1900 seats.  We’re keen to present artists whose music-making and charisma fill the expansive Ordway Music Theater.

The last thing I would ever want to imply is that programming the series is difficult.  Yes, we spend a lot of time exploring availability and suitability,  but it is one of the most interesting and fulfilling roles of my position and since there are only five International Artist Series recitals each season, I can happily say that we will never run out of great artists to present on the series.