It was party time last Sunday in the Concertgebouw. Impresario Marco Riaskoff was celebrating the 25th anniversary of his concert series. No fewer than eight of the most famous pianists in the world had turned out to add lustre to the anniversary. The many dignitaries present, in evening dress for the occasion, enjoyed the virtuoso keyboard playing to the full. A good evening was had by Her Majesty as well. And the same probably applied to the pianists themselves, as they enjoy coming to the Concertgebouw and they enjoy being Marco’s guests: a combination that has ensured the unique world success of this series for 25 years.
Marco Riaskoff, who is incidentally a great ballet fan, is no ordinary impresario. It is quite exceptional that he organises his own concert series, as it is a huge challenge to make a concert series successful from both an artistic and a business point of view. It is an enormous task even for the concert halls with their big marketing departments. If the small ‘businesses’ of passionate individuals manage to survive on this battlefield, it is a considerable achievement. So Marco is special. As is Rob Groen, who also had his own series in the Concertgebouw until his retirement a few years back. They are legendary figures, with no successors.
On the other hand, you bump into ‘ordinary’ impresarios everywhere. We’re familiar with the ‘players’ agent’ from the sports world, so impresario sounds a lot more chic in any case. But in actual fact, they’re the same: an agent between supply and demand. If orchestras, concert halls or opera houses want to engage a particular artist, they call the impresario who represents that artist. He or she then looks at whether there is still space in the diary of the world-famous singer or young pianist, and then negotiates a fee. As a reward for these services, the impresario receives a percentage of the fee he has managed to extract for the artist.
In sports, the players’ agents have a bad reputation for being ruthless tradesmen who move their players around the planet mainly in order to make themselves as rich as possible. Yet the players themselves often have a different view, as the agent is also their advisor, who helps them plot out their career. And there’s nothing wrong with a rich agent. That means the player whose interests are promoted also gets rich. “Show me the money!”
The advisory role of the impresario is an important one, as the artist is confronted with many ‘career issues’. What repertoire should I not touch for a while? For certain pieces, you need to have attained maturity. Which invitations can I accept with no problem and which should I reject? If you make your debut with one company, then another may not want you anymore. Is it better for me to give lots of concerts or performances, or rather to remain a bit exclusive? If you perform everywhere, you can overreach yourself. And what’s the best way to sell myself? Marketing is nearly as important nowadays as artistic qualities.
These are all questions to which the average artist has no answer. And with which they do not wish to concern themselves. So there lies the added value of the impresario.
And yet artists often think that their impresario is not worth his cut. The young conductor who receives no more invitations after a couple of promising debuts is quick to put this down to not being promoted well. And the established Maestro is sure he doesn’t really need a representative any more to continue to receive invitations. So they grumble and complain to their heart’s content about their impresarios, those conductors and soloists. But there are only one or two who actually dare to go it alone.
Except in dance, that is. Many choreographers do it all themselves. When I had just joined the ballet company, I had to negotiate with Hans van Manen. I prepared myself for the usual game. The agent asks too much. I make an offer that’s too low. The impresario is indignant and argues the case for why I should fork out more, etc, etc. Meanwhile, the artist who is the subject of the cattle auction knows nothing about it. And often that’s no bad thing either. To my surprise, Hans did his own negotiating. He popped in one day himself. And we were all done in ten minutes. When all’s said and done, we’re in it for the money and not for the game.