Young Concert Artists celebrates 50 years of developing new classical talents

Susan Wadsworth, head of the Young Concert Artists program, is seen in her office in Manhattan, NY. The program is heading into it's 50th year and Wadsworth has been the head of the program the entire time.
Susan Wadsworth, head of the Young Concert Artists program, is seen in her office in Manhattan, NY. The program is heading into it's 50th year and Wadsworth has been the head of the program the entire time. (©Jennifer S. Altman - Jennifer S. Altman/for The Washington Post)

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By Anne Midgette
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 9, 2010; 3:10 AM

On Wednesday night, the pianist Gleb Ivanov gave a recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Ivanov made his Washington debut in 2005, presented by Young Concert Artists, and Young Concert Artists brought him back this week, to re-air him before the Washington public.

"Sometimes," says Susan Wadsworth, YCA's director, "you just feel someone has grown so much, it just helps to move the career along to let him be heard again."

Ivanov is certainly a fine pianist. His program was divided between his compatriots Rachmaninoff and Prokofiev: three short pieces and the Cello Sonata from the former, a piano arrangement of a scene from "Romeo and Juliet" and the Sixth Sonata from the latter.

Ivanov played with technical skill, but for all the Russian fireworks the program promised, he's not a flashy pianist. He plays with fluidity and a lot of musicality, embracing the audience as much as dazzling it.

The Prokofiev was particularly strong, with an icy edge to the high right-hand melody in the ballet excerpt (Romeo and Juliet's parting) and the chords of the formidable sonata bristling like clusters of icicles - something detached within the music's fire.

Perhaps the evening's highest point, though, was the Cello Sonata, when Ivanov was a big warm foil to the taut, whippetlike cello line of Carter Brey, the eminent soloist, New York Philharmonic principal and YCA alum who gave his own Washington debut on the same stage 25 years ago. Brey had the star assurance that Ivanov is still developing.

The fact is - as Ivanov's case shows - that talent, a handful of prominent debuts and even warm reviews aren't always enough to get a young musician firmly on the map. In the popular imagination, soloists' careers follow a trajectory from childhood promise through study to a feted debut to a calendar filled with exciting concerts. In reality, that last step - from the debut to the full calendar part - can be elusive for a young artist.

That's where YCA comes in.

Wadsworth, herself a former pianist, noticed this when she ran into friends from music school in New York and discovered that their careers were, to put it kindly, lagging. She decided to take action by presenting them herself. At first, she booked a few gigs in an Armenian restaurant in Greenwich Village: At least it was a New York venue, and maybe the offbeat, unconventional setting would help draw in new audiences.

The year was 1961, and Wadsworth's friends included Richard Goode, now one of the leading pianists of our day, and Paula Robison, the acclaimed flutist. They were among the first beneficiaries of an organization that soon became known as Young Concert Artists.

Over the decades since, YCA has helped foster the careers of Murray Perahia, Pinchas Zukerman, Joseph Kalichstein, Emanuel Ax, Dawn Upshaw and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, among more than 200 others. Wednesday night's concert - which also featured the highly regarded cellist Carter Brey, another YCA alumnus - was part of its 50th-anniversary season celebration, and its 32nd season in Washington. (Still ahead: the flutist Aleksandr Haskin in January, the pianist Charlie Albright in February and the mezzo Jennifer Johnson in April.)

YCA is structured like a music competition, open to artists from 16 to 26, but it's a competition with a difference: Victory is not the ultimate goal, but the beginning of a relationship. The winners - the number varies from year to year - are presented in concerts in New York, Washington and Boston. Even more important, they are given at least three years of professional management: YCA books concerts, cultivates the press and prepares artists to move on to a permanent agency.


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