James Coyne and the great debate IS CANADA POSSIBLE?

Peter C. Newman July 1 1961

James Coyne and the great debate IS CANADA POSSIBLE?

Peter C. Newman July 1 1961



Two U. S. talent agencies sell prepaid prepackaged concerts to 200 Canadian cities and towns. Here is why a near-monopoly that has created a paying audience for some Canadian musicians is accused of denying others a hearing in their own land


WHILE EVERYBODY KNOWS that Americans own fifty-one percent of Canada’s manufacturing industry, only a handful of angry music lovers realize that two New York agencies control eighty percent of the concert business in this country.

The agencies are Columbia Artists Management Inc. and National Concert Artists Corporation. Both thrive on a modern cultural phenomenon known as the organized-audience movement. This movement creates captive audiences by selling tickets for a series of concerts in the form of club subscriptions.

In hundreds of small) towns between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Columbia or National harvests guaranteed profits by taking double commissions on artists’ fees ¿fid by persuading unpaid local citizens to do the work that used to be done by the old, risk-taking impresarios.

The well-meaning smfvll-town inhabitants who give their services to Columbia and National in the belief that they are cherishing music in Canada are members of organized audience groups called Community Concert Associations, Civjc Music Associations and Overture Concert Associations.

As long ago as 1955 the American organized-audience associations operated by Columbia aiid National were charged in a United States District Court under anjjjf-trust regulations. The court found that the defendants “combined and conspired in unreasonable restraint of . . . trade and commerce in'rhc management and booking of artists and in the formation and maintenance of organized audience associations and have combined and conspired to monopolize, have attempted to monopolize, and have monopolized said trade and commerce in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act.”


Since the conviction Columbia and National have been ordered to refrain from limiting theiriorganized audiences in the United States to artists under their" own management. In theory they now permit those organized audiences to engage, when they want to, artists under independent managements. In practice the new policy does not work out, especially in Canajda where U. S. laws do not apply anyway. Four out of five soloists appearing before Canadian organized audiences are managed by Colombia or National, and most of the remainder by New York independents.


Canadian artists cannot build a reputation or earn a living in their own country unless they] belong to that handful that is managed by Columbia or National. They cannot get a hearing on the organizedaudience circuits and they cannot afford the traveling expenses to independent engagements in widely separated towns and cities.

The excellent mqsic colleges, the abundance of music scholarships, and the generosity qf government grants to postgraduate students could make Canada one of the world’s leading musical nations. But the value of all these amenities is wasted through the inability of the concert

artists to break into the Columbia-National networks once their education is finished.

Local impresarios who used to uncover much new talent by gambling on the presentation of unknown artists and the playing of new compositions are being driven out of business by the sure-fire riskless methods of the Columbia-National axis. Only four impresarios of stature remain in Canada, and these limit their operations to Winnipeg, Toronto. Ottawa and Montreal.

In trying to reach maximum audiences, Columbia and National often encourage the playing of schmaltzy programs, thus lowering the general standard of musical taste. This pandering to the lowest brows in the highbrow field prompts concert artists to nickname the organized audiences “the Ave Maria circuits” and “the Danny Boy loops.”

Columbia and National hold a near-monopoly of Canadian concert stages for these reasons:

Columbia Artists Management of New York owns Community Concerts Inc. of New York, which has founded and fostered in small U. S. towns about one thousand Community Concert Associations. Community Concerts Inc. of New York owns Community Concerts of Canada Ltd., an Ottawa-based subsidiary that runs — in the small towns of the Maritimes. Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia — about a hundred Community Concert Associations.


National Concert Artists Corporation owns Civic Concert Service Inc., which runs in American small towns between four and five hundred Civic Music Associations. In Canada there are only two Civic Music Associations, one in Courtenay and the other in Abbotsford. British Columbia.

Both Columbia and National, however, receive bookings for their artists throughout western Canada from Overture Concert Associations, which operates in some sixty towns between the Manitoba-Ontario border and the Pacific.

Overture Concert Associations is owned by George Zukerman, a Vancouver bassoonist. Since 1955. Zukerman has built up Overture Concert Associations by methods similar to those Columbia and National employed in the development of Community Concert Associations and Civic Music Associations. In other words, in western Canada. Zukerman has beaten Columbia and National at their own game. But Zukerman, because he does not also manage artists, remains heavily dependent upon Columbia and National for talent. In the list of three hundred artists he is offering to his Overture Concert Associations for the 1961-62 season, one hundred and eighteen are managed by Columbia and forty-eight by National. Nearly all the remainder of Zukerman’s artists are managed by such New York independents as Sol Hurok, Herbert Barrett and Kenneth Allen.

Although Community Concert Associations are in theory free to engage any artist they like, they engage in practice a preponderance of Columbia artists. Overture Concert Associations are equally free to engage any artist they like, but in fact they engage a majority of their artists from Columbia and National.

The artists the New York managers send to Community, Civic and Overture concerts arc already established and in a position to demand big fees. The percentage of Canadian artists in this elite is reasonable in relation to Canada’s population. But by going on Community, Civic and Overture small-town circuits, these Canadian top-liners help to mop up the money that used to be available to artists who were trying to make a name.

Although several Canadians have tried to establish themselves as managers of Canadian concert artists, only one has succeeded financial-

managers only one ly. He is Walter Homburger of Toronto, who


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“It’s impossible,” says a Canadian agent, “to break the U. S. monopoly*’

has the good fortune to manage Glenn Gould, a pianist whose towering talent, big recording income and spirited independence render him immune to the blandishments and pressures of Columbia and National.

During the last six years J. P. Barwick, a well-to-do Ottawa music lover, has lost twenty-five thousand dollars in efforts to run an artists’ management business that concentrates on getting engagements for Canadian platform soloists in their own

country. “I have found it impossible,” says Barwick, “to break the ColumbiaNational monopoly.”

This is how Columbia operates in Canada:

Traveling representatives of Colum-

bia’s subsidiary. Community Concerts of Canada Ltd., use door-to-door sales techniques to build up congeries of local Community Concert Associations around which artists may tour with profit to themselves and their managements. A typical representative looks for towns with no reputation for music. He then calls on local music teachers, choirmasters, service clubs, aldermen and social leaders, and says in effect: “It’s a shame you have no music here.” Usually the citizens agree. The representative then persuades his newly made connections to form a committee for the founding of a local Community Concert Association.

The representative supplies the committee with posters, pamphlets and press and radio publicity material, and helps them to run a campaign for membership in the association. Membership fees vary from about seven to twenty-five dollars annually, according to the population of the town, the wealth of its citizens and the capacity of buildings suitable for concerts.

When the committee has enrolled enough members to raise an adequate sum — it varies from a minimum of fifteen hundred to more than twenty thousand dollars — the amount collected is called the budget. The budget is then set aside for artists’ fees and the administrative costs of a series of three or four concerts to which all members of the local association will be admitted without further charge. The members thus become an organized audience.

As soon as the money is safely in the bank the representative of Community shows the local committee a list of artists from which it may choose, together with the artists’ fees and available dates. In theory the representative should show not only the names of Columbia artists but those under National and other managements. But because of Community’s financial link with Columbia, the representative tends to push Columbia artists. "Let’s face it,” says Leo Barnache, director of Community Concerts of Canada Ltd. “I work for two companies — Community and Columbia.”

Artists’ fees vary from thirty-five hundred dollars a performance for a really big name to four hundred dollars for a minor celebrity. Maureen Forrester, the Canadian contralto, and Lois Marshall, the Canadian soprano, both of whom are managed by Columbia, are being offered next season to organized audiences for fifteen hundred and thirteen hundred and fifty dollars respectively.

“Generally speaking,” says Leo Barnache, “organized - audience committees spend the bulk of the budget on one big name a season, and share out the residue among two or three lesser-known artists.”

In the United States, Community Concerts Inc. works in the same way. and in fierce competition with Civic Concert Service Inc., whose representatives extol the merits of National artists.

In western Canada, George Zukerman follows similar methods. He says he tries hard to make his Overture Concert circuit an outlet for Canadian ta|ent. In recent years, for example, he has placed on the Overture circuit the Canadian Opera Company and Toronto’s Hart House Orchestra “when Columbia and National couldn’t have cared less about them.” He claims that thirty-five percent of his talent last year was Canadian, although this figure included instrumental and choral groups. He is proud of the fact that he does not combine, as Columbia and National do, the roles of artists’ manager and organized - audience promoter. "I think,” he says, “that such an

arrangement is indecent.” Nevertheless Zukerman has to maintain goodrelations with Columbia and National because his various Overture Concert Associations demand many artists who are managed by these New York giants.

According to J. P. Barwick, audience committees tend to favor big names at the expense of musical merit because “the ladies in the hats enjoy the reflected glory of the visiting celebrity's presence.” Walter Herbert, director of the Canada Foundation, a private agency devoted to the arts, says: “They also find it easier to arrange concerts through the big New York managements. They don't have to go to the trouble of finding out where an artist is, and writing to him to negotiate dates and fees.”

Frances Duncan, a former harpsichord soloist and wife of J. P. Barwick, says: "Programs dictated by the New York managements are geared to suit the most popular tastes. It is axiomatic that the untutored listener likes to hear music he has heard before. Knowing this, the New York managements insist on their artists playing the same old war horses for organized audiences year after year.”.

A few years ago Boyd Neel, now the

dean of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music, visited Canada under Columbia management as conductor of the English ensemble, the Boyd Neel Orchestra. At a party following an Ottawa performance, music lovers chaffed a number of Boyd Neel instrumentalists on the volume of schmaltz they had played. The musicians were hurt. “Dr. Neel didn’t really want to play that stuff,” said one. “But he had to. Before we left London a Columbia man went through our repertoire with a pencil, crossing out three quarters of the compositions and saying, ‘We know what they like in Canada.’ ”

But even artists in the highest income brackets are grateful for organized audiences. Provided the dates fit in with engagements in nearby big cities, they yield a hefty addition to income. All aspiring artists yearn for organized-audience dates. But to get them in sufficient numbers to earn a living they must be signed up by Columbia or National.

In New York recently, J. Warren Tapscott, assistant to the vice-president of Community Concerts Inc., said: “Many artists who are just as good as some of those we manage remain obscure for one reason or another.” John Coleman, executive assistant to the president of Civic Concert Service Inc., said: “If I knew what makes some great artists famous and others remain unknown. I’d be worth a million dollars.”

Both admitted, however, that the artists under the management of their parent corporations have in the first place made headlines and so become drawing powers.

Both hedged when it was suggested that artists who lose their place in the headlines are eventually dropped from the managements’ lists.

Some idea of Columbia’s assessment of a great artist may be derived from the story of Van Cliburn, the young American pianist. In 1954, when he was twenty, Cliburn won the Leventritt Award, one of the most important in the United States. This gave him a debut with the New York Philharmonic and four other major orchestras. During the blare of publicity Cliburn accepted the offer of a Columbia contract. In his first season he had many engagements, in his second fewer, in his third only two or three. He was on the point of being dropped by Columbia when, with the financial help of two foundations and the moral help of his teacher, Rosina Lhevinne. he entered the Tchaikowsky International Piano Competition in Moscow, won first prize, and hit headlines around the world. Columbia promptly cabled him a new contract naming fees of twenty-five hundred dollars a performance.

The artists sent by Columbia and National around the organized circuits are all well known. But musical merit is not necessarily synonymous with a big name. Big names come out of the headlines. To make a big name an artist needs money.

Walter Herbert says: “Money represents no problem during the Canadian musician’s education. There are at least five thousand scholarships in this country for promising music students — so many, in fact, that scores of them are never taken out.”

Ezra Schahas, director of Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music placement service, says: “Canada is one of the most fortunate countries in the world in so far as musical schooling is concerned. There is no such person in this country as a promising concert artist who lacks the funds to go to a good teacher.”

J. P. Barwick says: “Education is not the difficulty. It’s when the education is finished that the trouble begins. The concert artist cannot make a living unless he goes to Europe or gets signed on by Columbia or National. And even then he may last only a few years. Columbia and National do not like sending an artist to the same town for repeat performances. They believe in the drawing power of new faces, faces in the news.”

How then, does a Canadian artist become a face in the news? By spending money.

Maureen Forrester, the Montreal contralto, who has been world-famous for six years, says: “It cost at least twentyfive thousand dollars to put me where 1 am.” J. W. McConnell, a Montreal millionaire, provided the money.

Earlier in her career as a Montreal church soloist and service-club artist. Miss Forrester had discovered that the rising star’s biggest handicap is traveling expenses. She would get an offer, for example, to sing in Vancouver for a fee of a hundred dollars or so. But the air fare and hotel bill involved precluded traveling so far for a single engagement.

McConnell got to hear of her problem and underwrote her travel expenses to single engagements in North America and Europe that eventually made her moderately famous. In 1956 McConnell paid for her New York debut in Town Hall, a procedure that usually is a heavy commercial loss but a means of getting heard by the major critics. The concert cost two thousand dollars. Miss Forrester was a hit. Columbia signed her up for big-city appearances and Community tours. Although she continues to live in Montreal, the economics of her business

are such that she is thinking of living elsewhere. She finds that in her professional life she makes visits to C anada rather than leave Canada to visit other countries.

Lois Marshall, the Toronto soprano, had a similar experience. After plugging away at club dates in Ontario for fifteen years she attracted the attention of Walter Naumburg, a New York philanthropist who pays for three Town Hall concerts annually for unknown artists of merit. The critics cheered Miss Marshall and a Columbia contract followed.

Glenn Ci ou Id’s Town Hall debut in 1955 was financed by his father, a comfortably-olf furrier. Once more the critics were pleased. There was no offer from Columbia Artists Management, but Columbia Records, an affiliated company, gave Gould a three-year recording contract. Gould’s recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations was an unexpected sensation. It catapulted him to the top of the pianoforte bracket. Gould spurned New York management offers and clung to his old mentor Walter Homburger. Today Homburger has but to drop a postcard to any impresario in the world and give a date on which Gould is free and a top-fee engagement offer comes back by telegraph.

The latest Canadian star of the concert platform is Robert Turini, a Montreal pianist who in 1956 had the good luck to be heard by Vladimir Horowitz.

The master selected Turini as his only pupil. The result was Tmini's spectacular win of three fiercely contested European prizes. These brought Turini a debut last year at Carnegie Hall. New York, and a Columbia contract. The Canada Council then underwrote a series of concerts at which Turini played with all the major orchestras from Halifax to Vancouver. Next season Turini is being offered to organized audiences in Canada and the United States at seven hundred and fifty dollars a performance.

For each engagement Turini will pay Columbia a commission of fifteen percent, or $112.50, This is reasonable. In all cultural fields artists pay agents or managers about this percentage. But on top of this Turini will have to pay a further, bigger sum. part of which will also find its way into the Columbia bank account. This is the margin of the fee allotted to the promoters of the organized audiences.

Artists pay to Community Concerts a margin that follows a sliding scale, according to fees. The lower ones are:

Fee Margin

$300 or less................. $100

$400 to $500 ................ $ 150

$600 to $650 ................ $200

$700 to $1,100 .............. $250

$1,200 to $1,250 ............. $300

Thus Turini will pay his managers and the organized-audience promoters a total of $362.50 a performance and will keep $387.50. Out of his own take he will have to pay his publicity, transport and hotel bills. Singers and instrumentalists on tour also pay the transport, but not the hotel bill, of their accompanist, plus a performance fee.

J. P. Barwick says the margin taken by organized-audience promoters is "iniquitous.” Once the artist is paid there are few expenses save the rent of a hall, since most of the organization work is done free by local members of the association.

Tapscott of Community Concerts Inc. says: "The money is needed for the maintenance of the organization. It goes on the salaries and field expenses of Community representatives who are constantly traveling and building up more Community Concert Associations. This

is of ultimate benefit to the artist and other organizations. The artist is able to make short hops from town to town. But for this ability to tour economically, the small towns would never hear a great artist.”

On this point the report of the 1951 Royal Commission on the Arts, Letters and Sciences argues: “No Canadian musician would wish to exclude or to impede the few incomparably great artists whose concert tours in Cañada give great pleasure . . . and Canadian audiences cannot be expected to be content with indifferent performers only because they arc Canadian. But Canadian resident musicians ... by no means inferior in talent, in training and in experience to many of the visiting artists . . . are never included in the concert series conducted by the American agencies.”

Some Canadian artists who have made organized-audience tours under Columbia or National speak with disillusion about the benefits. Portia White, the Halifax contralto, whose New' York debut was financed by a special Nova Scotia provincial fund, says: “They burn the

lesser-known artists out because there are always more on the way up.” Once, in three days, she sang in Guatemala, Ecuador and Panama, and on another tour had to hop between engagements from Laguna Beach. California, to Prince Rupert, B.C. She gave up and now teaches singing at Branksome Hall, a private school for girls in Toronto.

John Knight, a Toronto pianist who got onto the Community Concert circuit, became a National Film Board sound engineer because he found the travel expenses, management commissions and margins consumed most of his fees.

Rose Goldblatt, the Montreal music teacher and festival adjudicator, who was described by the Royal College of Music in England as “perhaps the most brilliant pianist w'e have produced,” gets only sporadic concert engagements in Canada. Robert Ivan Foster, a Toronto baritone w'ho is famous in Europe, lives in London because he cannot get enough engagements in Canada. For the same reason a dozen Canadian opera singers arc playing in British and Continental companies. Boyd McDonald, a Saskatoon

pianist about whom London critics have raved, made less than a thousand dollars on a trip to Canada last year.

Carlina Carr, a Calgary pianist who lives in London, is celebrated throughout Europe for her devotion to modern composers. for her scrupulous interpretation of the composers’ genius, and for her restrained bearing on the platform. She gets only infrequent engagements in Canada when she returns to visit her parents.

In a recent letter to a concert manager. Miss Carr’s father asked: “Is it worth while for Carlina, who scorns sensationalism or subterfuge, or a lowering of her standards, to try to conform to public taste, or the lack of it, over here? Should we try to raise the money to put her in the North American rat race or should she drop out of the pianist picture over here entirely? She simply cannot continue in this way. Her expenses on the last jaunt were two hundred dollars more than her earnings. This leads me to believe that the general public on this side of the Atlantic is fooled into believing that affectation, mannerisms and eccentricities are evidence of genius and a measuring stick for depth of feeling and emotion. Uninformed reviewers, unscrupulous promoters, impresarios, advertising agencies and so on take advantage of this ignorance to build up so-called ’big name prestige’ on anything but real beauty.”

In and about Canada’s major cities there are small musical clubs that stand free of the organized-audience circuits and make a policy of engaging a specific number of Canadian artists each year. Among them are the women’s morning musical clubs of Toronto, Ottawa, London. Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver. In smaller towns there are such independent clubs as those of Oshawa, Etobicoke, Brantford and Brockville, Ontario. But these are neither numerous enough nor wealthy enough to form the basis of an indigenous concert platform nor to break the Columbia-National hold on the organized-audience circuits.

In Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal there remain old-time impresarios, like A. K. Gee, Walter Homburger, Albert Tremblay and Nicholas KoudriavtzefL who engage an artist, put up the money to rent the hall, buy the advertising space, and sell the tickets for a concert, making a gain or a loss according to their luck and ingenuity.

Since their own money is at stake, they tend to engage only famous artists through Columbia, National or the New York independent managements, and so give rising Canadian artists very few opportunities.

J. P. Barwick thinks that the solution to the problem lies in the Canada Council. He is now urging the Canada Council to subsidize a strong Canadian management company, one that would get bookings for Canadian artists in Canada and leave them enough of their fees to make traveling expenses worth while. The management would compete with Columbia and National in getting artists onto the organized-audience circuits but ensure that there was no pandering to undiscriminating tastes. Nor would it permit its assessment of its artists’ merit to be influenced by their volume or lack of publicity.

Until Barwick succeeds in his aim, many music lovers in Canada will continue to agree with Abram Chasins, a New York pianist, composer, radio station musical director and writer on musical affairs. In a recent book. Speaking of Pianists, Chasins wrote a chapter entitled The Chains of Management. It began with this sentence: “The plain facts of concert management are a scandal.” +