Susan Wadsworth: Almost 50 Years of Young Concert Artists Series

New York, N.Y.  Not many people can fulfill their passion – and build an institution – for fifty years. Susan Wadsworth can. The founder of the Young Concert Artists Series (YCA) in New York City is an international legend.

Susan and I shared lunch recently at her regular spot, Brasserie Cognac – with the meal prepared by chef Florian Victor Hugo, great-grandson of the French author.

Susan has a certain joie de vivre that keeps here going strong for five decades.

Founder Susan Wadsworth: Almost Fifty Years of Young Concert Artists Series.

After graduating from Vassar, Susan studied piano at the Mannes College of Music where she met a number of musicians she thought were extraordinarily talented. “I was aware that they were at a time in their lives when nothing was happening for them, and I thought it would be fun to do something,” Susan told me.

What began as a lark – arranging concerts for her friends – became a passion for identifying and shepherding young talent.

Susan founded Young Concert Artists in 1961, a unique nonprofit organization that discovers and launches the careers of extraordinary young musicians on all instruments and voice.

Among her proteges: violinist Pinchas Zukerman, pianists Murray Perahia, Emanuel Ax, and Richard Goode and soprano Dawn Upshaw.

The list does not stop there. Susan has launched the careers of hundreds of exceptional, but unknown, young musicians from all over the world. Her YCA opens the doors to the international concert world.

Young Concert Artists has been perhaps the most important conduit for fine young performers from the conservatories into the professional world of music.

Susan’s organization does this by providing all-important management services, important debuts, and performing experience at no cost to the artists.

Having great talent is often not enough. The young artists are also given assistance with their debut recordings, publicity materials, promotion, and anything else needed for their career to blossom.

I wrote about one of these YCA performers recently, Young Korean-American Hahn-Bin Wows Carnegie Hall In Debut Performance.

The Young Concert Artists Series presents the debuts of newly discovered artists each year in New York, at Merkin Hall, with special events at Lincoln Center, and in Washington D.C. at the Kennedy Center. They have a Young Concert Artists Festival week in its 5th year in Tokyo. The lucky YCA Artists are chosen through the Young Concert Artists International Auditions

The concerts’ reviews are exceptionally positive. According to the New York Times:

Young Concert Artists has acquired a special status in the musical world, and deservedly so. Its auditions and concerts have brought to public attention a steady stream of remarkable musicians. It is extremely doubtful that any organization anywhere could have matched the YCA record for spotting great talent and helping it along.

The organization holds auditions annually I New York with the Finals at the 92nd Street Y and every other fall in Leipzig, Germany at the legendary conservatory founded by the composer Felix Mendelssohn, where Schumann taught and Wagner and Grieg studied, among many other celebrated musicians. The number of winners varies from year to year as there is no specified limit to the number of participants who can win.

YCA educates and builds new audiences through the Annaliese Soros Educational Residency Program. This program allows YCA artists to give hundreds of lecture-demonstrations, mini-concerts, master-classes, and “outreach” activities at schools, colleges and community centers throughout the country in connection with their concert engagements.

“The way the world was fifty years ago for young artists was so different. There were basically no opportunities. There was only one competition that gave one New York debut each year. Our concert tickets cost $2.50,” Susan reminisced over her salad.

Today, Young Concert Artists works with a $2.4 million annual budget, but has had to cut back in these difficult times.

Among the artists who began their careers with Young Concert Artists are violinists Pinchas Zukerman, Ani Kavafian, and Chee-Yun; pianists Murray Perahia, Emanuel Ax, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and Olli Mustonen; flutists Paula Robison and Eugenia Zukerman; cellists Fred Sherry and Carter Brey; trumpeter Stephen Burns; and soprano Dawn Upshaw.

The Young Concert Artists also helped launch the Tokyo, the St. Lawrence, and the Borromeo String Quartets.

The Young Concert Artists Series’ Advisory Board includes such international luminaries as Bard College President Leon Botstein, Japan’s Kyushu Symphony Orchestra in Fukuoka, conductor Heiichiro Ohyama, Toronto Symphony Orchestra Music Director Peter Oundjian, violinist, Itzhak Perlman, Korean violinist Kyung-Wha Chung, soprano Leontyne Price, legendary pianist Van Cliburn, Japanese violist Nobuko Imai, conductor and pianist James Levine, the phenomenal Yo-Yo Ma, New York Philharmonic Orchestra director Zarin Mehta, German conductor Kurt Masur, Israeli violinist and conductor Pinchas Zukerman, and so many others.

I have been in the Fukuoka Performance Hall, far to the south of Japan, and found it to be one of the most spectacular performance spaces I have ever seen.

Attending the debut of an unknown musician is often a risk at best. However, in New York City, Washington – and now Tokyo, under the almost 50-year leadership of Susan Wadsworth, with the Young Concert Artists, music lovers can know without a doubt know that they are hearing la creme de la creme from around the world.

Susan Wadsworth is to be congratulated for her five-decade accomplishment in the world of music as a Thought Leader and Global Citizen. She is the matriarch of international classical music.

Originally published in The Huffington Post,  April 20, 2010.

Other Stories by Jim Luce:

Annabella Gonzalez Dance Troup Presents Spring Series Juntos, Featuring “Unidos” (Together) (HuffPo)

Itzhak Perlman to Perform at Lincoln Center for Rotary to Eradicate Polio (HuffPo)

Wynton Marsalis Awarded French Legion of Honor in New York City (HuffPo)

El Museo del Barrio: Fifth Avenue on Fire (HuffPo)

Voces y Visiones: Four Decades of El Museo del Barrio’s Permanent Collection (DailyKos)

Young Korean-American Hahn-Bin Wows Carnegie Hall In Debut Performance (HuffPo)

New York Film Academy Focuses on Turkish Film (DailyKos)

Indian Legend Plays New York City, Thanks Obama (Huff Po)

Park Avenue’s Nichibei Exchange – and the Japanese Flute (Huff Po)

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The Luce Index
100 – YoYo Ma
98 – Susan Wadsworth
97 – Leon Botstein
96 – Itzhak Perlman
94 – Annaliese Soros
94 – James Levine
93 – Hahn-Bin
92 – Van Cliburn

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