Emerging Ideas: Classical Music’s New Entrepreneurs (Part 2)

Posted by Mr. Ian David Moss, Oct 26, 2011 0 comments

Ian David Moss

(This three-part post is the first of a series on emerging trends and notable lessons from the field, as reported by members of the Americans for the Arts Emerging Leaders Council.)

For Judd Greenstein, founder of New Amsterdam Records, explorations across genre aren’t just about bringing popular music into a classical context.

Greenstein and his NewAm co-directors, Sara Kirkland Snider and William Brittelle, have classical pedigree a-plenty—they've done time at the graduate music programs of Yale, Princeton, and CUNY—but see their work as part of a mission to launch the music that they and their colleagues write into the same stratosphere with other forms of indie music.

“One of the points of NewAm is to move around and beyond the historicism of the classical community and the self-reflection that pervades it,” Greenstein says. He points to the label’s appearance on top-10 lists and charts from multiple musical worlds (such as the NPR and New York Times Classical lists, the iTunes jazz chart, and the College Music Journal 200) as evidence of its success at positioning music that comes (at least in part) from the classical tradition as something that people who don’t think of themselves as classical lovers can enjoy.

Now, the for-profit New Amsterdam Records has become a subsidiary of a new nonprofit organization: New Amsterdam Presents.

“We had always wanted the record company to be a nonprofit, but after two years of wrangling with the IRS, we realized we couldn’t do it,” says Greenstein. Ironically, the label’s pro-artist revenue-sharing agreement–posted for the world to see on the web–was the sticking point. The presenting organization helps NewAm in other ways, however–by expanding the roster of artists that it can represent, and providing an infrastructure for year-round rather than project-based fundraising.

Unlike Alarm Will Sound and New Amsterdam, Charith Premawardhana’s Classical Revolution (CR) shies away from neither the term “classical” itself nor the music it typically represents.

Premawardhana started Classical Revolution as a weekly chamber music salon series at Revolution Cafe in San Francisco. An alumnus of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Premawardhana was frustrated with what he calls the “corporate” nature of the traditional symphony orchestra world, and longed to reach a wider and more diverse audience with his playing.

Five years and 500 performances later, Classical Revolution has performed in a dizzying array of venues around the Bay Area, “from cafes and bars to backyards and living rooms to museums and concert halls,” according to Premawardhana.

Recent and upcoming programming has included tangos, an indie rock band, and a tribute to the Velvet Underground, as well as works by contemporary composers. CR has even inspired a far-flung network of 16 like-minded chapters in places from Cincinnati to Melbourne, with six more on the way.

While Classical Revolution currently receives fiscal sponsorship through San Francisco Friends of Chamber Music, Premawardhana talks of acquiring independent 501(c)(3) status so that CR can provide fiscal sponsorship itself to its various chapters around the country. Up until now, Premawardhana has not been paying himself due to lack of funding; he reports that almost all income goes to pay for musicians and space rental.

*Editor’s Note: You can read Part 1 of Ian's posts here and Part 3 here.

Please login to post comments.