Barry Alexander: How to launch and sustain a stellar career as a classical musician
My guest today is Barry Alexander, a dear friend of mine for over 10 years. I have always found Barry's passion as a musician, music educator and consultant mesmerizing. I've shared his success stories with my friends over the past decade, so it made perfect sense for me to propose a podcast interview with Barry. Even if you don't aspire to be a professional musician, I'm sure you will find his wisdom and insight helpful to your life and career.
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Barry Alexander and Cosmo Buono are helping classical musicians worldwide launch and sustain careers as professional artists, while also helping build the next generation of audiences.
I often refer to ABI as a classical music business empire. Starting with a single Piano competition in 2003, it quickly expanded to Voice, Strings and Flute, as well as an annual music festival, a not-for-profit foundation, and most recently an Academy (ABIA) launching in January 2015. In this interview, Barry shares ABI's philosophy for helping classical musicians launch and sustain their careers.
ABI's seminars train musicians how to perform but also how to navigate the business side of the classical music world. The Master Class Series of ABIA provides a platform where music students meet once a month for six months. These artists come together to practice repertoire and ultimately perform at Carnegie Hall for their final recitals. The Master Class Series teaches musicians how to appear on stage, how to choose the right repertoire, how to perform under pressure and how to manage and triage the unpredictable challenges.
One of my favorite topics with Barry is when he discussed his belief that "Talent alone is not enough." In other words - it's not just a question of how talented you (the musicians) are, but how you present the materials."
Alexander & Buono International (ABI) teaches and conditions the musicians to be proactive after winning a competition. "The competition, as a platform, helps you gain as much visibility as possible but the journey doesn't stop there. You have to know how to market yourself including how to write press releases and other subtle procedures." Barry added, "You have to understand how the market works in order to succeed in that market." ABI de-mystifies and de-mythologizes that process.
Speaking of the struggles many musicians face, Barry responds to a misconception he often encounters as a teacher and consultant.
"Some students believe that 'I'm only as good as someone else says I am.' ABI replaces this belief with: 'I am as good as my talent and my willingness to work allow me to become.' " Barry believes that musicians and artists must examine their abilities from the inside out, in order to maximize strength and minimize weakness.
In regards to facing stage fright and the inability to perform at one's best, Barry and his team created a system that anyone (not just musicians) could benefit and learn from. "While in studio, you are already practicing to be in control of everything you do on stage. You have to understand the physical connection and techniques. It's not your responsibility to make people like you or to simply impress your audience. However, it is your responsibility to find out all the components to do your job, and to make sure that you do your job. At the end the performance, "Did I do my job?" is the right question to ask yourself, and this saves you from the misconception that someone else makes all the decisions for you.
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Show Notes (Times Are Approximate):
- In Barry's words, what is Alexander Buono International (ABI), Alexander Buono Competition (ABC) and the Alexander Buono Foundation (ABF). [6:00]
- My first experience of the ABI competition [12:30]
- ABI's classical music consulting services to build, advance and sustain music careers [15:00]
- Why musician's talent alone is not enough [16:00]
- Are American musicians at a disadvantage in classical music compared to the rest of the world? [20:15]
- The launch of ABIA (The Academy) in January 2015 [23:00]
- The Book: The Classical Musician Today - getting and keeping the career your want [30:50]
- How to create the greatest success? Teaching students, musicians to be resilient through a proven system [35:30]
- ABI's Amateur Division for people who simply enjoy playing music and improving their skills [41:00]
- The confidence dimension in classical music that helps other aspects in life - such as a job interview [43:15]
- What are questions that haven't been asked enough by parents and students? [45:00]
- How has technology changed people's expectations to be faster/bigger/stronger in no time - but the physiology process of developing a talent is still the same and can be painstaking. [51:00]
- Learn about Barry firsthand - who he is and where he comes from [53:40]
- The child is not a prodigy - but a child who is doing what's right for him/her at the right time [55:05]
- Respect your child and his/her ability to learn will enhance the level of affection and pleasure in learning and life [56:30]
- The documentary for ABI in the work by Christina Voros - a Brooklyn-based director and cinematographer, recognized by IFP’s Filmmaker Magazine as one of their “25 New Faces in Independent Film.” [59:30]
Information on ABI Artists:
Violinist Kinga Augustyn won the inaugural Alexander & Buono International String Competition in 2009, and afterward went on to make recordings narrated by Catherine Zeta-Jones, while also appearing throughout the world as a solo and chamber artist. She is a graduate of The Juilliard School, and recently earned her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University.
Jan Lisiecki won our piano competition in 2009 at the age of thirteen. He now has an international career with over a hundred concerts a year, and a five CD recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
Thomas Nickell has been a client of our firm since 2011, and recently his career has included a three-continent tour of Europe, Asia and the United States. In 2015 he makes his first recording with orchestra, and has two European recital tours.
Benedetta Orsi won the Barry Alexander International Vocal Competition in 2012. Since then she has appeared as Ulrica in Un Ballo in Maschera with the Miami Lyric Opera, and will make her debut with the Boulder Opera in May in the title role of Bizet’s Carmen. She also returns to the stage of Carnegie in April of 2015 for the second time as a special guest artist of the Annual ABC Gala.
Anna Shelest, (annashelest.com) came to us in 2009 as well, when she was a second year Master’s student at Juilliard. She became a consulting client, and after winning our piano competition came to the attention of another foundation with whom we partner, The Michel and Elizabeth Sorel Charitable Organization (sorelmusic.org). Together with our foundation (The Alexander & Buono Foundation) she made her Carnegie Hall orchestral debut, her Alice Tully Hall debut, and her Kennedy Center debut all is less than a year.
A laureate of the 2013 Alexander & Buono International Flute Competition, Amanda Sparfeld is the principal flutist with the Michigan Opera Theatre, and plays with a number of chamber groups throughout Michigan