Maxim Gershunoff recapped highlights of his then six decades of experience as a performing arts administrator/artists manager in his memoir entitled It's Not All Song and Dance, A Life Behind the Scenes in the Performing Arts (Limelight Editions, 2005). The memoir was less about him and more about the artists with whom he has dealt such as Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Dimitri Mitropolous, Benny Goodman, Mistislav Rostropovich, George Balanchine, Margot Fonteyn, Sir Frederick Ashton, Alexandra Danilova, Frederic Franklin, Roland Petit, Zizi Jeanmaire and hosts of others of similar repute. The ensembles with which he was associated are all of world renown, including The Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, New York City Ballet, Kirov Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, and the Moiseyev Dance Company.
Since his very beginnings as a performing arts administrator and, then, as an artists manager, Maxim Gershunoff consistently fostered young, emerging talents. He became renowned for his ability to select artists who appeal to audiences in both their artistry and communicative skills. As Executive Director of the Santa Catalina Music Festival in 1960 then under the artistic direction of Academy Award winning Hollywood composer Franz Waxman, he was among the first to engage the youthful Leventritt Award prize winner Malcolm Frager; as a Vice-President of Hurok Concert Artists later in that decade, he launched the careers of a 16 year-old cellist by the name of Yo-Yo Ma, pianists Alexander Slobodyanik and Gregory Sokolov, violinist Viktor Tretyakov, and revived the career of pianist Alexis Weissenberg. Partnering with Leon Van Dyke in 1976 (pictured above left), he emerged as an independent artists manager and they were responsible for setting off the short-lived but meteoric international rise of pianist Youri Egorov. Those are but a few of the instances in which he mentored both the youthful and exceptionally talented.
During the years of the Cold War and the Soviet-American Cultural Exchange Program, and while employed at Hurok Concert Artists, the Russian speaking Maxim Gershunoff traveled with many of the leading musical and dance artists of the USSR such as violinists David amd Igor Oistrakh, pianists Sviatislav Richter and Emil Gilels, the aforementioned cellist Rostropovich and ballet illuminaries such as Maya Plisetskaya, Ulanova and Vladimir Vassiliev and the previously mentioned Russian ballet companies.
Until his retirement in 2014, Maxim Gershunoff continued his efforts on behalf of such pianistic talents as Brazilian-American Max Barros; Argentinian Javier Clavere who also appeared in duo piano concerts with his American born wife, Lindsay; Italian Christian Leotta who performed the complete Beethoven Sonata cycle world-wide; South African Petronel Malan; Russian-born Oleg Marshev whose recordings are likened to those of Richter and Ashkenazy; and the singular, Chicago born pianist-composer James Adler, a product of the mentoring of Rudolf Serkin. Notably, he has represented the first Gold Prize winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the American born Ralph Votapek, during the 1980s and, finally, the 2005 Gold Prize winner, Alexander Kobrin, until Mr. Gershunoff's retirement in 2014.
The international array of talent he provided counseling to included such violinists as the Austrian Wolfgang David; Korean-American Chin Kim (a Curtis Institute of Music alumnus) who also serves on the faculty of the Mannes School of Music; French virtuoso Frederic Pelassy and the now former concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, Glenn Dicterow.
A longtime friend of the legendary soprano Marni Nixon, after establishing his own artists management, she almost immediately joined his growing roster. Marni has published her own memoir, I Could Have Sung All Night, enlarging her fan base even more.
Summing up: Maxim Gershunoff, himself an alumnus of the Curtis Institute of Music, found musical talent from around the world based on his own experience as a musician having performed as a member of both the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner and the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. An especially memorable musical occasion occurred in 1984 on the 60th Anniversary of his alma mater when he presented the Curtis Symphony Orchestra conducted by the renowned Sergiu Celibidache in Carnegie Hall. That event was hailed by The New York Times as one of the most remarkable concerts of that year, particularly as the orchestra was comprised entirely of the instrumental students of the Curtis Institute of Music. However, that was merely one event in a lifetime of similar illustrious events in which he had a hand at creating.
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He collaborated with Stravinsky and Franz Waxman to create the Los Angeles Music Festival at UCLA in the 1950s, helped James A. Doolittle launch successful seasons at the Greek Theatre and worked with Sol Hurok in bringing dance companies such as the Bolshoi, the Kirov and the Moiseyev to the Southland during the Cold War.
His friends and clients included Bolshoi prima ballerina Maya Plisetskaya and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. He also launched the career of a cellist who was then 16, Yo-Yo Ma.
Now Gershunoff, 81, has written his memoirs, "It's Not All Song and Dance," with Leon Van Dyke, and the book reveals not only a lost golden age in the performing arts but also some artists with feet of clay. (He'll be at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena this evening and at Dutton's in Beverly Hills on Sunday afternoon to sign books and take questions.)
The son of Russian emigre musicians who were brought to the U.S. by Hurok in 1923, Gershunoff came to arts management indirectly. He first studied trumpet at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber were among his classmates. He then played under Fritz Reiner and Arturo Toscanini but grew increasingly bored by the repetitive aspects of the job. So, with encouragement from conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos, he went into arts management, ultimately serving for 12 years as vice president of Hurok Concerts Inc. He remains active in the field, representing, among others, soprano Marni Nixon and conductor Josι Serebrier.
Doolittle, who died in 1997 at 83, may be a hero to Angelenos. But not to Gershunoff. The impresario, he claims, finessed him and two other founding associates, Eleanor Peters and William Westcott, out of the Greek Theatre Assn. after its first successful summer season in 1951.
"We were naive," Gershunoff said in a recent phone interview from his home in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "The role Jimmy played was 'Help me, help me, because I can't do it myself.' We dove in, not thinking for ourselves."
Their efforts paid off, but later Peters, Westcott and he discovered that Doolittle had omitted their names from the association's founding charter, then manipulated them into resigning so he could take all the credit.
"We didn't speak for 40 years," Gershunoff said.
Readers who followed the drama of Soviet-era Kirov dancers Valery and Galina Panov struggling to emigrate to Israel will find similarly disappointing news. The Soviets didn't jail Valery Panov for being a
freedom fighter, Gershunoff writes, but because he beat up his wife's mother. Moreover, after emigrating to Israel, Panov hated living there and worked to get out as quickly as possible.
"Panov was simply an opportunist, with no ethics whatsoever," Gershunoff said.
There are also gossipy stories about Howard Hughes' fascination with Ballets de Paris star Renιe "Zizi" Jeanmaire and about Robert F. Kennedy's and Warren Beatty's interest in Plisetskaya.
Though no one is likely to want a return to the days when the Soviet agency that booked artists internationally took the bulk of performers' earnings, Gershunoff said that, for a promoter, there's a downside to the freedom that Russian artists enjoy today.
"It's less interesting to bring those huge, wonderful companies now that the stars can come in and be a guest with some other company," he said.
And the world has changed. Hurok's strategy was to invest his own money and build careers patiently if he had to.
"He figured if he lost on something, he'd make it another time. He brought the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo on the last boat that left Europe before the war," he said.
Though American audiences were unfamiliar with the company, Gershunoff said, Hurok "made it known little by little. He also made the guitar be a classical instrument by booking recitals over and over again."
Still, Hurok had far more venues available to him than promoters have these days, when the demand for classical artists has fallen off sharply at colleges and universities and the community concert associations that brought culture at low cost to so many people have almost vanished.
For those conditions, Gershunoff faults lack of music education and insufficient government sponsorship of the arts.
"Other countries invest money in their artists," he said, "and one sign of that sponsorship is the number of Finns on podiums around the world and the winners in the recent Cliburn competition, none of whom were Americans."
He also sees many of today's presenters as wrongheaded.
"They are basically unartistic marketing people. So they have to go the safe road, engaging and reengaging the same artists, blowing up their series with the image of somewhat faded names.... This is leading into a dead-end, one-way street."
If all this makes Gershunoff sound like a curmudgeon, he's not. He's cultured, direct and amusing, and not worried about remarks about, for instance, the Panovs that might seem libelous.
"That doesn't concern me at all," he said. "We have an attorney who was more worried about the Kennedy family and Warren Beatty. When we talked about being sued, he said, 'You should be so lucky.' "
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