Industry Idols – Kim Sargeant

Wednesday 12th January 2011

This week’s Industry Idol is Kim Sargeant, the General Manager of the European Union Youth Orchestra.

What are the first, most important steps a young artist needs to take when they embark on their career as a performer?

To listen all the time – to your teachers, to other performers – and be your own worst critic. Get the basics rock solid – too many young players can play fast and loud but cannot play in time and in tune, let alone with dynamic subtlety. And to grasp every opportunity to play as much as you can.

What was your first job in the music industry?

I was a professional musician at the age of 6 or 7 as a chorister at Jesus College Cambridge, 4 services a week in term-time plus rehearsals, and one of the most important things I learnt was to treat all the music we sang, from Monteverdi to Messiaen and beyond, with an equally open mind.

What skills do you think are needed to succeed in the music industry?

Being a player at the highest level is only the foundation on top of which one needs to be both a team player but with something individual to contribute; adept at running one’s own small business, dealing with accounts, tax, marketing, long-distance driving, antisocial hours, an instinctive ability to sniff out the only curry house open in Zagreb at 10:30 on a Sunday night…

The very greatest artists I have had the privilege to work with have been very often the most humble – and inform their playing by their appetite for culture in all forms, be it poetry, painting or philosophy.

What’s the most important thing you’ve learnt during your career?

As a performer, we exist to serve the composer and the audience; as an administrator, we are there to support the performer in creating memorable performances while keeping our organisation solvent. Whatever abilities I have as a manager are primarily underpinned by my background as a player by training and experience.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The rush that comes from working with 140 young musicians who are the very best in Europe is the greatest high!

On a typical working day, what’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

Sadly, it’s looking at the position of our euro and sterling bank accounts and checking the exchange rates. Like any business, cash flow can be the death of us, and our exposure to exchange rate fluctuations compounds the problems.

Do you think there is anything in the classical music industry that needs to be changed? If yes, why?

The obscene imbalance between the unrealistic and unjustified fees asked by some hyped stars (or their agents!) and the orchestral players who work behind these egos, has never been more questionable than now, with public arts funding cutbacks. Recession has not touched these souls.

Are there any young musicians, emerging venues, exciting companies, composers… etc that you are keeping your eye on?

Well yes – of course – we audition around 4,000 young players every year and it is wonderful to follow them through to the 140 who are selected, and work with them. Then from that already highly select group, there are always those who one knows are going to become section leaders in the world’s leading orchestras.

Grafenegg, near Vienna, our host for our summer residencies since 2009, is just the most remarkable location – it shares a special ambience, like Dartington, where everything exists to give of one’s best.

We have just made our first ever commission, from Richard Causton, for an exciting concert opener as part of the 2012 Cultural Olympics. So – naturally – he’s the man to watch!

Where do you read about classical music?

Classical Music magazine, that I’ve read avidly since the first edition; BBC Music Magazine; Musical America, if one excuses the myopic view; and for another viewpoint, Norman Lebrecht.

Where is your favourite place in the world for classical music?

Anywhere the EUYO happens to be playing! – but in terms of audience response, especially from young people, Asia – South Korea especially – is hard to beat. The Royal Albert Hall is far from my favourite place in many ways, but to be swept up in a Proms performance tops everything.