Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Florence Foster Jenkins

“Pay-to-play” (aka “P2P”). It’s a fairly new term for something as old as the hills: paying (bribing?) others “for services or the privilege to engage in certain activities.”

P2P is particularly big in the book and music publishing industry today, in which publishers require authors and composers to underwrite the costs of production (and not infrequently marketing as well) for the “privilege” of receiving a 5% royalty on their books/scores sometime down the road. Such so-called “vanity productions” can cost tens-of-thousands of dollars. For academes who must publish-or-perish, P2P is often the only way to get into print. To my mind it’s nothing short of piracy.

Gilbert Kaplan
Gilbert Kaplan (1941-2016)

The most notable recent example of pay-to-play in the world of concert music is that of Gilbert Kaplan (1941-2016).

Born in New York City, Kaplan made his fortune when he sold his business/financial magazine Institutional Investor in 1984. According to The New York Times:

“The price was never disclosed but was rumored to be about $75 million.”

That was a chunk of change in 1984, the equivalent of $190 million today. With that sort of money in his pocket, the 43-year-old Kaplan was free to indulge his hobby full-time. That hobby? Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.

Kaplan had fallen for Mahler’s Second Symphony back in 1965, when he was 24 years old. That’s when he attended a rehearsal of the symphony by the American Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Leopold Stokowski, at Carnegie Hall. Kaplan later said:

“And that was it. Zeus threw the bolt of lightning. I walked out of that hall a different person. There’s been nothing that put me in orbit the way this did.”

Kaplan’s obsession (not too strong a word) with the symphony was such that he developed and nurtured a fantasy-that-would-become-a-compulsion: to become an orchestral conductor with precisely one work in his repertoire: Mahler’s Symphony No. 2.

Kaplan did not let the fact that he had no musical training get in the way of his compulsion. In 1981 he began taking conducting lessons, practicing as much as nine hours a day. In 1982, he hired the American Symphony Orchestra and rented Avery Fisher Hall at NYC’s Lincoln Center, where he led an invitation-only performance of Mahler’s Second to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Institutional Investor. The evening cost him upwards of $100k in 1982 dollars (although by involving his business in the event, he almost certainly took the cost of the concert as a tax write off).

Whatever; he was hooked. Kaplan went on to conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 over 100 times, for which he never accepted a fee.…

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