Alexander Gilman, violinist and artistic director of the LGT Young Soloists, realized early on that it takes more than just talent to become a soloist. Here, he explains what that is and why musicians should not try and go it alone.
"People often forget that you need more than just talent in order to become a good musician. It takes motivation and excellent training, but also as much performance experience as possible. The problem, however, is that concert organizers do not regularly invite young musicians to perform. Why? Because these as-yet unknown performers don’t attract large audiences. That’s why networking is just as important as talent. Young people lack an understanding of how the music business works, of how often you have to take initiative, contact people and shake a few hands in order to get the chance to perform somewhere.
And that’s exactly why the LGT Young Soloists exist. I was very lucky during my childhood and youth, but the fact that I was able to regularly perform at concerts was also thanks to my parents’ commitment and my networks. That was a very strong motivating factor for me. It can be pretty tough, on the other hand, if a young musician has to practice at home for weeks on end with no prospect of a performance. And when you’re young, it’s unfortunately not easy to get booked regularly for concerts.
Today I support young musicians on their path, which I find incredibly enriching. Becoming a teacher was not something I planned: in my heyday, I was playing up to 60 concerts a year all over the world, and over time that gets very lonely. It wasn’t long after I was appointed assistant professor at the Zurich University of the Arts that I realized I could quickly identify my students’ problems and also solve them. These days, I only play a handful of concerts a year and otherwise devote myself to teaching. I have never regretted that decision.
That step also gave rise to the LGT Young Soloists: in 2013, I had the opportunity to organize a concert for an audience of LGT clients at the Liechtenstein City Palace in Vienna. Creating an orchestra for my students was something I had wanted to do for a long time, and this concert was the perfect opportunity. The performance was followed by standing ovations, and so we decided to found the LGT Young Soloists. We now tour and release music videos and CDs together, I help them expand their network, give interviews, plan their careers – in short, prepare them for life as professional musicians.
The ensemble consists of up to 30 soloists; the youngest at the moment is 14 years old, the oldest is 25. Every year we accept two or three new soloists following an entrance examination. However, it is not only musical ability that counts. It might sound like a contradiction, but we expect our soloists to be team players. As a soloist, you tend to be more of a loner, but the world doesn’t work that way. You don’t manage your career or your day-do-day work alone – and even soloists regularly play chamber music.
When we were founded, our PR agent told me that building an orchestra is like building a company. It takes years before you can enjoy your first successes. And the beginning was indeed very frustrating. No one applied to join us until we had made a name for ourselves. I had to find the young musicians myself, and concert promoters were not particularly interested in working with an unknown ensemble.
Then, in our second year, we released our first CD with Sony. That was followed by some bigger concerts. And in 2017, the ball really started rolling. We became popular on Instagram and Facebook because we’re not a normal orchestra; we don’t fit the philharmonic stereotype. Our style of playing and our videos are youthful, joyful, infectious. We just hit #1 on the Apple video charts in 41 countries with our new album Beethoven RECOMPOSED.
I also no longer have to go out looking for young string players. I have invited about 40 musicians to our next audition. But in the end, I will only be able to take about five of them."
Founded in 2013, the string ensemble brings together young talents from more than 15 countries. The idea behind the project is for young, highly talented musicians to perform together with their peers in an orchestra of their own. The regular performances give them the opportunity to try their hand as soloists, but also as chamber and orchestral musicians, and to develop their stage presence in the process.