Pew Center for Arts and Heritage

Get our monthly newsletter in your inbox for the latest on cultural events, ideas, conversations, and grantmaking news in Philadelphia and beyond.

Main page contents
The 1954 Newport Jazz Festival. Photo courtesy of Festival Productions Archives.

American Impresario

American Impresario

The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage supports enterprises that demonstrate courage, imagination, and the ability to push through barriers to attempt something new. American Impresario explores the careers and contributions of leading music curators throughout the country who embody these characteristics and whose creative works have profoundly influenced the field by giving listeners new ways to experience and understand music. In reading these essays, it becomes clear that traditional designations of success are not a calculated part of an impresario’s formula for music programming. It’s not just about bringing something new to the table but also reimagining the table.

American Impresario includes portraits of the following curators:

Robert Browning, World Music Institute founding director, and Helene Browning, World Music Institute co-founder and publicity and promotion director

Claire Chase, flutist and founding director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

David Harrington, founder and artistic director of the Kronos Quartet

John Schaefer of WNYC, one of the nation’s most adventurous radio producers

George Wein, pianist and founder of the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

The characteristics of an impresario include creative honesty and the ability to recognize great collaborators. A common thread throughout these curators’ early careers is that a fear of failure played no part in the equation for imagining and creating new programs. Impresarios also navigate, adapt, and respond to the ever-changing performance ecology. They have insight that is flexible enough to forge ahead and the ability to explore opportunities and to capitalize on discoveries; fresh ideas quickly move from the mind’s eye to the performance platform. Groundbreaking music platforms are often discovered accidentally. These curators have seen such scenarios as opportunities to experiment, evaluate, and create more defined performance situations.

An impresario relentlessly asks questions. What does music in other parts of the world sound like? Can an artist be a producer? How can we re-imagine classical music? How can we transform the presentation of the work of living composers? How can we program completely unknown music? Their answers to these questions demonstrate game-changing optimism, intense engagement, and perseverance. Other commonalities between these highlighted curators: steady nurturing and cultivation of local communities while connecting to the national stage; persistent advancement of the field through the discovery of new and relevant environments for work; and an interest in diversity and inclusion versus exclusion, through the representation and/or introduction of multiple generations of artists.

It’s not always a brilliant idea that is revolutionary but rather the seed of that idea coupled with a powerful and catalytic personality that can bring substance, voice, and reality to the forefront. These are the makings of the American Impresario.