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“Unprecedented” Alliance Between SF Conservatory and Opus 3 Artists Raises Hopes, Prompts Questions

October 20, 2020

Garrick Ohlsson, Mason Bates, and Jeremy Denk are already in San Francisco and teach at the Conservatory.

Marin Alsop, Donald Runnicles, Clarice Assad, Emanuel Ax, Jonathan Biss, James Darrah, Stephanie Blythe, Mei-Ann Chen, James Conlon, JoAnn Falletta, Christine Goerke, Nathan Gunn, Brian Jagde, Jahja Ling, Yo-Yo Ma, Wu Man, Edward Nelson, Lisette Oropesa, and many other Opus 3 Artists will return to their San Francisco venues of past triumphs.

This amazing future promise is a possibility arising from today’s San Francisco Conservatory of Music announcement. The school is “acquiring the premier management firm Opus 3 Artists, to form a new alliance that brings together our exceptional SFCM family with nearly 250 of the world’s greatest artists and organizations.” The alliance, says the announcement, “will allow Opus 3 artists to visit San Francisco, reside in the Bowes Center, and experiment with new ideas.”

Opus 3 Artists has some 50 employees worldwide and generated about $3.38 million in sales in one recent year. Some of the agency’s publications referred to 150, rather than 250, artists it’s engaging.

The Conservatory announcement states:

This groundbreaking alliance is the first of its kind and encapsulates the innovation, creativity, and excellence for which our conservatory and our city are known.

SFCM acquired Opus 3 by harnessing the independent support of an angel investor who provided resources specific to this purpose. As with all of our recent mission-driven initiatives, this has been brought to life through philanthropy.

The alliance will offer unparalleled opportunities for our students to work with and learn from the world’s top artists. ... Over the coming months, we’ll share additional details about new projects in community engagement, commissions, internships, and apprenticeships. Without question, our alliance with Opus 3 Artists further distinguishes SFCM globally in the unmatched educational experience we offer to students.”

Any such acquisition would be without precedent, but the size and history of Opus 3 makes the announcement headline news not only in the world of music and art but also among business executives and attorneys. Few details are contained in the original announcement and the source of financing what must be a multimillion-dollar acquisition remains confidential — at least for the time being.

The acquisition also brings up the question of possible conflicts of interest from a nonprofit point of view. The current dismal pandemic situation has little promise of profits, but when (if) life returns to normal, will it be a problem that an otherwise qualified charitable organization — the Conservatory — is involved in generating profits?

The agency’s reason for the deal, says Opus 3 President David V. Foster, is the pandemic: “As the Covid thing hit and we had to reduce our staff, it became clear we were going to have much reduced income. So the question is then, what do you do?”

Opus 3 Artists, according to the organization’s website, traces its roots to the pioneering role of the legendary Sol Hurok, the great 20th-century impresario and artist manager, whose dominant position in North America spanned half a century between the 1920s and 1970s. A successor organization, ICM Artists, was formed in 1976 as a subdivision of International Creative Management, and the company became independent again in 2006 as Opus 3 Artists LLC.

The Conservatory announcement says Opus 3 Artists will continue to operate as an autonomous company, “delivering global management services for over 250 distinguished artists.” Stull will serve as chairman of the alliance, “overseeing a joint strategic leadership team charged with building a sustainable economic model that leverages infrastructure and provides new resources for collaboration and creative production.” Foster will continue as President and CEO of Opus 3 Artists.

Foster is quoted as saying, “The alliance is a triumph of new thinking and possibility for the future at a critical time in the performing arts. Thoughtful and imaginative collaboration is the currency of success for our common future. Opus 3’s artist managers and staff enthusiastically embrace this opportunity for ourselves and our clients, and we all share the aspiration to keep music vibrant and to support participation for all in every community.”

The Conservatory announcement stated:

Opus 3 artists will have opportunities to advance their own work through commissions from composers, undertake new recording projects, and test new ideas in collaboration with colleagues. … This opportunity for creative work expands on SFCM’s existing commitment to a 10-Year Emerging Black Composers Project with the San Francisco Symphony.

In addition, SFCM’s Technology and Applied Composition (TAC) program, in which over half the students are women, leads in developing educational partnerships with pioneers in music production based in the San Francisco Bay Area, including Dolby Laboratories, Sony Music Entertainment, Skywalker Sound, Meyer Sound Laboratories, sE Electronics, and Electronic Arts. These commissions, recordings, and innovative projects will leverage the favorable economies of being hosted in the educational and production facilities of SFCM.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].