Vera Wilson was merely a music-crazy teenager growing up in Buenos Aires when she first thought of helping to guide musicians from the conservatory to the professional world. It took her more than 30 years before she founded Astral Artists. It began 20 years ago this fall, a humble opening season featuring four recitals. Last year, Astral’s musicians performed at over 170 engagements.
There is remarkable quality in all that quantity. Astral employs a rigorous audition process, with a panel of top-flight artists making the calls. The young performers come from the elite schools from across the country, and so are accustomed to the rigors of upper echelon music-making. That does not always mean that they have the business sense, or appreciation of marketing, to survive in what can be a cut-throat world. Wilson says that “the musicians need to have the motivation, discipline, stamina and determination to work alongside our team, and trust that our advice is for their benefit.”
Having watched many of the Astral crew take wing over the years, it is easy to imagine that sheer musical ability is only one of the qualities that Astral looks for. I’ve known several of them, including the basso extraordinaire Eric Owens, violinist Soovin Kim, flutist Mimi Stillman and the cult-favorite pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
They are all wonderfully compelling artists, but in addition, radiate a personal charisma that takes their art to a higher level. Every Astral season boasts yet another crop of similarly endowed bright-eyed youngsters.
It is that shiny joyfulness that consistently provides the touch of magic that enlivens Astral concerts. I get the same thrill at Curtis orchestra concerts; those kids do not have the wisdom and cohesion of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but there is a vital spark that the more seasoned players have left behind. Astral does double duty by providing a venue for that unique energy, and also working behind the scenes in nurturing nascent professional careers. Why didn’t someone think of this before?
Astral commemorates its 20th season with a gala concert featuring current and past Astral musicians, plus guests, at the Kimmel Center on Sept. 29, astralartists.org.