- The Great Orchestrator: Arthur Judson and American Arts Management by James M. Doering
Anyone familiar with the history of the American classical music industry is likely to have encountered the name and accomplishments of Arthur Judson (1881–1975). Although most well-known for his work as an artists’ manager, Judson’s concurrent appointment as the head of two major American orchestras and the founder of a radio broadcasting company may be even more historically significant. It is not hyperbole to say that Arthur Judson stood at or near the center of American musical life for half a century, shepherding the American orchestra into its first golden age while asserting bilateral power as both a buyer and seller of musical talent. Despite his larger-than-life reputation, however, Judson’s story—including his fall from grace following public inquiries into his potentially conflicting professional interests—has received scant attention from music historians.
The explanation behind the lack of scholarly treatment afforded to Judson and his career is fairly mundane: as a behind-the-scenes business manager who spent his time publicizing famous performers, conductors, and ensembles, Judson does not fit a prototypical profile ripe for musicological inquiry. Luckily for us, James Doering has put aside these disciplinary norms in a new biography of Judson that chronicles his professional life, “from musical genius to corporate villain.” Based on Doering’s dissertation, the book presents a kinder and more nuanced depiction of Judson than the limited scholarship previously published on the subject (Norman Lebrecht, Who Killed Classical Music?: Maestros, Managers, and Corporate Politics [New York: Birch Lane Press, 1997]; Joseph Horowitz, Classical Music in America: A History of Its Rise and Fall [New York: W. W. Norton, 2005], 416–32). Doering’s treatment of Judson also extends beyond the scope of traditional biography, although there is plenty of that here. In addition to uncovering how Judson the man was shaped by certain experiences and opportunities presented early in his life, Doering traces the transformation of the orchestra field and explores the complex relationship between music and business more generally. For Doering, Judson’s story suggests that music management is about more than dollars and cents; “it is about assessing challenges, balancing egos, crafting compromises, and in the process trying not to lose sight of the musical goals that bind those things together” (p. 11). While Doering does an admirable job of contextualizing Judson’s personal history within the broader shift in American concert culture, it remains unclear whether Judson’s vision was a catalyst for, or consequence of, this development.
The book is broken into three parts: “Discovering the Audience, 1900–1921,” “Cooperation and Cultivation, 1921–1942,” and “The Empire of Diminishing Returns, 1942–1956.” Although the bulk of Doering’s analysis is organized chronologically, certain sections emphasize thematic continuity, tracing Judson’s various career trajectories in artist management, orchestra administration, and radio. Before charting any of these paths, however, Doering introduces us to a different Arthur Judson—one that foreshadows a lifelong interest in and commitment to audience development. Trained as a violinist, Judson first cut his teeth as a performing musician and teacher, serving as a professor and then dean of music at Denison University in Ohio. Despite his ambitions to be a virtuoso performer, however, it quickly became clear that Judson’s true talents lay in management and organization. While at Denison, he strengthened music’s position in the general curriculum, convincing the university’s administration to recognize non-majors enrolled in music classes for credit. Judson also produced a series of concerts for the surrounding community, although he quickly realized that his vision of developing a new generation of classical music listeners was being stunted by his rural surroundings.
With this in mind, Judson moved to New York City in 1907. For the rest of his life, he spent much of his time and energy exploring the tenuous relationship between concert music and its audience, first as a journalist...