With the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2014, it felt like the appropriate time to look back at past accomplishments and ahead to future challenges and opportunities.
Part of that “what next?” excitement will undoubtedly come from the recent appointment of Maxim Antoshin as the new Executive Director of the Ottawa Chamber Music Society—the governing body of the annual Chamberfest.
The success of seasons to come will stem from the ability of Artistic Director Roman Borys and Antoshin to get and stay on the same page while the board of directors provides their senior staff with the necessary support to realize the collective vision of both men. Having already sounded out Borys about his plans and aspirations a few years ago (cross-reference below), it seemed only natural to have a conversation with Antoshin while the concerts were in full swing.
Meeting up for a breakfast chat—that very nearly overlapped with lunch at the Westin Hotel—proved to be the perfect setting, for just across the Rideau Canal we could see the very office at the National Arts Centre where Antoshin had a stint as a development officer for the NAC’s foundation.
But before exploring more recent activities, some background was needed to set the stage.
JWR: I know your musical studies and early career began in St. Petersburg. What caused you to take up the bassoon?
MA: In the beginning, I thought I was going to be a pianist. But I wasn’t very encouraged when my first teacher declared me to be incapable of being a musician at all. Switching teachers helped but my grades [a 1-5, excellent/poor system] were close to the automatic removal range [<4]. It was a very competitive environment; the pressure was on everyone. The turning point was in Grade 7. Bassoons were needed for the orchestra and it seemed my chances for survival would be much greater if I started fresh with a new instrument. Almost immediately I developed a crazy love for symphonic music and opera. I’ll never forget Aida!
It was also pointed out to me that as a bassoonist, [because of supply and demand] I would “always have a piece of bread and butter.”
JWR: And so life as a performer appeared to be your career path. How did that morph into management?
MA (smiling broadly): In my early teens, I had behaviour issues and exceeded the school’s quota of reprimands. But rather than kick me out, the director of our school symphony offered to let me stay if I would become the orchestra’s manager. I would get my own desk, a very small salary, be able to skip lessons and have a staff of two [librarian, stagehand]. That worked out so well that I began to develop ambitions.
JWR: As I understand it, that was same Gergiev that you had an altercation with at the Mariinsky Theatre in 2002 because of not just the fact that as a per-service musician you had to leave the rehearsal of Mahler 5 for another gig, but your winter boots soiled the famous flooring.
MA: My playing days were pretty much over due to that small accident. Gergiev just flipped out and I offered no apology. Plan B became enrolling in an arts management program in Salzburg. I had been led to expect a scholarship, but when I arrived in 2004 there was no financial assistance. So I lived on the streets and tried to make a bit of money as a busker. Between academic sessions, I went to Munich and busked with some friends—we made a lot more there than in Salzburg. Eventually I did finish my thesis, but wasn’t allowed to defend it until all of my tuition had been paid.
JWR: In the meantime your wife moved to Winnipeg in order to improve her equestrian skills. When it became clear that your first child would be born there, you decided to stay in Canada and eke out a living as a labourer until some sort of job in the arts could be found.
MA: Yes, but after applying like crazy, I was hired by Theatre North West in Prince George, British Columbia. And as much as I enjoyed my time there, I still felt there was something missing in my skill sets. Without much hope, I applied to become a fellow at the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute and was both delighted and amazed when I was accepted. Michael Kaiser [President of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and affectionately known as “the Turnaround King,” helping struggling arts companies get back on their feet] said he saw some potential in me. So I totally invested myself, pulling all-nighters for research; there is no doubt that this experience was the turning point in my career. Even my wife noticed a difference when I came back.
JWR: Of all the things you learned in Washington, what still resonates with you today?
MA: There is absolutely no doubt that the success for any performing arts organization comes from a healthy, exciting product and a strong board that doesn’t sit back and deal only with policy.
JWR: And by all counts you put those key findings into practice during your years as executive director with the Regina Symphony Orchestra.
MA: Establishing an Education and Outreach Fund, beginning a business club, negotiating a five-year agreement with the musicians, bringing in guest conductors and planning the Centennial Concert attended by the Prince of Wales all came from what I learned from Michael Kaiser and his colleague David Kitto at the Kennedy Center.
JWR: And now as you are finishing up with Regina, it is time to turn another page in your own growth and development as your work begins in Ottawa. Knowing that you and Roman are most certainly of like minds and have passion for the festival along with its ever-expanding repertoire and that it will take a bit of time to find your natural flow when working together, what, in general, can we look forward to in 2015 and the next 20 years?
MA: I have been following the festival since 2010. Now, here as an audience member until next month, I still cannot believe what a great experience Chamberfest is. It is really fantastic to see so many people lining up for the concerts. The more I hear, the more I fall in love with the chamber music repertoire. I can promise anyone that they’ll be in for a real treat and want more, they will find this experience special--the atmosphere, performances, and programming--and like nowhere else. JWR