Insights with Catarina Amon — Classeek's Founder
The Violin Channel was keen to know how the career enhancement initiative supports its group of promising young artists
Based in Lausanne, Switzerland, Classeek is an alliance of passion for the classical music world and the desire to provide global technological solutions to artists and musicians.
In 2018, Classeek created the Ambassador Programme to provide a one-year career enhancement initiative for promising young classical musicians who are ready for a performance career at the highest level. You can meet the 2022/23 Cohort of Young Artists here.
The Violin Channel had the pleasure of having a conversation with Classeek's founder Catarina Amon, to discuss the inspiration behind the organization, her advice for young artists, and the role of career development programs in the industry.
Can you tell us more about Classeek? When did you start it and what was your initial vision?
Classique was founded in 2017 in Lausanne, Switzerland. The idea had been growing in my mind for some time. For years, I had been organizing private events and inviting musicians to perform at them. Diving into the world of classical music made me realize the unique challenges faced by artists in order to get established and succeed.
It seemed to me that talent discovery and performance opportunities were still relying on a traditional business model based on relationships, word of mouth, and personal recommendations. I realized how important networking was and that there are many closed-off and disconnected networks. Because of this, many talented artists were not always discovered and were missing opportunities.
All of this got me thinking about how Classeek could assist in discovering and supporting talented artists.
"Since its inception, I strongly believed talent could shine regardless of location, connections, and/or financial constraints."
Also, entrepreneurship and innovation were always very important to me and that's why we settled our offices at the Innovation Park of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) — symbolizing the alliance between our passion for classical music and the latest technologies.
Overall, the aim of Classeek is to help artists get discovered, create more opportunities for them, bring quality music to more people, and make the world a better place!
Can you tell us about yourself, your musical upbringing, and your obvious passion for the arts?
I come from a Portuguese banking family that has always been very connected to the arts. My great-grandfather was one of the most important art collectors of his time. I left Portugal in 1975 just after the revolution of 1974 to go to Brazil, which is a country of music.
My parents were always listening to all types of music at home in Brazil, and I still have their record collection that we listened to often.
I fell in love with the piano specifically when I arrived in Rio at the age of four. My great-uncle played his grand piano every evening, and since then, I wanted to learn how to play. After trying to learn twice when I was younger, I finally started to seriously study as an adult. I found an amazing teacher at the Lausanne Conservatory, where I finished my degree in music and music theory. Now I still play the piano regularly and go to my teacher. Music is a huge part of my life and I can’t live without it!
What was the inspiration behind starting the Ambassador Programme? Can you give us some insight into how that came to be?
The Ambassador Programme started in a very natural way. We have a beautiful space, a renovated 18th-century riding school, that was turned into a ‘family event hall,’ let’s say. We hosted many family events and concerts there.
My three children, and their music education in Lausanne, inspired me to want to attract a younger audience to classical music. One of the best ways, I thought, would be to invite younger artists to perform.
The program started by organizing concerts with artists recommended by musicians from my inner circle. From this group of musician friends, I selected them based not only on the quality of their playing but also on their passion for helping the next generation of artists.
Who could identify these young artists' talent and potential better than the established musicians that already knew them well? Today, our ambassadors include the likes of Sir András Schiff, Gautier Capuçon, Emmanuel Pahud, and more.
Six years in, the program hasn't stopped developing and has become a prominent career accelerator. Many of our young artists have very little access to the stage, especially once the pandemic hit.
"The program aims to give them a platform so we can hear their unique voice."
The Violin Channel will be streaming two of the artist’s recitals in the next year. Other than these performances, what other forms of support do the artists receive?
At first, we onboard the artists with a discussion about their dreams and their goals. Each artist then performs a concert that is broadcast live on classeek.com, which can be viewed all over the world. This concert opportunity is recorded with optimal audio/visual quality.
The day after the concert, we organize a day of masterclasses, especially for the artists who really want to develop their teaching skills and transmit the knowledge that they receive from their mentors to an even younger generation. In partnership with the Conservatoire of Lausanne, our Classeek artists get to teach the conservatory students in a formal education setting.
I also realized that photography was important to our artists, so we started providing photo shoots for promotional materials. We work with two young photographers who capture well the different characters of the artists in a very fresh and original way. We are currently enhancing our team of coaches for even more media and career support.
We also conduct interviews with the artists that give them the chance to convey their unique viewpoints. The interviews are conducted by Benjamin Woodroffe, who has a natural talent for making the interview seem like it’s a conversation. The artists are very comfortable and open up!
Overall, we are there to provide advice and we try to answer all the questions that surround the beginning of the artist’s career.
The program acts as a conduit to relevant industry figures. Can you tell us about this illustrious professional network?
Following each artist's concert, there is a cocktail party afterward to allow the artists to meet the audience. The invited audience is filled with those who are enthusiastic about discovering an artist — such as promoters, industry figures, and patrons.
This gathering of sorts allows the artists to network and meet prominent figures in the music industry, both in Switzerland and abroad.
What sets the Classeek Ambassador Programme apart from other young artist enhancement initiatives?
Every program is different, each with its own DNA, geography, and network. What makes Classeek different is the digital dimension that transcends geographical constraints. Firstly, we stream all of the artist’s concerts so that they can be discovered from anywhere in the world, and I’m excited to grow that visibility with the streams on The Violin Channel.
Secondly, our platform, Classeek Link, aims to be a reference platform for the discovery of the artists of tomorrow. The platform is built for artists to have a tailored, digital, and relevant online presence that is targeted at the classical music world.
The ambition of Classeek Link, is to become a global community for all professionals, musicians, agents, festival directors, etc, to network, engage, facilitate and create more opportunities.
What would you say is your best piece of advice for emerging artists today?
There are three pieces of advice that stand out to me. The first point is to never stop dreaming and dream big. I was always inspired by Shimon Peres. He often said, “Count the number of dreams you have and compare them with the number of achievements you have had. If you have more dreams than achievements, then that means you're still young.” This was his own definition of age.
He is also known to have asked a painter, “What is the best painting you have ever drawn?” And the painter responded, “The one I will paint tomorrow.” That was his philosophy as well. Never look back. Believe that what you will achieve tomorrow will be based on the dreams that you have today, and tomorrow will be greater, brighter, more optimistic and more significant.
Secondly, stay humble in this mission to serve a greater cause. I really believe music is a gift from whoever you believe. Not everyone has the chance to find this greater cause and dedicate their lives to it.
Thirdly, don’t forget to stay in touch with the world and the people around you. It’s very easy to stay in your practice room and not in connection with the world. Also, understand and cherish those who care about your career.
"Stay in touch with artists you have performed with. Understand who are the relevant people that can help you with your career. Ask advice to your mentor. Stay in touch regularly, speak to them and build relations."
This is why we created ClasseekLink. Sign up on ClasseekLink! Reach out for existing resources. Listen to podcasts. Pallavi Mahidara, one of our alumni has launched a wonderful podcast on mental health, "The Conscious Artist" very resourceful!
In your opinion, what are the major differences between launching a young artist’s career now as compared to 20 years ago?
First of all, the world is much more complex today than 20 years ago. There’s more of everything — more artists, promoters, and information available to all.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, and mainly the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century, characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. This will accelerate changes even in the world of classical music.
There is more competition today, but I feel that we live in a time that is favorable to young artists. I’ve never seen so much focus on them — like they suddenly became the center of attention! One could say it was almost a new trend in the industry.
There are also, thanks to the digital age, many more resources online. You can learn anything today. One of the artists that we are onboarding onto our program this year, Bilal Alnemr, learned the violin watching Maxim Vengerov on YouTube from his home in Syria during the war.
I believe there are more opportunities to also develop your own voice. One of our alumni, pianist Pallavi Mahidhara launched a fabulous podcast called The Conscious Artist that I listen to regularly.
While there are more ways to be heard and watched, I also hope there is more openness and possibilities to create your own path.
The pandemic has also accelerated these trends for musicians as a survival instinct to exist. I have the feeling that artists feel more free today to be creative and show more of their personalities.
Artists today have to have many human qualities and are developing their capacity to manage their careers themselves with all the resources that are now available to them.
You've opened one place in the program per season, to young artists via an application process. What are you looking for in those that apply this way?
The idea to open the Ambassador Programme to more musicians was always there since the beginning. Everything takes time and resources, but we believe that the program is now at a place where it can reach musicians across the globe through this application process.
I really believe that you can shine from wherever you are on the planet. This past round, for example, we had artists applying from five continents.
We’re looking for fresh voices and new talents that we have never heard before and source these talents through Classeek.
What do you feel is the role of a career development program in today’s classical music landscape?
I think they're vital. Not everyone is ready or wants to do the classical career path. Talent discovery is still made through competitions and recommendations and word of mouth. This will always remain.
But I think that the Ambassador Programme provides a new and different way for anyone to apply, be nominated, and be discovered. Our role is really to understand the artist's dreams and accompany them through the journey.
Our role is to understand each artist's dreams, their individuality and to accompany them by tailoring the program as best possible to help them achieve their goals.