“FOCUS on You” is an inspiring program that provides valuable and practical knowledge to young performers and composers working in the field of classical music. The Sonus Foundation’s mentoring programs are designed for young musicians who are willing to focus on their career during the intense, 8-week long programs. This season, we launched two programs, focusing on career strategy and project planning. In this article, you can read about two young pianists who took part in our “FOCUS on Your Next Career Move” program. This mentoring program was designed for those who want to improve in finding their ways in the classical music business. The individual and group coaching sessions focused on different aspects of this world: the art of networking; how to write a truly interesting bio; how to present ideas to potential sponsors and colleagues; and many more essential skills that are useful when it comes to building a career in the field of classical music. Read and enjoy the thoughts of Ana Šostar and Hoang Nguyen.
– How did your journey start with music? Where have you studied so far? Where are you studying now?
Ana Šostar: I am a Croatian pianist. My wish to play piano came as a child, when I would listen to my grandmother playing music. We also listened to classical music together and although she was not a professional musician, I learned to love classical music and the piano from her. Right now I am a master’s student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and before that I studied at the Academy of Music in Zagreb. I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to study from truly incredible musicians. I believe this plays an extremely important role in my artistic development. As I am getting closer to the end of my studies, I hope that I will be able to find my place in the classical music world even after my formal training is over.
Hoang Nguyen: I am an aspiring pianist from Vietnam, currently studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. I fell in love with the piano when I was about 6 years old, at the home of my great uncle, not long after he had bought a piano. I started playing with the instrument, thinking that it was a strange toy. Neither me nor my family planned on me pursuing a career in music, and for many years I went from teacher to teacher trying to improve my piano playing more as a hobby than a serious commitment. It changed however, when I got accepted to the Vietnam National Academy of Music (VNAM). Applying to VNAM was actually a panicked move that I made, before it was “too late”… My path in life as a pianist became more solidified when I started learning from Nguyen Minh Anh, who had a major impact on my career later on. After finishing nine years of secondary training in piano at VNAM, I made a plan to continue my study abroad. I got accepted into the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music with a full scholarship from Stipendium Hungaricum and began my bachelor’s study in 2018. Currently I am in the last year of my master’s studies in piano performance.
– How did you hear about the FOCUS on You mentoring programs? What made you decide to join in?
AŠ: I saw an advertisement on Facebook. I also had a conversation earlier this year with another musician friend about how important self-management is for musicians in today’s (classical music) world. Inspired by his insight, I presented my project ideas to a few concert venues and festivals, but they were not as well received as I had hoped. Therefore, when I saw the advertisement about the FOY mentoring programs, I decided to join and broaden my knowledge with someone who has more experience in the classical music business world than me. I joined the FOCUS on Your Next Career Move mentoring program and have worked with our coach on how to improve in managing my career as a young classical musician.
HN: I first heard about the FOCUS on YOU mentoring program through the Student Union of the Liszt Academy and later in the art management course from my professor, Zoltán Körösvölgyi. My motivation to join the program was mainly to step out of my comfort zone and start to find ways to make a living as a classical musician. I find it incredibly hard to start my career as a young musician, so I am actively trying to improve my chances as a performing artist in today’s classical music world. I was also curious about how the business side of music actually works.
– What were you working on during the mentoring program?
AŠ: I was focusing mainly on a project that I would like to realize in the future. As a young female pianist, I would like to organize a concert in honor of female composers. In my experience, female composers are often overlooked and underappreciated. I would like to change that and have a program that will include piano pieces by incredibly talented female musicians such as Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann, Dora Pejačević, Kikuko Kanai, Emma Gruber. There are also wonderful contemporary female composers, such as Sofia Gubaidulina and Dobrina Tabakova, or the young Hungarian pianist and composer Ildikó Rozsonits. Growing up, I was very proud to live in the same little town where the first female Croatian composer, Dora Pejačević lived and composed. During my studies in high school and at the Music Academy, I would often hear recommendations to perform her miniature pieces during exams due to their perceived ease. However, discovering her oeuvre, I don’t agree with this idea anymore; she was a remarkable pianist, and composed quite a few technically demanding pieces. She was a talented musician, and the quality of her music is just as creative and interesting as the compositions of many other romantic or late romantic composers. I believe it to be my mission to show the audience the talent, knowledge and imagination of not just Dora Pejačević but other female composers.
HN: With the guidance of my lovely coach, Eszter Bodnár, I was collecting necessary tools for building a successful career: defining my goals or potential career paths with my core values in mind; creating a list of strategic stepts that will help achieve these goals; figuring out how to work in my environment (which institutions and people I want to work with, who are my competitors, what musical activities are being carried out in the area I’m based in, etc.); looking for inspiration from other musicians on how to advertise myself; writing a CV that doesn’t only state the facts, but also reveals me as a person; and taking the first steps to build my online presence. The program has given me a to-do list which is very helpful since I can implement the above-mentioned things right away without wasting time pondering about what I should do to jumpstart my career. For now I’m focusing on myself and creating my dream portfolio. I am also looking for potential opportunities and business partners.
– What is your experience with the mentoring program?
AŠ: The mentoring program has been a great help because it helped me improve my self-management skills: how to present my ideas, how to present myself as a musician, how to build my portfolio, how to formulate my ideas in writing, and how important it is to have professional social media accounts. It gave me an insight into how the classical music industry works and gave me clear guidelines on how to find my way in it.
HN: One of the most important things that I have learned so far in the mentoring program is that it takes skills and dedication to manage your career. I believe modern musicians must spend time learning how to be their own managers in addition to their musical training. Another extremely important thing is to be proactive in everything you do, whether when reaching out to other musicians and concert organizers, or simply when washing the dishes right after cooking, rather than putting them off for later.
– What are your plans for the future?
AŠ: I have a few concert ideas that I would like to realize in the near future. Right now, I am mainly preparing for my diploma concert in June. In September, I will perform as a soloist with the Croatian Youth Orchestra in the Grand Hall of the Liszt Academy. I am also planning a collaboration with the American tenor James Dalton Caran, and making a recording of all of Dora Pejačević’s piano works.
NH: In the near future, I want to take on challenging projects both as a performing artist and educator, while also continuing to improve myself in other areas of life. Just keep swimming!
– Would you recommend the FOCUS on You programs to other musicians?
AŠ: Absolutely, I would recommend it to anyone who wants to establish a career as a performing artist.
NH: The FOCUS on your Next Career Move mentoring program has been really transformative for me. I highly recommend it to other musicians who want to get ahead and distinguish themselves in the music industry.