Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He produces the Café Concerts series and the podcast/show Conducting Business. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
Chicago Classical Station Hits Pledge Drive Record By Using Obscure Piano CD
Monday, April 14, 2014 - 12:00 AM
Chicago classical music station WFMT hit a one-day record for a pledge drive on April 4 by relying solely on a CD of music by Vera Gornostaeva, an 84-year-old Russian pianist who spent the bulk of her career shrouded behind the Iron Curtain.
The station reports that it met its goal of 700 pledges (listener donations) in just six hours by playing music from Gornostaeva’s “Chopin Recital,” a collection of Soviet-era performances. Anyone who pledged $40 received a copy of the CD as a gift; 2,100 copies were sent out altogether.
“I never would have dreamed of only using one CD, but we were getting 100 calls an hour,” WFMT general manager Steve Robinson told Current.org, a public media news website. “It was like an avalanche.”
The drive was finished by 1 pm that day.
Typically, public radio stations will use multiple CD compilations by established stars like Luciano Pavarotti or Joshua Bell as "premium" gifts for listeners who give money. Rarely will they concentrate on one CD alone. But WFMT officials felt there was something special about the recordings, and about the pianist's untold story.
The details of Gornostaeva's life are evidently a bit sketchy. LP Classics, which released the collection of Chopin mazurkas, waltzes and polonaises in 2012, says that Gornostaeva was blacklisted in the Soviet Union because she refused to join the Communist Party; she was also found reading banned poetry and practicing her Christian religion. When invitations to perform in the West poured in she was forbidden to travel. Nevertheless, Gornostaeva was a sought-after pedagogue and her students have won numerous international competitions.
The Chopin recordings date to the 1950s and 60s and were gathering dust in a warehouse in Moscow. LP Classics reportedly spent nine months remastering the recordings. The label is run by Natalia Lavrova and Vassily Primakov, both Russian-born, Juilliard-trained pianists.
LP Classics has also put out a collection of Gornostaeva performing Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky, and another of her versions of Beethoven and Mozart Concertos with two different Soviet orchestras.
WFMT mounted a second, 12-hour pledge drive last week packaging these together for a $115 donation. Over $870,000 was raised during the spring fundraiser; 42 percent of the listener donors will get a Gornostaeva CD.
Listen to Gornostaeva playing the Waltz in C-Sharp Minor below (Hat Tip: Slipped Disc).