Benji Goodman Benji Goodman Critics called Benji Goodman's concert "honest" and "beautiful." (Photo: Courtesy of Benji Goodman)

How an unknown musician curated a concert in Carnegie Hall

Benji Goodman works to connect struggling classical musicians with audiences.

Classical musicians study for years to even have a shot at making a living playing music. Israeli musician Benji Goodman, for instance, started playing piano when he was 5 years old.

"It's been most of my existence most of my life," Goodman, a 25-year-old with a deep British accent and an aura of bashful intelligence, told From The Grapevine. "You have to just dedicate your whole being to it." He left his home country of England to study music in Jerusalem at age 13 and has since devoted countless hours to practice, moved to New York and even abandoned relationships for music. "It requires never wavering with your devotion and commitment," he continued.

But after honing their lives for success and studying for decades, musicians often find themselves jobless. Young musicians frequently have to study for more than 20 years before being considered professional, only to have nowhere to perform. "That’s more than a neurosurgeon," Goodman said. "That's really infuriating."

Despite winning multiple scholarships, Goodman struggled to make a living playing music. He saw other incredibly talented young musicians who were fully capable of making creative breakthroughs deal with the same problem.

"You have to do it all by yourself," said Goodman. For many musicians, that means entering competitions. These only propel a select few forward in their careers based on some potentially arbitrary criteria. Others get ahead through bribery, he said.

"I don’t think there's an honest way of judging artistry," Goodman explained. "There are some musicians on the level of the best in the world who don’t have careers."

That's why Goodman decided he wanted to change things himself.

"All musicians go through these difficulties," he said. "Maybe there's a way of making a community out of it."

Goodman decided to invite other Israeli musicians, some of whom were successful but many who were still waiting for their big breaks, to play a concert in New York. And he wanted it to be in Carnegie Hall because, if you're going to change the way the classical music industry works, you might as well start with a bang.

"Debuting at Carnegie Hall means you’re making it as a musician," explained Goodman. "It’s a statement."

As a relatively unknown musician with no big organizations behind him, getting Carnegie Hall on board was an uphill battle.

"They were really quite rude because I’m no one," laughed Goodman.

Goodman marketed like crazy, successfully reaching out to various organizations, including the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the America-Israel Cultural Foundation for help. He even learned graphic design to make posters.

After toiling for months, Goodman did something incredibly rare: he sold enough tickets to fill Carnegie Hall (according to Goodman, this doesn't happen very often, even in well-established concerts at the hall). Well-known Israeli violist Shmuel Katz, who regularly performs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, even agreed to play. Carnegie Hall started showing Goodman more love.

Goodman organized the whole concert in Carnegie's Weill Recital Hall from Israel, which become a ridiculously time-consuming job, especially since he did almost everything by himself. Not to mention organizing rehearsals and learning a very complicated piano piece.

"It was the most difficult period in my life," Goodman remembered.

Weill Recital HallAccording to Goodman, Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall is one of the best performance halls in the world. (Photo: Jeff Goldberg/Carnegie Hall)

But the work paid off. The concert, which was held in September, was a huge success, receiving much more hype than Goodman expected and getting great critical reception.

"It was kind of an out-of-body experience," Goodman said.

Goodman originally thought the concert would be a one-off event, but now he was thinking about making a nonprofit organization to put on more events.

"If I can pull that off, then I can probably do something more," he figured. "I want to have concerts in Chicago and Florida and Washington ... There’s nothing stopping me from doing this in Berlin."

So he created Young Israeli Artists, an organization that will conduct more events around the world. He's already coordinating another concert in a couple weeks and is looking into mixing other kinds of art with the classical music that he knows so well, perhaps even incorporating jazz and contemporary dance into the mix.

"Israeli jazz musicians are at the top of their field," he explained.

Goodman also wants Young Israeli Artists to become an agency to represent young musicians. Instead of identifying talent through competitions, Goodman wants to look at entire careers to give young musicians, particularly Israelis like himself, a chance at practicing their art.

"Israeli artists have something very unique in their sound," he told From the Grapevine. He thinks this has something to do with the ephemeral nature of musical performance. Classical musicians channel their own emotions through their performances, so living in the moment makes the difference between a dull performance and a brilliant one.

"Classical performance is being created in front of your eyes every moment that you’re listening to it," he emphasized. "Music changes at every second."

Israelis, according to Goodman, "exist 100 percent in the moment," which gives their performance a certain type of honesty and drama. "An honest performance makes the best performance," he said. Goodman hopes to bring this unique honesty to global audiences.

"Israeli musicians are known in every city in the world. Amongst the musician community, they are revered," Goodman said. "I decided it was important to give them the opportunity to perform in the best halls in the world."

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