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The name Clarion/Seven Muses is so unusual that it requires explanation!

Caroline OakesClarion Concert Agency was founded in 1973 by Caroline Oakes and Gavin Henderson (now Principal of The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama). Seven Muses was founded in 1983 by Nicholas Curry, the name reflecting his initial particular interest in Words and Music programmes. Caroline and Nicholas met when he became Company Manager of "An Evening with Queen Victoria”, the show with Prunella Scales which ran for nearly 30 years with over 400 performances throughout the world. They amalgamated their companies in 1990 and now celebrate 24 years of successful partnership.

Nicholas CurryClarion/Seven Muses has never aimed to become a large agency but rather to concentrate on a very personal relationship with a select number of artists, many of them young and several with quite unusual instruments: we have successfully launched the careers in this country of the trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, trombone player Christian Lindberg and the recorder player Michala Petri.

We have always specialised in working for conductors and Vernon Handley, Raymond Leppard, Norman Del Mar, Bryden Thomson, Osmo Vänskä and, most recently, John Wilson have been among our distinguished clients. From time to time we have managed illustrious singers including Victoria de los Angeles, Nicolai Gedda and Teresa Berganza. For 36 years Caroline promoted composer Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s jazz cabaret, initially with Marian Montgomery and latterly with Claire Martin, ending with his sadly premature death in late 2012.

Chamber music both on modern and original instruments has been a major interest and over the years we have represented many of the world’s leading string quartets, including the Talich Quartet, Cherubini Quartet, Petersen Quartet and Royal Quartet, as well as the Borodin Piano Trio on its defection from the Soviet Union. Nicholas and Caroline have also worked for Musica Antiqua Köln, Sonnerie, Joshua Rifkin and his Bach Ensemble, the Monteverdi Choir and I Fagiolini.

Caroline announced her retirement on 31st July 2015, 42 years after the foundation of Clarion Concert Agency in 1973. Nicholas announced his retirement on 31st July 2018, 35 years after the foundation of Seven Muses in 1983. This is the date when Clarion/Seven Muses will finally close its doors for business.

Reprinted Classical Music article by Andrew Green, September 2007:

I remember talking with a conundrum-consumed Nicholas Curry in 1990 at the time his Seven Muses agency was merging with Caroline Oakes’s Clarion Concert Agency. What on earth should the new office be called? Well, they settled for Clarion Seven Muses. C7M for short.

On entering the music business in the1960s, Caroline Oakes had no musical training beyond a few piano lessons, but bags of enthusiasm for G&S and years of attendance at the Proms.‘By pure chance I landed a job with Ian Hunter of the Harold Holt concert agency, working at Expo ’67 in Montreal. I subsequently went to work on various festivals as his assistant.

‘A few years later, I was about to have my first child and was desperate to find something interesting to do at home. My friend Gavin Henderson set up Clarion with me - but he was soon appointed manager of the Philharmonia, leaving me to run things with a baby in a carrycot under the desk. I vividly remember taking a call from Lord Harewood at ENO in my dressing-gown!’

Marisa Robles
Marisa Robles

Curry, meanwhile, is a Mancunian. As a child actor he appeared in tv blockbusters such as Dr Who and Coronation Street, while also singing G&S as a treble. ‘I was a bit star-struck. It was a rude awakening getting through college and university and then realising acting was much too insecure.’

A vast range of largely operatic jobs – both managing and directing - took Curry among much else to the Coliseum in London (he recalls arranging for Rita Hunter to be winched onstage), Scottish Opera and also Teheran, where he directed revivals of the likes of Tristan and Magic Flute. ‘These were the last days of the Shah. When burning buses and gunfire became part of everyday life it was time to go. Not many people have on their CVs that they fled revolution!’

An Evening with
Queen Victoria

Oakes and Curry met through the former’s work for the pianist Richard Burnett and his involvement with An Evening with Queen Victoria, also featuring Prunella Scales as the matriarch and tenor Ian Partridge. Post-Teheran, Curry had landed a job as company manager at (appropriately enough) the Old Vic, where he found himself working with Scales. ‘One day she asked if I’d handle the staging of An Evening with Queen Victoria in the theatre. We had a fantastic review in The Times, so I got on the phone to UK festivals and picked up four bookings in one day.’

AEWQV was the bridge into the agency world for Curry. Since he started up on his own in 1983, Scales & Co have notched up more than 400 performances around the world. The very last is to be this September.

‘When I started as an agent, various actors came to me with words-and-music programmes – Derek Jacobi, Alan Bates, Sylvia Sims and others – but Queen Victoria has outlasted everything.’

When the C7M merger took place, Curry – who by now had a string of musical clients - moved into the Clarion HQ in Oakes’s large Victorian home in Highgate. It remains the centre of operations. Curry these days lives two minutes’ walk away.

‘It’s always been a completely shared operation,’ he says, ‘…and all the profits are split between the two of us. We cover for each other during absences. Before C7M I never had a holiday!’

Combining forces was never an encouragement to any substantial growth of the artist roster, though. ‘We don't want such a big list that we can't keep in regular contact with artists,’ says Oakes. ‘We also aim to be particularly approachable to promoters of all kinds, many of whom who are intimidated by larger agencies.’

de los Angeles

‘I think the dominance of the big agencies has become a problem for smaller outfits like ours,’ adds Curry. He says also that dealing with the giants can be less than satisfactory when business affairs demand contact and co-operation. ‘Some people you speak to are fine, others won’t give you the time of day. Some are rather hypocritical…they preach about not poaching artists, for instance, and then do it themselves. It’s very satisfying when artists of the stature of Christian Lindberg come back to you after being tempted to go elsewhere.’

‘When I started Clarion,’ says Oakes, ‘there were quite a few small agencies and no companies as large as IMG Artists today. It was quite a gentlemanly business to be in. Now it’s much more competitive.I also hate the current obsession with flashy young artists.’

Nicolai Gedda
Nicolai Gedda

‘These days, if you haven’t made it by the age of 30, you’re over the hill,’ Curry observes. ‘45 used to be roughly the crucial age, but no longer. And the market’s shrunk. It’s a funny sort of job. One day you’re despondent because things are not going so well…then three or four great things happen in no time which restore your enthusiasm – conductor Matthew Halls being offered the job with The King’s Consort, Benjamin Pope winning a conducting debut in Germany, counter tenor Philippe Jaroussky going to the Edinburgh Festival.’

Given that Curry and Oakes guard the compact size of the C7M artist list, how do they handle the inevitable weekly mailbag of artists seeking management? The basic stance is that they’re not really looking for anyone. ‘A new artist has to be absolutely irresistible – and we always make the decisions jointly,’ says Curry. One of his additional fundamental principles has been to avoid difficult individuals. ‘I remember a conductor we once managed. You’d ring saying the LSO wanted him and he’d moan it wasn’t the Chicago Symphony….or you’d say the Stockholm Philharmonic had made an offer and he’d tell you it wasn’t down to your work. Life’s too short.’

‘We enjoy the more unusual and creative artists,’ Oakes adds. ‘It’s often easier to work for the world's most famous trombone or recorder player than for a pianist who’s one among hundreds. For example, conductor John Wilson specialises in light music of the very highest quality. A rare interest, but he already has the reputation of being the best in this field.’

Curry, meanwhile, has had significant success managing Andrea Quinn, one of the vanguard of successful female conductors. ‘In general there’s now no reluctance to book woman conductors. Andrea’s had a succession of titled jobs on both sides of the Atlantic and she guests round the world. I did sense reluctance to book her once from the female manager of a ballet company whose orchestra had previously shredded a woman conductor. But that’s very rare indeed.’

Raymond Leppard
Raymond Leppard CBE

With his largely dramatic/operatic background, Curry at first had ground to make up to cope with the range of musical attractions. ‘Yes, I was a little out of my depth with areas such as chamber music and early music. Caroline had early music artists right from the start, such as Christopher Hogwood and the Monteverdi Choir. Now I seem to be the C7M specialist in this area, though!’

Oakes has had her own rapid learning curves to negotiate. Her most longstanding artist is Richard Rodney Bennett, managed as a performer since 1976. ‘Richard was asked to do a late-night cabaret with Marian Montgomery at the Three Choirs Festival.It was extremely successful, so he asked if I’d develop this area of his work. It’s been the most fun thing I've done. Richard was a stiff ‘classical’ performer at first, but Marian taught him how to communicate and to sing. He’s such a great jazz pianist. He’s now teamed up with Claire Martin, a really gifted singer.

Sir Richard Rodney Bennett
Sir Richard
Rodney Bennett

‘I greatly enjoyed planning Richard’s 70th birthday year in 2006, which included a commission from Prince Charles and a post-celebration helicopter ride over London with a hung-over Mark-Anthony Turnage!’

‘I like handling finite projects like that. Hence my agreeing to work with John Dankworth and Cleo Laine on their 80th birthday season this year, including the Chelsea Festival, the Proms, the London Jazz Festival and the LSO, where John worked as Pops Director in the 80s.’

Curry, meanwhile, is soon to see his beloved Evening with Queen Victoria – always stage-managed by himself – drift into the past. ‘It’ll be strange not having it around….it’s been such a part of my life.’

Why has it had such longevity? In large part, says Curry, because Prunella Scales has been so keen to travel far and wide, sustaining its visibility. ‘And it’s not just been to English-speaking parts of the world. I can’t think of a better reception anywhere than in Berlin, where they picked up every nuance even though the performance was in English.’

This in itself is a mirror to the wider fact, says Curry, that ‘in the last ten years English really has become the language of our business. When I started it could be very tricky travelling if you had no French or German, say. Now there’s no problem…I suppose I should feel guilty!

‘And never mind emails, travel is still vital in artist management…almost moreso. Promoters know that in theory there’s less need for you to travel, so they appreciate seeing you all the more. Visiting places means getting a feel for the promoters and orchestras with whom you can be most comfortable doing business. Our success in Scandinavia is largely down to investment in travel.’

But no more travels with Queen Vic. May the old girl rest in peace. And Long Live C7M.