WFMT-FM in Chicago racked up 700 pledges in a six-hour period relying solely on listeners’ reactions to recorded performances of a Vera Gornostaeva, an 84-year old Russian pianist who spent most of her peak performing years trapped behind the Iron Curtain.
WFMT ran a one-day pledge drive April 4 with the goal of collecting 700 pledges. For the drive, the station only played selections from a CD featuring recently remastered archived recordings of Gornostaeva performing compositions by Chopin. Listeners who pledged $40 received a copy of “Chopin Recitals” as a premium gift.
WFMT played the CD four times, and pledges continued to pour in despite the repetition, according to Steve Robinson, g.m. As a result, the station hit its goal around 1 p.m. and suspended the fundraiser.
“I never would have dreamed of only using one CD, but we were getting 100 calls an hour,” he said. “It was like an avalanche.”
The CDis part of the “Discovering A Legend” series published by L.P. Records. The 15-track recording features “Fantasie in f minor, Op.49” and “Nocturne in c minor, Op.48, No.1.”
Given the audience’s response to Gornostaeva, WFMT mounted a second, 12-hour drive this week, but packaged the CD with two others for a $115 premium offer. The additional CDs featured Gornostaeva performing the Beethoven Emperor Concerto, the Mozart Piano Concerto Number 20 and included works by Rachmaninoff and Mussorgsky.
The premium package generated $115,000 during the 12-hour drive, beating WFMT’s standing record of $112,000.
“To be able to do this with just one artist, who isn’t Horowitz or Pavarotti, I think is amazing,” Robinson said. “And, she was unknown to most of our listeners.”
Robinson credited David Polk, WFMT program director, for pursuing the idea to mount a drive featuring Gornostaeva. Polk worked with the owners of L.P. Records, students of the Russian pianist, who had re-mastered the old recordings of her work for three CDs, to produce the fundraiser.
The recordings dated to the 50s and 60s and had been warehoused in an archive in Moscow. Robinson said Gornostaeva had not heard the recordings. L.P. Records spent nine months re-mastering the CDs.
The story of Gornostaeva’s life and career also inspired listeners to pledge, according to Robinson. She was born in the Soviet Union in 1929, and her decisions to openly practice Christianity and decline membership in the Communist Party limited her career to performances within the Soviet Union.
Robinson said WFMT is considering plans to produce recordings of Gornostaeva performing from her dacha in Moscow.