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The sound of music stirs Manhattan broker

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Dan Danielli’s clients, he says, are just like anybody else — they need a roof over their heads. But many of them also need very thick walls.

The Manhattan broker has built an unusual marketing niche by handling the real estate needs of some of the most recognizable names in the world of classical music. It’s a long list, a Carnegie Hall Who’s Who that has included violinist Pinchas Zukerman, tenor Placido Domingo, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, guitarist Sharon Isbin and pianist Evgeny Kissin.

(He also once helped Barbra Streisand whip up an arrangement of "Dixie" for a movie … but that’s another story.)

"Every client has unique needs," said Danielli. "With the musicians, it happens to be sound. They want a place where they can practice and they want thick walls."

And, one might argue, they seek a degree of comfort in working with someone who understands them. Before real estate, Danielli built a career in the recording industry, and before that, he was a musician himself.

He has a doctorate in music from the Manhattan School of Music and once envisioned a career as a concert pianist … "Ever since I was 4," he said of his early ambition and years of intense study, which included degrees in music and marketing from Boston University and New York University and performances with the Boston Pops Orchestra.

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But eventually, he said, economic reality dawned.

"I finished my doctorate and ran out of money," he explained. He took a job with CBS Masterworks records, though it wasn’t the kind of job where anybody was likely to be addressing him as "Dr. Danielli."

"I went in as clerical help," he recalled. "But I saw people who knew (little) about music making decisions about what recordings should be made."

Although it was supposed to be a three-month job, Danielli stayed on for five years, becoming director of artists and repertory for the label, which became Sony Classical Records. Later, he was a vice president at RCA Red Seal, which also later became affiliated with Sony.

In both jobs, over the course of a dozen years, he said, he was involved in the recording careers of such artists as Andre Previn, Zubin Mehta, James Galway, Alicia de Laroccha, Yo-Yo Ma and many other marquee names.

"Working with great artists was a thrill," Danielli said. "It was a wonderful job."

And it had its interesting non-classical moments, he said. When movie director Barbra Streisand brought in Zukerman to record a version of "Dixie" that would be "played" by an actor in "Prince of Tides," Danielli, whose record label represented Zukerman, came along for the session. Shortly, he found himself in the role of unofficial music adviser for the film.

At Streisand’s request, the world-renowned violinist improvised five rough versions of the famous American tune into her handheld recorder. Streisand decided she wanted to use bits of each version in the final recording that would be dubbed into the film.

But Zukerman said he couldn’t remember which bit went where for the final recording, so he pointed across the room to Danielli, who then spent an hour in the studio control room with Streisand’s recorder, transcribing them by ear and melding each of the desired segments into what he recalled as a "seamless" arrangement.

"I brought the finished product back into the studio, Zukerman played exactly what I wrote down, Madame Streisand proclaimed herself satisfied with it, and indeed it was used in the film," he said.

"A most unplanned event, but then again, my entire career, with all its shifts and bumps, was totally unplanned," he said.

One of those "shifts and bumps" was pretty significant: The classical recording world caved in.

"By the mid-1990s, no one was buying classical music anymore," he said. Downloading was on the ascent. "Sales dropped off, and I had become a dinosaur."

Danielli’s mind turned to real estate. "Over the years, the artists (at the recording labels) had told me they wanted to live in New York, and I kept turning them over to broker friends of mine," Danielli recalled. "I thought, ‘Why don’t I do this?’ "

And so, in 1994, he did. Though the market in Manhattan at that time was barely recovering from a steep decline, "I thought, OK, the money won’t be good at first, but I’ll learn the business. Hopefully, things will get better and I’ll rise with it, and that’s what happened." …CONTINUED