Edna Landau
Edna in the News
January 28, 2011
Ask Edna: Classical Music's Great Power Broker Shows a Soft Side for Young Musicians
Edna with Sedgwick Clark, editor of Musical America International Directory
Edna with Sedgwick Clark, editor of Musical America International Directory

by Zachary Woolfe

It is, we are continually told, a bad time for classical music. There are smaller, older audiences. There are fewer, less risky concerts. Now that the record industry has effectively dried up, there is no dependable source of promotional muscle. Manager and publicists are more harried, fitting more clients into a shrinking number of performance slots. No one, least of all a young artist, has the guidance he or she needs.

Into this mess has just stepped the optimistic, calming voice of Ask Edna, an advice column which launched yesterday on the website of the trade organization Musical America. The brainchild of the former artist manager Edna Landau, one of the founding directors of IMG Artists and now director of career development at the Colburn School in Los Angeles, Ask Edna isn't trying to solve the industry's problems. It's just trying to help.

"I've always loved working with the young ones," Landau said in a phone interview from California. "When I left IMG in 2007 and went in this new direction, as I worked with young people around the country and started doing lectures and worked with the Colburn School, I realized there are so many young people out there with questions and they don't have a manager to talk to. And many of them are in schools that haven't started a music industry class. And I thought, wouldn't it be great to have a place where people could get those questions answered?"

The column is something like if Bill Gates started dispensing advice to young computer engineers. Landau is one of the great legends of the classical music industry-a nurturing presence, fiercely loyal to her artists (including Itzhak Perlman, Evgeny Kissin, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, and her single remaining client, the conductor Ivan Fischer), who helped preside over the growth of a small firm into one of the largest and most powerful management companies in the world. In 2006, a year before she retired from IMG, New York featured her in their "Influentials" issue, calling her the "intensely coveted, hugely devoted grand dame of New York concert managers, who inspires a rare level of trust and commitment from her clients and has unparalleled star-making and talent-spotting powers."

In the late '60s and early '70s, Landau taught at New York's High School of Music and Art. Wanting to work with artists, she became a secretary at Young Concert Artists, whose competitions were already legendary launching pads for promising musicians. After about five years, in 1979, she joined with Charles Hamlen, who'd started an artist management firm a few months prior. Hamlen-Landau Management did well, but it was also costly, and in 1984, they managed to be bought out by Mark McCormack, the sports agent and chairman of International Management Group, who'd wanted to get into the classical music business. Hamlen and Landau became directors at the new company, named IMG Artists, which gradually expanded to six offices worldwide and hundreds of clients. (Hamlen left IMG in 1992 but returned in 2009 when the company's chairman at the time, Barrett Wissman, stepped down after pleading guilty to securities fraud. "It sends a message that the same principles on which the company was founded are still there," Landau said of Hamlen's return.)

IMG brought the aggressive entrepreneurship of sports management to classical music. The company created a new orchestra in Malaysia, produced television programs, and started the Sun Festivals, a "global lifestyle festival brand" that organizes events featuring the company's artists. Though run by the well-respected Hamlen and Landau, IMG has presided over a period in which management companies gained increasing power over a shrinking industry, particularly as the influence of the record companies waned. Concert presenters now depend much more on managers to be involved with the curating and promotion of seasons.

"When I began," Landau said, "the nature of the relationship was that presenters knew what they wanted and they would pick up the phone and call and say, 'Is such and such available?' There might've been a discussion about a particular program and that was that. Presenters are now expecting artists to come to them with a program, with a concept, with an idea for how the presenter might market it. Otherwise their proposal might fall short compared to what other managers are offering."

It can be a difficult world for artists not represented by one of the major firms. Small managers can get crowded out by giants like IMG and Columbia Artist Management, and artists are more and more personally responsible for aspects of their career other than their artistry.

"With blogs and websites and being able to put out your own recordings and digitally distribute them and make your own concert series in unusual venues and perhaps get more attention for playing in that venue than in a more traditional venue," she said, "I think the prospects for these young people are very great indeed."

It's true that artists have used the Internet to their advantage; Landau cited Jeremy Denk, whose brilliant blog has played a large role in his steady rise to prominence. And creating your own record company can indeed be empowering. But it's unclear that this new world is better than the old one. Being a record producer/publicist/blogger/manager can distract from being, well, a musician. And there's no guarantee that all the multitasking will result in success.

"The economy is the biggest problem right now," Landau said, "especially from the point of view of young artists. Because the established ones will get their dates. Everybody knows who they are, everybody wants them to anchor their season. The younger emerging ones, if the economy is difficult, the presenters are less willing to take a chance. They'll take fewer artists, you'll see fewer recitals on a series, you'll see fewer concerts altogether on a series."

With her consulting work and her seminars and her career counseling and, now, her column, Landau wants to give young artists what she calls "the skills to really do it themselves." It's empowering, but it's also not without an ominous edge. Landau herself, though, has no such edge. She's universally respected, and she means only well.

"My goal," she said of Ask Edna, "is to answer questions that I think will have the greatest resonance for everyone out there, things I think will really matter. And to include a lot of variety."

The first two answers, published yesterday, have to do with commissioning new music and, from a young pianist, whether young artists can survive without a major label. Landau's answers are friendly and sensible. The pianist, who has self-produced his first album, admits to some embarrassment when people ask what label he's on.

"In such a situation," Landau writes with equanimity, "you should explain (without a hint of defensiveness) that in these times, only a very small number of artists have a relationship with a particular label (artists with significant name recognition) and that you are proud to be producing your own recordings and making more money that way."

Though Landau is enthusiastic about social media and its potential to expand audiences, she's not a booster for everything, particularly the HD movie broadcasts that seem poised to expand from opera to instrumental music (the Los Angeles Philharmonic recently did their first).

"My fear is that classical music doesn't have the same-it's harder to grab hold of as an uninformed viewer than is opera. Of course Gustavo Dudamel"-the L.A. Phil's young music director-"is a bigger-than-life individual who I admire very greatly. But there aren't so many Gustavo Dudamels and even him, will he be able to continue and will he be able to carry this kind of thing year after year? The attendance was strong in some places and weak in others. It's exciting, but I'm not sure at this point that it will work in a broad sense."

That's not the popular view. But, though she professes to dislike making predictions, Landau's instinct is not at all a bad one to follow. Eleven years ago, she was asked in an interview who the next internationally-recognized musician would be.

"Lang Lang," she said without hesitation. "He is a 17-year-old from China who will be one of the great pianists of our time."

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