Edna Landau
Edna in the News
January 21, 2011
The Grande Dame Reborn: Edna Landau on Changing Lives, One Career at a Time
Edna with students at the Colburn Conservatory
Edna with students at the Colburn Conservatory

by Amanda von Goetz

in Notes on the Road

Every so often, you meet someone who, in even just a short time, manages to change your life forever; someone possessed of such charisma and vibrancy, you come away from the experience with creativity ablaze, hopes renewed, confidence restored and idealism reborn.

Edna Landau, often referred to as "The Grande Dame of Artist Management," sat down for coffee with Notes On The Road to reflect on her iconic career, from her experiences as Director of IMG Artists and managing the likes of Itzhak Perlman and Hilary Hahn, to getting down to business with students at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where she currently serves as Director of Career Development. Edna quickly proved herself more than worthy of her exalted title and delivered priceless advice with elegance and grace, steely determination, humor, exuberance and warmth.

Notes: After having such an iconic career in artist management, it inspires us greatly that after leaving IMG Artists -- you delved right into career development at the Colburn School. What inspired you to take things in that direction?

Well, all the credit goes to my husband, really. [Laughs.] When I closed the chapter at IMG Artists, I did so only because I felt that I had accomplished everything I wanted to. Also, I had a staff of thirty-five people reporting to me, I was Managing Director of the American operation, and I was personally managing ten artists with very busy international careers. I thought, "You know, I've done this for over thirty years now, maybe it's time to close the chapter and let everybody else get on with it."

I knew I wasn't going to retire, but I didn't know what I was going to do. I still had a lot of energy and creativity to give, the same energy which motivated me to join forces with Charles Hamlen in a business that had no basis for existing, let alone becoming as successful as it ultimately did. And I wanted a new challenge. My husband said, "Why don't you write to your friends in the music business, many of whom are at schools now and who know what you've accomplished in your career, and suggest that you come to some of their campuses and speak to the students?" So that's what I did, and I was pretty proactive about it.

At one point, I heard that students from the Colburn School were coming to New York and were performing at the 92nd Street Y, so I asked to meet the Dean, whom I didn't know at the time. We hit it off right away, I told her about my ideas and she thought they were great. Then in March 2008, I went to the Colburn School to give a talk and afterwards, the Dean said, "You know, we really have a need for what you're doing here, and I'd like to think about this..." Later she called and offered me a job.

I thought, "I can't move to Los Angeles, I have so much going on in New York!" So we worked out an arrangement where I would be a full-time employee of the school, coming to L.A. for one week per month and working the rest of the time from New York. It was a marvelous arrangement because it didn't preclude me from going to any of the other schools to give talks or from doing occasional consulting. I enjoyed doing those talks, but I had no idea how much I would eventually get totally absorbed, motivated and inspired by my work in career development.

Notes: How did you prepare for such an exciting career change?

I felt as if I had been a little bit reborn. I became very busy reading a lot, researching, going on websites, meeting people I had never met before. I did a huge amount of networking. I felt like I had to meet everybody that mattered in my new career.

More importantly, I did many interviews with artists and ensembles, asking things like, "How did you succeed in getting management, what was your big break?" I interviewed the Chiara Quartet and the Pacifica Quartet and Jennifer Koh -- all different kinds of people. They were all great about meeting with me.

From each interview, I learned about the defining instances in their creative paths, and I felt encouraged to learn that they didn't start out with a grand plan. They just put one foot in front of another and took advantage of opportunities. Through speaking to people, I gained a completely new perspective that I could use in working with students. So that really fired me up.

Now I feel like my life's work IS this. I want to reach as many young people as I can to give them confidence that they can cope out there, but also to impress upon them how much responsibility they have in their own careers, in ways which are not necessarily imparted in the conservatory. If artists want to be successful, they must first come to grips with who they are and what makes them special, and they need to have the confidence to bring that out.

Notes: What was the biggest challenge in transitioning from management to career development?

Building an effective curriculum at The Colburn School was a new challenge. I have a lot of students who want to go in different directions. Some would like to pursue orchestra jobs, while others want to become teachers or soloists. Some have no clue yet.

In my classes, I try and break it down to what are all the skills that students need to have, from writing a resume to preparing a promotional piece, to commissioning new music. I also consider what kinds of guests I can invite. My curriculum is called 20/20 Foresight: Preparing for the Road That Lies Ahead, and encompasses many of these aspects. It changes year to year, but I worked very hard to create it. I'm proud of it and I continue learning all the time.

All of my classes are geared towards enabling students to manage themselves if necessary. I ask them: "Who are you, really? It's a big world out there, and there are so many people...where do you fit? What are you going to bring to this? I like that idea. Let's figure out how to use that. How are we going to get people to notice it? Who's going to write about it?"

Notes: In what ways would you say your curriculum at The Colburn School has already evolved?

Well, for example, this year I asked my students to write a mission statement, which they didn't do last year...and I find it's very helpful. It makes them sit with a piece of paper and really consider their identities, aspirations and strengths. We had a beginning-of-the-year meeting, and we will soon have an end-of-year meeting where we will go back to that personal statement and evaluate what we have accomplished.

This past year, I also concluded that my class wasn't practical enough. I gave my students a lot of information but they weren't getting enough hands-on experience. So this year we introduced workshops on recordings, grants and graphic design. In one case, I had students who said they wanted to teach - but there was nothing in their materials to reflect that. They weren't teaching! I said "Well, how are you going to be a teaching artist if you are not teaching?! The first thing they are going to ask you when you apply for a job is about your teaching experience -- and you don't have any!"

We started a few programs this year that created such an opportunity. One, very exciting, is a mentoring program with YOLA, the Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles, an initiative of the Los Angeles Philharmonic to establish orchestras in underserved communities. Sixteen Colburn students serve as mentors to sixteen YOLA members. In another program, sponsored by the Da Camera Society, our students are getting excellent training on teaching in the schools and have the benefit of supervision and feedback. They are even paid for their time in the schools.

I urge students to come to me earlier than their final year of Conservatory, when they usually take my class, but sometimes scheduling conflicts arise. If I spot someone who is not yet graduating but I sense that they could really benefit now from what we are doing, I encourage them to join the class earlier in their studies, not when they already have one foot out the door.

Notes: Speaking of "spotting someone," you have always been known as an artist manager with a super sharp eye for talent. Can you describe what would happen when you heard an artist whom you knew you wanted to manage?

Well, if I'm not thinking about my shopping list when I'm listening, then I know I'm hearing something really great! [Laughs] I mean, the talent and ability -- that goes without saying. The level has to be extraordinarily high if an artist expects to be taken on by a major management company and to work so closely with a manager on the long-term.

I think what speaks to me is the degree to which you sense an artist's immersion in their music-making; their unbelievable passion and dedication to what they are doing; the feeling that there is nothing in the world they'd rather be doing at that particular moment; that what the listener is experiencing is a beautiful depiction of how much this music means to them.

Also, if I "get the goosebumps" during a performance, chances are there's really something interesting going on there. It's less about perfection and more about getting lost in the performance. Time goes by and you're not distracted by anything else. You can hear the moments that an artist relishes, the split second pause before a harmonic change, or something that is completely unexpected; something going on in the music, a moment the artist appreciates so deeply. I remember with Itzhak Perlman that when he performed, his eyes would just dance, and the audience could really feel that spirit. They just loved it!

Sometimes what would inspire me about artists was their sheer intelligence and commitment and confidence in themselves. Hilary Hahn, whom I worked with since she was fourteen, made me believe that she could do anything. I didn't argue with her, I just believed her. When she was offered the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Lorin Maazel in Germany at the age of fifteen to be broadcast live on German television, I knew the "textbook" said, "OH NO, much too young." But when she wanted to accept, I was certain she would be great.

When we went to Peter Gelb at Sony to talk about a recording contract, and Hilary said she wanted to do unaccompanied Bach...Well, you know, at first I thought it was crazy -- Milstein territory! From a traditional perspective, it was unheard of to expose a sixteen-year-old girl to the risks of making her first recording with that repertoire. But I totally bought into Hilary's confidence and thought, "Why not? What a stellar way to launch a recording career." In the final analysis, there are no rules. Peter Gelb was persuaded and the rest is history. It was a huge success.

Notes: Many have told us that your close working relationships with your artists was part of what made you such an incredible manager. Do you feel that communication is one of the defining factors of great artist management?

I do think it is a defining characteristic, and I can't say that was true only of me...First of all, Charlie [Hamlen] and I were a dream team. He had such a great sense of humor and was so supportive over the many years we worked together. We had the same approach and at our company, we cultivated it with our employees, so you couldn't work for us if you didn't behave that way. Our work was really thrilling and rewarding, and as the days went by and we started signing more prominent artists, it became even more thrilling - but it wasn't about ego or what we did. I think when we started out in the business, managers were still more about "me, me, me. I did this, or I was responsible for that."

Artists have always wanted to be treated with candor and honesty. I would sometimes hear that artists would call their managers and ask: "So what do I have next season?" And they would get an answer along the lines of, "Oh, it's too early...we'll go over your calendar in a few months..." and that would happen a few times before they would have a meeting where the manager would say, "You know, next year is kind of light, and we don't have a lot of things for you..."

Now instead of that, the artist and manager could have had productive discussions the whole way through. The manager could have said, "I know you want to play with these ten orchestras. I contacted all ten of them and here's what they said: This one said, 'I can't do that piece this year but I'd be very interested for next year.' That one said, 'I have enough violinists this year, but I'd be interested in knowing what different programs you can offer.'

And the accountability factor for the artist, where they feel like you are working hand-in-hand with them, that you aren't trying to spare them any bad news -- that is just huge. You can then say to an artist 'OK, let's figure it out. What kind of program can you give me that when I go to the presenters and ten other agencies are going to those same presenters, YOUR program is going to stick out because it's different and exciting? Whose anniversary is it next year? Can we put a title on this program, can we make it work so it stands out on their brochure?'

Notes: There seemed to be a lot of strategy involved in your approach to management.

Charles and I really believed that you shouldn't bother someone if you, or they, aren't ready. If you call Carnegie Hall before your artist is ready to play there, you blow their confidence in you. There was definitely a strategic, intellectual approach that we applied to all our artists' careers and to our process.

When I took Hilary the first year, she only wanted to play one concert a month and we picked just the right places for her. I was also the only manager to Franz Welser-Möst, Music Director in Cleveland, up until a few years ago (except for his European manager), and I booked his first season in North America: Toronto, Atlanta and St. Louis -- all very good orchestras, but not Cleveland yet or Boston. We wanted to get him used to the system here and let him find his bearings. There was a lot of strategy involved with moves like that.

I also remember certain booking challenges. There was one time an artist was just desperate to play with the Chicago Symphony. And try as I may, I was not successful. What you have to do at a time like that, if you have a great relationship with the person responsible for booking in Chicago, you have to get on the phone with them and say: "Look, do me a favor. What conductors are coming through next season?" - and you go down the list: "OK, Slatkin doesn't like him, but...Gergiev, OK they get along well and Dutoit - great, he just loves him!" - and you then say to the person in Chicago: "Do me a favor...my artist is available when Dutoit is coming, when Gergiev is coming...will you please promise me that you will speak to those conductors and see how they feel about the idea of bringing this artist?"

You just try everything to wiggle your way in there, and that's how it's done. But if the person in Chicago doesn't like you or if you haven't played your cards right, they won't tell you which conductors are coming through. It's all about relationships, in life all the time, and certainly in management. That's the way we worked with and for our artists and that is, in my opinion, how a manager should work with their artists. Dare I say more do these days, but things were very different when I started out...

Notes: What drew you to artist management initially? Was it something you always knew you wanted to do?

I didn't even know the field existed! I was a teacher at the High School of Music and Art on the City College campus in the late sixties and early seventies. The kids were very distracted because it was during the Vietnam War...it was a tough time. I instinctively knew that I wanted to be closer to performing artists, and I saw an ad in The New York Times for a secretary to Susan Wadsworth at Young Concert Artists. It was an ad for a full-time job, but I convinced them to let me work part-time because I had a very young child at the time.

That was my first break into the business and I worked there for five years. I got very involved with the operation and the annual YCA auditions and went to a lot of conferences. Through those experiences, I developed this burning desire to book artists. It was the idea of seeing a great young artist and thinking "Imagine if I could get a booking for them?" That is really what inspired me.

At that time YCA didn't have an opening in that capacity, so I started looking around and approached Charles Hamlen, also a former teacher, who had started six months earlier and was still finding his way. I had five years of experience, albeit in a non-profit agency, but the processes were the same...

Together, we founded Hamlen-Landau Management and borrowed a LOT of money just to stay afloat. We had no idea how we were going to pay it back, but we believed with all our hearts that we could get a great roster together if we could just get out there and travel, be seen and entertain...and all of that costs money.

We sought investors for our company and started shopping around a proposal. At first we didn't have much luck -- ten thousand here or a few thousand there -- but then one day, we managed to get a meeting with James Wolfensohn, who at the time was Chairman of Carnegie Hall. He said, "I don't think any of my clients would invest with you, but my good friend Mark McCormack, who runs IMG, is interested in getting into the classical music business." On the spot, Mr. Wolfensohn called Mr. McCormack who was at the French Open, and set up a meeting for us. Mr. McCormack wanted people who were knowledgeable about classical music. Our company had a good reputation and we were small, so he bought Hamlen-Landau Management in 1984 for a sum that was not nearly enough to pay back our loans.

It took Charlie and myself five years after that to pay back all the money we owed, but with a salary and with that security, we were able to start chipping away at our debts.

Notes: Throughout your career, what are some of the changes you have seen in classical music as a business?

With changes in the record business, we lost a major promotional partner. When labels used to sign artists, the companies were committed to spend money, advertise, to work with repertoire the artist was performing and promote the recordings to coincide with tours. The biggest change was not having access to that kind of promotion.

And as a result of periodic downturns in the economy, presenters began taking fewer chances...their audiences wanted glitz and glamour, so there was more pressure on presenters to book artists with name recognition. We also found that we, as managers, had to take on an even greater responsibility such as finding catchy names for programs. Photographs had to be of a different nature as well.

Also, Educational Outreach really took off. When I worked at Young Concert Artists, it was one of the only organizations which was taking artists into schools. As the years went by, presenters increasingly asked to keep artists for an extra day and arranged a performance in an alternate environment. It got to the point where artists were frequently being asked to do masterclasses or play at schools or retirement homes. If an artist said, "Well you know, I'd really just like to play the concert..." -- that didn't always go down well with the presenter. We had to try and sensitize some artists to the fact that times were changing.

Nowadays, I tell my students that they must be involved with the whole social networking web culture. I don't really care so much if they "tweet," but you have to be able to find them somewhere. A Facebook page doesn't have to be elaborate; it can just have a nice photograph with a bit of information. If they have a website, even better.

Notes: If you could impart one piece of advice to an artist who is still trying to find his or her own identity, what would that be?

I invariably feel that it is about coming to grips with who you are and what really, genuinely speaks to you. What would you stay up all night for? What music do you love, why do you love it? What you are doing right now - do you feel passionate about it? Do you feel inspired by it? If not, have the courage to listen to that other voice and consider whether you should be on another path. Do you really know who you are? If you don't, get away from your instrument for a month and go somewhere and think about what really matters to you.

Notes: Do you have any spare time, and if so, how do you like to spend it?

I don't have a lot these days! But when I do, I like walking and listening to music of all kinds. I like to cook and bake a lot, so I do spend quite a bit of time in the kitchen. I love preparing food. I have certain friends who come over quite a lot, so of course I can't always feed them the same things! My favorite cooking publication is Cooking Light, and in recent years I've tried to concentrate more on healthy soups and salads. I really enjoy it. I don't bake breads, but I make a lot of desserts. I love to bake cakes, lots of cakes!

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