Edna Landau: Part psychologist, part counselor, part promoter.
Seattle Times music critic
Meet the woman whom Itzhak Perlman hugs, whom Yevgeny Kissin asks for advice and Murray Perahia consults about his every artistic move.
Arts manager Edna Landau is the agent not only for these big names, but much of the other creme de la creme of the arts world - including some performers you don't know yet, but soon will.
Landau is the managing director (since 1984) of IMG Artists, one of the country's top managements, whose stable includes such thoroughbreds as James Galway, Kiri te Kanawa, Dawn Upshaw, Joshua Bell, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, the Emerson String Quartet, Pilobilus Dance, Ravi Shankar, the King's Singers, Thomas Hampson, Hakan Hagegard, Vinson Cole, Lynn Harrell, Truls Mork, Leif Ove Andsnes, Christopher Parkening, David Shifrin, Edgar Meyer and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, among many others.
She and her staff don't just counsel the artists. Sometimes they stock their refrigerators, give them recipes and make travel arrangements for their dogs. It's a business that "tends to be all-encompassing," as Landau puts it.
A 48-hour flying visit brought Landau to Seattle, first to visit her parents - musicologist Dr. Eric Offenbacher and his wife Gertrude - and also to hear and counsel a 12-year-old Canadian violinist whose parents are wondering about the next career/education move.
Renowned for her sixth sense about musical potential, Landau has spotted and promoted many gifted youngsters, including the outstanding young violinist Hilary Hahn (who wowed Seattle Symphony audiences this past season).
Landau knows she has a future star on her hands when she hears a youngster who "just grabs me. When I heard Joshua Bell for the first time, and he was 13 or 14, I sat and listened and just knew that this was somebody who had lived before and played the violin."
But Landau is far more than a talent scout. She nurtures her artists; she won't push them into the limelight too early, and she won't deal with stage-parent types who insist on going too far, too fast. Trim and businesslike in her tailored suit, Landau also has a nurturing, motherly side to her personality that enhances her role of part psychologist, part counselor, part promoter. She recently was profiled on CNN's "Movers" series, where Perlman stepped forward to praise her "absolute integrity" and her tremendous care for the entire person of those whom she represents.
Recalling Perlman's comments, Landau just beams.
"Everybody loves Itzhak, but not just because he is a great violinist and a string genius," she explains. "His spirit is unique. Whether he's playing or conducting, he lifts everyone up. Everyone wants the experience of working with him and feeling his joy in music."
Dealing with artists, even established ones, isn't always easy. Landau recalls four tough years, when Perahia was disabled with a hand injury that has since been cured, when "my main job was to cancel his concerts, and everyone was terribly unhappy and worried." The care and handling of youthful prodigies, however, can be even trickier.
"Young artists come with parents," says Landau, "and those parents often feel helpless, because they don't know the (concert) business and aren't sure what is best for their child. Sometimes they are pushing a little too hard, and sometimes they decide they know more than you do."
The more fortunate of the prodigies turn out like Hilary Hahn, whom Landau first encountered as a violinist of breathtaking ability in her early teens. Even then, Hahn knew what she wanted to record - the much-traversed, often-recorded solo violin works of Bach.
"Usually, when you have a 16-year-old who wants to record unaccompanied Bach, most managers would say, `My dear, you're not ready,' " says Landau.
"But I knew she was ready. She got it. She really understood it."
Now, at 20, Hahn confers regularly with Landau, not only to plan her performance calendar, but also on subjects ranging from cooking, baking and animals to the search for a pianist partner for an upcoming tour (Garrick Ohlsson got the nod).
In discussing her agency, where Landau presides over a staff of 31, she often returns to her chief goal: "to preserve the moral aspect of this business, which is really a people business that can only thrive in an atmosphere of honesty and integrity." For example, you won't see IMG Artists pressuring a presenter to take a lesser-known performer along with that hotlycoveted date with Murray Perahia. Nobody rides on the coattails of anybody else - although Landau, who is after all a businesswoman, has been known to apply a little return-favor pressure once in awhile.
"I've been known to say, `We killed ourselves to deliver Kissin to you when he was only doing six concerts in this country.' We will remind people. But we never `package' one artist with another."
Booking artists can be a delicate mating dance, especially when you have cities such as San Francisco and Minneapolis/St. Paul, where several presenters (orchestras, chamber orchestras, recital series) are all clamoring for the same artist - who obviously can't appear in all those venues in a single season. In Seattle, if Meany Hall and Benaroya Hall are both jockeying for the same pianist, the former is likely to get Landau's nod, because "the President's Piano Series is very precious. It has built up over a number of years. We ask them first."
Sometimes, too, Landau must jolt established artists out of their routines - including Kissin, who plays only 65 concerts a year worldwide, and is happy to return to the same handful of U.S. cities every year.
"I tell him if he only has seven U.S. dates this year, he still has to play some new places. They need to hear him in other parts of the country, too. He finally played Ann Arbor (Mich.), and he absolutely loved it - now he wants to come back."
The issue of artists' fees also is delicate. Landau steadfastly refuses to divulge any of her artists' fees ("They count on my discretion"), not even a fee range that doesn't identify specific artists ("Everyone will look at the top figure and know it represents Mr. Perlman's fee, and I'm not going to release that kind of information").
She knows the industry well enough to pinpoint exactly where a given artist's fee should be - directly proportional to that artist's impact at the box office - and Landau also knows the career milestones that represent a logical time to jump that fee upward. When Hilary Hahn signed her exclusive recording contract with the Sony Classical label, the attendant blare of publicity marked a good time for a discreet jump upward in her asking price.
Not surprisingly, Landau often is called upon to counsel young talent at the leading conservatories, including the Juilliard School. What does she tell them?
"Have a life. If you are meant to have a career, you will have it, but you also need a well-rounded life. You need to know about sports, politics, books, art, travel, languages, because there is a world outside the concert hall.
"Not everybody has a career. Give thought to who you are and what you want to bring to this world, where so much has already been said. Do you have what it takes to withstand all the difficulties, all the criticisms? If not, there are other professions in which you can be close to the arts and not a performer.
"Above all, don't be in such a hurry. Many great players are discovered in their early teens, but it is still possible to be noticed at 18, or 19, or 20 - when you might be a better and more mature artist."
And who is about to be internationally noticed?
Landau's eyes light up.
"Lang Lang," she says without hesitation.
"He is a 17-year-old from China who will be one of the great pianists of our time."
A word to forward-thinking Seattle music lovers: You can check out Landau's crystal ball in a mere eight months. Lang Lang appears Jan. 31, 2001, on the President's Piano Series at Meany Theater (206-543-4880).
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