Success: Talent or hard work?

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    I think that there is one more facet to this arguement, and that is when people meet with success without a tremendous amount of talent or hard work.


    Diane- I think that career success, financial success is a totally different issue from artistic success. Most of the great artists in history, and particularly the painters, lived and died in poverty. But they were geniuses and more often than not knew it. A few years ago a woman in her 80’s got a Nobel prize for scientific work she had done in her 30’s. A reporter asked her if she resented the fact that for so many years her work was either ignored or disparaged. “No,” she said,”none of that matters when you know you are right.” That comment may sound to some to be arrogant, but real geniuses usually know they are right.


    The context of the article I cited at the beginning of this thread was written to guide people in business and finance towards a model of success based on the practice habits of musicians and athletes.

    For musicians, reaching an audience is more often than not a component of the experience.

    Victor Ortega

    Leopold Auer is held to be one of the greatest violin performers and teachers ever.


    Carl Swanson wrote: “A few years ago a woman in her 80’s got a Nobel prize for scientific
    work she had done in her 30’s. A reporter asked her if she resented the
    fact that for so many years her work was either ignored or disparaged.
    “No,” she said,”none of that matters when you know you are right.” That
    comment may sound to some to be arrogant, but real geniuses usually
    know they are right.”

    I don’t think anyone in this thread is arguing that confidence in one’s
    opinion is equivalent to arrogance. That is certainly not my position.
    Her comment could mean a variety of things. If she was so set in her
    conclusions, that when encountering data that appeared to conflict with
    her results, she immediately dismissed the new information without
    testing it, that would not only be arrogant, but bad science. Arrogance
    is using only
    self as the required credential for an accurate
    conclusion. We must subject our thinking in a larger context and have
    the ability to revise. We should weigh the opinions and responses by
    those who have the experience and training relevent to the question at hand. We must respect
    our own limitations and not use
    our opinions to dominate others for the sole purpose of being “right”.
    There is an enormous difference between demonstrating through external
    measurements and evidence the reasons for our conclusions being “right”
    and simply being content that if we feel we are right, then it is so.
    Interestingly enough, it takes much more work to not be arrogant.
    Arrogance is the short cut to “being/feeling right”.

    Because the arts are subjective, there is much more room for arrogance
    to foster. People have more luxury of being reality optional
    than a scientist. Although, in the long run the social games fade and
    all that is left is the intrinsic value of the art. A fellow grad
    student did a presentation on Hovhaness in


    I think that Bernstein and Copland are examples more of having an obnoxious personality and egotism (or egoism?), than any expression of genius. What is interesting is that I think Hovhaness’s music will live far longer than either of them. And I suppose that even a genius with everything going for him can still be short-sighted or blinded/distracted by success and rewards and not grow. So, too much success can be a trap. Working with a record company that dominates what you do and how you sound is certainly capable of being a trap. It’s a stew with so many ingredients. If you watch the movie Matchpoint, it raises some interesting questions about the role of luck. I think my having a certain direction has required to ignore what might otherwise be a sense of opportunity. One who remains free of care to be able to pursue what is available may indeed find success, but lose identity, perhaps?


    Isn’t it a shame that sometimes genius is accompanied by arrogance and intolerance? Richard Wagner comes to mind. In fact, if you read the biographies of many composers, a common thread is a lack of social graces, i.e. Beethoven, Brahms. Luck certainly is a major component of “success”, but I really respect the ability of people who can write the ravishing melodies that delight so many of us. It’s an interesting point that you feel a record contract can be detrimental. I feel that a great artist won’t let them push his/her art in the wrong direction. Prokofiev managed to create great music while staying clear of the Stalinist regime, for one amazing example. A greater threat is faddism. I feel Copland lost his way by getting into the atonal stuff, because that was what everyone else was doing.


    Elizabeth- I’m finishing up reading a book called WHO KILLED CLASSICAL MUSIC? by Norman Lebrecht(published by Carol Publishing Company). The sub-title is MAESTROS, MANAGERS, AND CORPORATE POLITICS. If you read this book you will NEVER look at classical music again the same way. You simply cannot imagine how managers and impressarios manipulate the classical music scene. After reading this, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever give another dime to a performing arts organization.


    Sounds like a great read! I always wondered about the “game” of classical music; why some artists get all the grants, the prizes, the reviews, etc., while similarly-gifted artists get totally ignored. I am convinced that there are many back-room deals going on between managers and agents. And then there’s the issue of the same music being played over and over again on radio stations, while you never hear some great “indie” bands. In Canada, at least we have the CBC, which has special programming for local artists, such a “West Coast Performance”, but they don’t broadcast it over the whole country! The future for musicians seems to be in getting their stuff onto the Internet and promoting it that way, bypassing the record companies and agents entirely. Still, don’t give up on performing arts organizations; we need all the help we can get! The VSO has a new “Horizons” series which spotlights seldom-heard music, we are commissioning a lot of new Canadian composers, and we are getting more and more new, up-and-coming soloists.


    Elizabeth- I just finished the above mentioned book. I’m not going to even attempt to sumarize it. It’s so packed with information I feel like I should go back to the begining right now and read the whole thing again. But I hope you can find a copy and read it. It is not the arts organizations themselves of course that are the problem. It’s the agents, and agencies that manage the artists and both directly and indirectly, manage the arts organizations, for their own profit of course.

    What burns me though is that, while arts organizations worldwide are constantly struggling for funds, the agencies are there ready to plunder those donations for their own benefit. And because of years of manipulation on the part of these agencies, the fees for the top artists are totally out of proportion with the amount of money available. Do you know for example that at the height of his career, Jasha Heifitz’s fee for playing a concerto was half again as much as the concertmaster’s fee for the concert. Today the soloist’s fee might be anywhere from 10 to 40 times the concertmaster’s fee. There is a greater and greater disparity in income between working musicians in the classical music field, and it’s getting worse, not better.


    Oh, you are preaching to the choir here! Absolutely true, and it’s outrageous. I have gone to conferences and asked management people why they can’t put up a united front and tell the agencies what they CAN afford, then hold that line. It saddens me that many symphony musicians are struggling to get by at below-poverty wages while the soloist walks in and, in some rarefied cases, makes more in one evening than they make all year. Sure, the soloists should make a good living, but not to the point that the musicians are put out of work or face huge pay cuts. Interestingly, when a soloist from the ranks of the orchestra is asked to perform exactly the same concerto, they are offered a much smaller remuneration than a visitor, and it doesn’t matter if they play brilliantly, note-perfectly, from memory. Even more insultingly, they get much less publicity. Is it because they assume that audiences won’t be large, so they don’t want to risk spending a lot of money? Have they bought into the Hollywood concept of paying huge salaries to the stars, while excellent actors and brilliant writers wait on tables all over L.A.?


    Elizabeth- In many many instances, managers of arts organizations are former, or even worse, current employees of artist management agencies. And you’re wondering why they don’t want to get a handle on the artists fees???


    Or, shudders, they have gone to school and gotten a degree in Arts Administration, meaning they are full of “theory” about how arts organizations “should work.” Then they go out and ruin them. They are taught to make a profit.

    I also recommend reading the book Teaching Genius, a very aweful portrait of Dorothy DeLay, who had a lot to do with how the system worked or continued to work. The main influences in the history of arts management were Sol Hurok, and Columbia Artists Management. Columbia is responsible for much of the damage.


    Saul-The most important, and destructive people in the history of arts management, especially in the 20th Century, were people you never heard of. Mark McCormack was, and maybe still is, one of the worst. Another was Walter Legge, Elizabeth Schwartzkopf’s husband. And one of the all time smarmiest artists was Herbert Von Karajan.


    You’re right, I haven’t heard of McCormack. Where should I avoid him? We are entering a cosmic struggle here in Philadelphia with the announced departure of Christoph Eschenbach.

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