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To enter Mariedi Anders' sprawling house in San Francisco's exclusive Seacliff neighborhood is to step into another culture, another continent, another world.
After she seats you on one of her cream-colored couches, beside the black baby grand piano, across from the glassed-in Japanese garden, and below the dozen ancient chess sets mounted on the walls, Anders asks you to join her for coffee. Before waiting for an answer, she calls a maid, who soon appears in uniform with a gleaming white china set on a silver tray. Anders then offers a plate of delicately flavored sweet biscuits, taking one herself, so you can't say no.
She sets her compact frame onto a stuffed chair in front of you, leans forward, and listens intently, as if you were the one with the stories to tell, as if you were the one who left Viennese bohemian cafe society to become the representative, in America, of the great classical music performers of Europe.
"Do you have a family? Oh? I see. And when do you expect to see her? Ah hah, I know exactly how that feels," she says, before offering another biscuit, another bit of coffee, and some cream.
Mariedi Anders is sole proprietor of Mariedi Anders Artists Management Inc., and she provides most of the services that any agent provides to clients. But hers are not just any clients; she represents one of the country's most prestigious lists of classical music conductors, instrumentalists, chamber ensembles, and opera singers. Her artists include conductor Robert Spano of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, tenor Peter Schreier, bass-baritone Robert Holl, the Borodin Quartet chamber ensemble, and the Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra. In the past she has represented such prominent groups as the Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields Chamber Orchestra.
By means of her almost irresistible grace, stubbornness, ambition, and energy, Anders has, for 35 years, made a specialty of creating significant American careers for European artists previously unheard of stateside. At around 80 years old -- she refuses to state her age, but admits she was married when she immigrated to the U.S. from Austria in 1938 -- she is part of a courtly, bygone era of classical music, when business was done in parlors, over tea, between aesthetes and impresarios. She's as spry as a 30-year-old and keeps the sort of globe-hopping schedule that might exhaust a person half her age.
In the Camelot universe of classical music, the Old World grace she shares at her El Camino Del Mar parlor has proved Anders' greatest asset, winning the favor of musicians, classical music promoters, and music directors worldwide. She began running prominent U.S. musical careers from San Francisco back in the days when it was unheard of to do such a thing outside New York. She used her command of six languages to scour the world for talent, then exploited her engaging nature and iron will to convince orchestra directors and concert hall managers to give them a try. She's known as one of her field's shrewdest negotiators.
Now, she feels that in some ways, modern times are overtaking her. Where once she was the only classical music agent in the Bay Area, now there are a dozen. Urbane Americans, the ones who used to fill concert halls, now consider indigenous African, South American, and Balinese music, and even jazz, to be part of High Culture. They buy fewer symphony tickets than their parents did. Classical music record sales are stagnant. Symphonies are going bankrupt.
"Young people, they are not brought up on the old traditions. They prefer jazz, ethnic music, modern music," Anders laments.
The grand globe Mariedi Anders used to traverse in her quest to bring European artists to the United States has shrunk. E-mail, the World Wide Web, cheap air travel, and easy telephone communications now allow Bay Area agents she doesn't even know to book worldwide classical music tours in cyberspace.
Perhaps worst of all, by Anders' lights, is a change in the ancient customs of the classical music representation business. Once, there was a gentlemen's agreement: European agents and managers stayed out of America, and American agents and managers did not promote U.S. musicians in Europe. During the past decade, though, that arrangement has eroded, and in its place is an incomprehensible free-for-all.
Globalization, in a word, has come to classical music, and Anders isn't at all sure the trend is good.
"Formerly, there was an unwritten law that European and Far Eastern agents cannot work in the States and Canada. Somehow this law has been dropped. It was never written out, you know. And now European agents are handling their artists directly in North America, and it is also happening the other way around," she says disapprovingly.
"Would you like sugar and cream?"
The savoir-faire she displays in her drawing room notwithstanding, Anders insists that she fell into her line of work as the result of clumsy stubbornness.
"I was a complete dreamer," she says.
In 1959, after promoting a few San Francisco concerts for a friend of hers who was a pianist and opera conductor, she decided to go to Italy to seek her fortune as a music manager. She had come from a music-loving family, and before she and her husband came to the United States to escape the Nazis during World War II, her father had been a prominent member of 1920s bohemian cafe society in Vienna. Representing a group of U.S. musicians in Europe seemed like a natural occupation.