Biz news exclusive: London agency sheds artists and staff

Biz news exclusive: London agency sheds artists and staff


norman lebrecht

February 05, 2018

The mid-sized agency ICA Artists will cease to exist some time this month.

It is reborn as Stephen Wright Management with a handful of artists and a small support staff. Quite a few former artists and staff are now pursuing other opportunities.

The artists retained by SWM are:

conductors Joseph Bastian, Dylan Corlay, Laurence Equilbey, Jacek Kaspszyk, Cem Mansur, John Nelson, Eduard Topchjan,Hugh Wolff

violinists Alena Baeva, Kyung Wha Chung, Moné Hattori, Yi-Ja Susanne Hou, Elina Vähälä

pianists Stephen Kovacevich, Anna Tsybuleva

and cellist Alexander Chaushian.

ICA Artists was the successor to the Van Walsum Agency after its founder sold out to Stephen Wright, former head of Harold Holt Ltd and founder of IMG Artists Europe. But ICA was neither mega nor boutique and Wright’s decision to reshape it as SWM makes good sense in current circumstances.






  • Andrew Peterson says:

    When one looks at how many so called “big name” artists and artist managers ran away from ICA in the past 3 years and knows how Stephen Wright makes his business dealings, it’s no surprise ICA ceased to exist. The company (ICA) had too big staffs, their turnover was getting smaller and smaller, younger artists wishing to make decent career were lured to join ICA by being charged very high monthly fees while the agency couldn’t fulfil their expectations. The new company under the name of Stephen Wright Management is created just to “buy time” while the ticking bomb continues.

    Not only Michael Wilson Thomas, Kent Nagano, Antoni Wit, Nikolai Demidenko to name a few have totally lost confidence in working with Stephen Wright but also younger artist such as Charlie Siem whose family is loaded with money cut their ties with Stephen Wright.

    Many very good artist managers from the former VanWalsum/ ICA: Sally Donegani, Janet Marsden, Liz Sam, Peter Railton and a few more left Stephen Wright to work for HarrisonParrot, Hazard Chase, Maestro Arts (formerly Van Walsum).

    It will be no surprise that within 1 year from now Stephen Wright Management will go completely out of business.

  • Francis says:

    [redacted: personal abuse]

    …As Nick pointed out in a previous comment, Stephen Wright was not a co-founder of IMG Artists. These were Edna Landau and Charles Hamlen in New York whose company was taken over by IMG in the mid-1980s. After IMG Artists established a presence in London, it got greedy and went for a complete take-over of Harold Holt. At the last moment that broke down, leaving much of Harold Holt intact but with Stephen Wright taking his orchestral touring division and some conductors over to IMG Artists.

    In his current online bio, Stephen brags that “he personally managed the careers of Semyon Bychkov, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Mariss Jansons, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, Yevgeny Svetlanov, and Yuri Temirkanov.” The reality is that Stephen had very little to do with their careers. Everyone knows that Ronald Wilford monopolized Ozawa’s career management, for example. Ozawa probably doesn’t even remember who Stephen Wright is!

  • jk says:

    Looks like he also lost the likes of Charlie Siem? Loosing Nagano may have been the original blow?

  • Beatrice Czyz says:

    Many people in the music business still remember that Mark Newbanks left AskonasHolt to join at the time the newly created International Classical Artists, bringing with him Gustavo Dudamel to Stephen Wright’s agency. Just a few weeks later Mark parted ways with Stephen to create his own boutique agency Fidelio Arts and taking Dudamel away. I know Stephen was extremely angry at Mark Newbanks. Joeske van Walsum sold his “van Walsum” agency to Stephen with the reason of “retirement”. Joeske and Rachel van Walsum did their house cleaning to create MaestroArts agency. Today MaestroArts is financially a much healthier artists agency in comparison with Stephen’s ICA/ Wright Music Management. Joeske succeeded in taking back many of his former artists thus leaving Stephen in limbo with tight cash flows: Hartmut Haenchen, Eivind Aadland, Kazushi Ono, François-Xavier Roth, Ilan Volkov, Stefan Solyom have all deserted Stephen Wright!

    • Nick2 says:

      I understand there was an eminence grise behind Stephen Wright’s ICA. When Wright was wooed into Mark McCormack’s fold, IMG Artists worldwide was supervised (as opposed to managed) by one of McCormack’s key lieutenants, John Webber. Webber was in charge of corporate finance and knew precious little about the classical music business (unless you count his having at one time managed Shirley Bassey). Several former IMG staffers believe that Webber had a financial interest in the new company set up by Stephen Wright and another by a second ex-IMG Artists executive who happened to look after a couple of much bigger fee-generating ‘names’ than those at ICA. This might in part explain why ICA was desperate to get hold of the fees which could be achieved with Dudamel onto its books. I assume Webber had left IMG by that time.

  • YoYo Mama says:

    Is it only in classical music that agents are allowed to charge “retainers” for their monthly “services” meaning, doing nothing but listing your name? It is fraudulent to the core. And what classical musician has the financial resources to spend so much money? They employ all manner of deception in order to get an artist paying them. And the amount of work they actually do is minimal. That’s why most artists hire someone to work under their direction. The falsehood that it is an honor to be represented is a hoax.

  • Claire Hoogeven says:

    Charging in average forty thousand (40.000) Poundsterling per annum agency fee like what Mr. Stephen Wright does in order for an artist to join his agency is a really disgusting way of doing business. The naive artist in return believes he/she will get lots of engagements and have his/her career developed on a wide international spectrum by Mr. Wright’s agency. These are all empty promises, Mr. Wright’s agency has been proven incapable of keeping their so called big promises, instead the agency uses their naive artists as their cash-cow resources in order to keep the agency in business…………..if you are in this music business you know Mr. Wright’s agency is only a rotten ship. The new company boasts to have Kyung-Wha Chung, Stephen Kovacevich in its roster but these artists are way passed their sell-by-dates, their glory days are way behind them…..just to fool naive people are probably easy to do however the reality is that Mr. Wright’s days to survive in the business are numbered.

    • Dominic Stafford says:

      I don’t know Stephen Wright, nor do I know the working practices of the former ICA Artists; but I find the claim that he asks for a retainer of GBP 40,000 to be utterly ridiculous. Few young concert artists would that sum, after tax, in a year.

      I regret that there are agents that ask for retainers. I cannot find any reason why an agent should charge for an audition. But then I also can’t find a reason why an agent would charge more than 10%.

      Perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

      By the way, Hoogeveen is spelt with three Es!

  • Costa Pilavachi says:

    Well, I am quite amazed at some of the vitriol here. Stephen Wright has been a friend and colleague since the 1970s, he is a “vieux soldat” in the industry and he certainly deserves some respect for the many good things he has done over the decades.
    I don’t know why people feel the need to denigrate people in such a way and as most of the facts are wrong I can only assume that they are just trolling for the hell of it. If they really did know Stephen and his history, they would be aware that he was, indeed, the General Manager of conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Neville Marriner, Yuri Temirkanov, Mariss Jansons and Semyon Bychkov and he was the UK manager of Seiji Ozawa (who certainly remembers him well and with respect) for many years. He is in a very tough and competitive business but one which is essential to our industry. Personally, I wish him the best of luck in his new enterprise.

    • Leonidas says:

      Dear Mr. Pilavachi, I can understand that you speak in favour of Stephen Wright as you were yourself an important part of the ICA ship in its early days. The facts speak louder than any comments being made here, ICA was a fast sinking ship and this new Wright Music Management is just trying desperately to buy time in order to stay afloat a little longer in this business. The number of exodus, both artist managers and artists, of ICA were immense in the last few years. There were very serious problem inside ICA agency, a very good friend of mine (I can’t mention the name here) who worked as an artist manager at ICA confided in me the many messy situation inside ICA under Stephen’s stewardship. It is sad to see a man in his 70’s loosing so many clients and staff members [redacted: speculation].

      • Peter says:

        “[redacted: speculation]”
        Are we to assume that everything else written in other comments is not speculation?

  • Costa Pilavachi says:

    Leonida, you are right, Stephen asked me to sit on his board early on after he purchased the agency from Joeske and Rachel van Walsum, other good friends, by the way.
    I was happy to help as I was quite free during this period.
    It is very rare for an artist agency to change hands like this. These little companies are put together and run in an extremely personal way.
    Stephen and Joeske are very different and it was inevitable that some changes would take place, especially once Joeske and Rachel decided to return from their sabbatical and open a new agency.
    Now Stephen has started what is, essentially, his own personal management company bearing his name. I have no doubt that this will be a better formula for him and he will likely do well. For his sake and for the sake of his artists, I sincerely hope so.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    It will be interesting to see how a new crop of artist managers will pursue building an artist roster as the 21st century unfolds. Branding artists and repertoire will be quite different from similar artists touting solely the traditional only repertoire. We’re not there just yet, but things are shifting very slowly.