LA pianist: Isolation has been good for artists

LA pianist: Isolation has been good for artists


norman lebrecht

August 10, 2020

A somewhat insensitive Covid perspective in the LA Times by Professor Inna Faliks, perhaps unaware that not all artists have the financial security of being professors.


I am walking from my piano to the iPad to monitor the livestream of my weekly living room concert, Corona Fridays. I press “stop video,” and the virtual applause appears in the form of small red hearts and blue thumbs up, floating on the screen. The sound of a live audience has turned into a silent cartoon.

For musicians, the move from actual concert hall to virtual concert hall signifies a change in our emotional relationship with music. One of the most narcissistic elements of modern society — streaming on social media — is allowing musicians to commune with their art form on an entirely different, intimate level.

One of my teachers, the great American pianist Leon Fleisher, who died on Aug. 2, is likely to have enjoyed the irony of this. Fleisher taught his students about playing music for music’s sake. He would ask us to shelve our virtuoso training and forget about filling large halls with the huge, sparkling sound we had been honing for years….




  • Henry williams says:

    Lucky for her she can pay her bills without working. Lady of leisure.

  • Eugene Tzigane says:

    Dear Norman,

    I understand how this might seem at first to be insensitive. You are right that musicians (and people in general) are struggling to make ends meet and the crisis shows little signs of ending. And yes, Prof. Faliks has the luxury of a tenured position at UCLA, an enviable perch from which she can calmly contemplate matters beyond survival. But that doesn’t mean that we have to defenestrate what she says because of her circumstances. Having read the whole op-ed, there may be another less cynical meaning behind her words.

    Crisis and suffering, though tragic, give us the unasked-for opportunity for introspection and growth. The loss of life and livelihoods due to COVID-19 is an unquestionable disaster and the grief and anxiety we all feel is real. But trying to find the silver lining and encouraging others to seek it out isn’t insensitive. Perhaps the cynical would level accusations of naïveté at those that do. But I hope that the more generous souls among us will say that it’s not only beautiful; it’s essential to make it through these trying times.

  • Jay says:

    we shall for a while hear and read nonsense about
    Mr. Fleisher , his philosophical approach to playing music,and more blather than he could have ever imagined .

  • Gustavo says:

    Yes, John Williams wrote a fanfare for VPO and Violin Concerto No 2 without the distraction from Hollywood.

  • Occamsrazor says:

    If stuffing people in cages based on a fake epidemic is good for artists, can you imagine what spiritual heights they will achieve after a couple of doses of Gates vaccine?

    • John Borstlap says:

      It is easy to wound oneself with occam’s razor, if used in the wrong way.

      • Jack says:

        He’s just a Russian troll. Don’t feed the troll.

        • Esfir Ross says:

          Inna Faliks’s mediocre pianist and useful idiot.

          • Ed DeBevitz says:

            Nothing says more about a person than personal attacks that said person commits in public spaces. “Show me ad hominem and I will show you a niggardly soul” – D.Kantemir

          • M2N2K says:

            Here above is another profoundly ignorant comment by ER that says a lot about the one who wrote it.

        • Occamsrazor says:

          Jack,I’ll be thrilled to be injected with Gates vaccine along with him, Soros, Fauci and the rest of their sweet company and their families in the same room with me, vials taken from the same box and spun in a lottery drum. Also, my requirement is that all of us spend the next 18 months in the same location where nothing except somewhat decent food from Whole Foods and toilet paper can come in from the outside. These creatures can always prepare an antidote and spoil the fun. Russian roulette is our national pastime.

          • Jostled says:

            Thank you for discredits yourself before you even present your opinion by commenting on the “fake” epidemic. It really shows the kind of person you are, Karen’s Razor.

          • Occamsrazor says:

            Care to elaborate? English is not my native language and I don’t understand your version of it at all. Which requirements of my Gates vaccine Russian Roulette do you object? The idea that the powers that be take the same vaccine as peasants like us?

  • Octobass says:

    Insensitive? Is it now a requirement on this site that every utterance relating to music state the obvious regarding the disastrous economic consequences of the current–and quite possibly future–situation, particularly in classical music?

    Should we be also be annoyed by Mr. Lebrechts frequent recommendations for recordings on this site because musicians (many of whom are performing on said recordings) are sitting at home unemployed?

    Seemed like a thoughtful essay to me.

  • debuschubertussy says:

    I’m confused, how is this “insensitive?” What does the above excerpt have to do with her being a professor?

  • From my personal surroundings I know that most musicians are financially very badly off because of Covid. Some are now broke.

    I myself have been able to get myself set up. Virtual lessons via webcam. Producing music as commissioned work.

    But what I really miss, regardless of the financial problems, and what I consider a terrible cultural disaster, is to make music with other musicians.
    In a band or in a classical ensemble. That’s what music is all about. listening to and playing an instrument with and in front of other people!

  • William Safford says:

    “A somewhat insensitive Covid perspective in the LA Times by Professor Inna Faliks, perhaps unaware that not all artists have the financial security of being professors.”

    I have no desire to attack her in any way.

    That said, I agree with your greater point, and we can build on it.

    In addition to what you wrote, many artists actually have the double whammy of less income *and* less time to practice.

    As you know, many professors and teachers are devoting inordinate amounts of time and effort to shift from teaching in person, to teaching virtually, or a hybrid of the two: creating new lesson plans, learning how to use unfamiliar technology, and much more.

    There are the additional burdens of parents who no longer have day care for their children, people whose housing is insecure because of the lost income, and so much more.

    All of this is taking place with the very real possibility of being infected by COVID-19 hanging over us.

    For each artist who is in a position to take lemons and make lemonade, as they say, many others are both barely keeping their heads above water and are swamped (to mix metaphors shamelessly).

  • M2N2K says:

    The headlines here and online are misleading: nowhere in the article does Inna Faliks say that “isolation has been good for artists” or anything to that effect. The headline in the printed paper is simply “Making music in small spaces”. In the article she pays a nice tribute to the late Leon Fleisher who was one of her teachers and highlights certain aspects of his musical credo that could be adapted by musicians during this difficult quarantine time which she feels may be used “to reexamine music making for its own sake”. As far as I can tell, there is nothing wrong with saying that and it does not in any way contradict or ignore the fact that financially this is a very challenging situation for most musicians. Au contraire, our ability to see something that can be considered positive in a generally bleak picture usually helps us persevere and survive most difficult times.

  • The View from America says:

    Clueless in Coronaville …

  • caranome says:

    Classical musicians live on the edge of Darwinian capitalism every day: no play, no eat. Professors, esp. tenured ones in non STEM fields, get union-like protection generating output of dubious value, and can expect–and demand– full pay without any “work” during Covid. But the bubble is about to burst for them too.

  • Jeff says:

    Norman, could you post the actual part of her statement where she says that isolation has been good for artists?

  • Miles Webster says:

    I believe this article to absolutely be sensitive and empathetic. It is obviously to everyone, especially a working artist like Ms. Faliks who has built up a career over decades before becoming a professor that artists are suffering. In fact, her article states ““Performers cannot survive for long without a live audience and a stage.” It is clear that we need to make lemonade out of lemons and deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, to use various metaphors – these concepts don’t need to spelled out. Rather, this is an entreaty for musicians to take time to do what we can to not forget about the essence of musicmaking during this difficult time, even if it just means we are alone with our instrument at home. Trying to spark contentious negativity on your part isn’t helpful.

    • J says:

      Music making is something u discuss around the dinner table. It’s hard to do that if there is no food….

      • M2N2K says:

        A fair point. However, there is nothing wrong in discussing it while away from the dinner table, perhaps even instead of sitting “around dinner table”. Those who make music because they cannot live without it do this all the time.

  • Omar Goddknowe says:

    I have been using the time to really focus on basics and fixing a hitch in my playing. (Trumpet,)

    • William Safford says:

      Kudos. I’m doing the same thing.

      How odd that two people (as of when I type this) gave you a thumb’s down for practicing. Sheesh. Some of the followers of this blog….

  • Mr. Lebrecht, you seem utterly to have missed the point. This was about her teacher, Leon Fleischer. Try again.

    • Cuest says:

      There’s many more of Leon Fleisher’s students, whose not speculate his philosophy due to CVid and sadness of his disappearance. His philosophy was a unic concept in its great complex and applied to unicness of artistic mindset and practice. What is stated above do not represent his deep existential research. Only ones I heard Inna’s performance at the competition and now second time when I learn that she got a position, I’m surprised and Happy that her instance studies turn out well. God luck.

  • Musician says:

    You can’t make children, food or music online. Computers are not capable of transmitting to the senses.

    • John Borstlap says:

      That’s true, although at the Texas Institute of Technology they try to transfer the procreation process into the internet. Thus far, it has not worked, in spite of the efforts of the team leader prof. Vanhall to convince the subjects of the necessity of transmitting their senses online. One of the subjects described Vanhall’s insistent perorations as ‘artificial indoctrination’.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Very wise comment.


  • BrianB says:

    Glenn Gould would have loved it, in fact noticed no difference.

  • Ed DeBevitz says:

    Nothing says more about the quality of a discourse as ad hominem attacks permitted in comments. And nothing says more about a host as a quality of a discourse on his page

  • The Artist says:

    Professor Faliks drew a very intimate and personal picture of the current stagnant life— we are all in suspended motion; the applause likened to silent cartoons. The op-ed pulls together a number of current events—Covid quarantine, the state of the arts (Lack of live music concerts in particular), and a homage to her late teacher. I believe her writing to have a clear and compassionate tone towards the many artists who, due to pandemic, are forced to trade live concerts into self-broadcasts. She’s saying that even those who preferred not to stream in the past because of the inherent narcissism, alas stream now because there simply is no other way.

    She is alluding to the romantic notion of an artist working for art’s sake. As Robert Schumann said, “Art was not created as a way to riches. Strive to become a true artist; all else will take care of itself.” Prof. Faliks did just that. She stayed a true artist and is it all took care of itself in the sense that she has a full-time tenure.

    Staying at home allows artists to be in tune with themselves. Vigorous concertizing as well as playing-for-pay is the antithesis to a truly artistic frame of mind. While it is true that artists have to balance the checkbook, it is crucial that artists invest in themselves. They need more than just money. They have to invest in honing their craft and genius so that they may be fertile in imagination and creativity. Inna Falik’s op-ed speaks to the artist’s mindset.

    The distractions of this world is too great, however, and without patronage, most artists may end up succumbing to the realities of life.

    As Debussy said, “you ought, rather, to blame the artists who perform the barren task of ministering to and maintaining the deliberate indifference of the public… these same artists know how to strive just long enough to gain a footing in the market-place; but, the sale of their goods once assured, they retire promptly, seeming to apologize to the public for the trouble it has taken to admit them”. For those musicians who have catered to the public, this is a fine time, as fine a time as any, to really decide how to be more reflective and intentional with your music-making.

    To end this comment, I have another Schumann quote, “can that which has cost the artist days, weeks, months, and even years of reflection be understood in a flash by a dilettante?”

  • Edgar Self says:

    It’s hard to be artist and salesman, but it’s been thus even when chief patrons were Church and nobility. Some managed. An advantage of recordings is to give us choice, comparison, and repetition often of a selecteion of best attempts.