Producers, A&R directors and label founders
Let me break a sword for some of the ‘back-room’ boys and girls vying for a place in the Hall of Fame. One of my heroes in the classical record world is the founder of Hyperion, Ted Perry. We used to encounter each other pretty often for dinner at a mutual friend’s, and I was always struck – in stark contrast to many of the major company executives – at his modesty and lack of ego. Ted was someone with exquisite taste: quite apart from what came out of the speakers when a Hyperion disc was in the player (or back then on the turntable), the packaging, presentation, even the choice of typeface, bore his unmistakeable feeling for style. Driving a taxi by night to raise the funds to launch his own label, Ted showed a single-minded desire to create something beautiful. And he was a ‘record-man’ to his finger-tips: he would tell you the record number of some cherished early Decca LP just as willingly as he would share (our mutual) admiration for the music of Frank Martin. I'd plead with him to record Le vin herbé; he’d say how he’d love to but the costs were prohibitive! The Hyperion catalogue is possibly the most wonderful memorial anyone could have: it celebrates great taste and skill, it gave countless artists the chance to be heard on a wider stage, and for a good many more, became more than just a label, but a home.
Another of my musical heroes – and thankfully he’s still very much with us – is the director of Virgin Classics (and the French wing of EMI) Alain Lançeron. When he acquired the label (launched by another superb ‘A&R animal’ Simon Foster – and another nominee for the Hall of Fame) Alain set about creating a label that felt like an indie, and it has developed beautifully in this unusual ‘micro-climate’. His discernment in creating a magnificent artist roster (often poached by his competitors) is matched by a palpable sense of the artists’ futures being cared for, their creative development not just acknowledged but actively engaged with (just think of how the Capuçon brothers or the soprano Natalie Dessay have blossomed within the Virgin Classics fold). When Universal takes up the reins of EMI next year, I really hope that Virgin Classics will be ring-fenced and Alain allowed to continue his work maintaining this magnificent label, trusting his instincts and making great recordings.
My next two A&R heroes are actually heroines, the two women who guide Harmonia Mundi’s creative fortunes – on either side of the Atlantic, Eva Coutaz in France and Robina Young in the US (though more often than not making recordings in the UK). Between them they have created a catalogue that contains some modern classics – René Jacobs’s Mozart opera series, the Theatre of Voices discs, Stile Antico's fresh way with old music, Paul Lewis’s Beethoven sonatas or the late and great discs by the Tokyo Quartet (and many, many more). They both have a terrific nose for talent and the ability to identify the music that best shows off these fine musicians. Hats off to them both!
Still Stateside, a large nod in the direction of Telarc, founded by Jack Renner and Robert Woods. Telarc may have secured its early reputation for its stunning sound-quality (always a given with this label), but it made a host of glorious recordings of real musical value. A personal favourite is Paavo Järvi’s Cincinnati SO disc of orchestral works by Maurice Ravel – the dawning of the new day in the Daphnis Second Suite is absolutely breathtaking!
And a final nod for someone who changed the face of the record industry, Klaus Heymann. Initially vilified by the Majors (and now begrudgingly admired), he had the vision to tear up the traditional ‘business model’ (though given some of the losses the old model accrued, that may not be quite the right term!), and start afresh in the CD age offering music lovers on a budget a veritable cornucopia of choice. And now, major artists and ensembles record with Naxos and its courage in the projects it chooses to record continues to earn it huge gratitude.
So, to place your votes, simply go to the Hall of Fame page.
James Jolly is Gramophone's Editor-in-Chief. After four years of co-presenting BBC Radio 3's weekday morning programme "Classical Collection" has moved to Sunday mornings, with Rob Cowan his fellow presenter; he also hosts some Saturday afternoon shows. His blogs will explore live and recorded music, as well as downloading and digital delivery.